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COVID Nine Team walks the walk, despite event cancellation


Retired dentist Dr. Vito Valenzano and family participate in their pandemic version of the Rose Walk to help Thompson Hospital’s cardiac rehab program

CANANDAIGUA — Almost every June since his 1999 heart attack, Dr. Vito Valenzano has walked with his family in the annual Rose Walk, raising money for the cardiac rehabilitation program at F.F. Thompson Hospital.

As a result, the retired Canandaigua dentist has quite a collection of commemorative T-shirts, in a rainbow of colors and with a variety of designs. His Rose Walk T-shirt this year, however, is a limited edition. Make that very limited. In fact, it is one of only nine of its kind created.

That’s because after the F.F. Thompson Foundation made the difficult decision to cancel this year’s event at Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion State Historic Park due to COVID-19, Valenzano’s family decided to go ahead and keep up the family tradition by doing their very own Rose Walk.

Daughter Penny Elliott of Canandaigua sprung the idea on her dad on Father’s Day, and he was all for carrying on with what he describes as “part of our yearly routine.” He had made a donation to the cause prior to the event’s cancelation — and she made one in his honor for Father’s Day — but they and the rest of the family felt it was important to actually “walk the walk” as well.

“I think over the years it’s been a reminder of the importance of my dad to our family and how he’s been a role model. He’s continued to strive to take care of himself and has avoided any additional heart issues,” Elliott said. “I’m just very thankful of the fact he has kept his health top of mind.”

So is Elliott’s sister, Polly Simmons of Canandaigua. In February, she even completed a quilt made from her Rose Walk T-shirts.

On July 18, eight team members donned the T-shirts designed by Elliott and set off from the Simmons’ home on Dorset Drive. They walked to Woodlawn Cemetery, where Valenzano’s late wife Anna is buried, and then returned to Dorset Drive. In all, it was about 2.2 miles, and it made for a special day.

“It was a good excuse for us to get together and keep the tradition going,” Elliott said.

Valenzano agreed.

“It’s nice to feel your kids care enough about you to do that, and at the same time, do a good deed for the fund,” he said.

Rose Walk, which in 2021 will mark its 25th year, benefits cardiac rehabilitation patients at Thompson. In addition to participating in the program following his heart attack, Valenzano has — on and off — continued with its maintenance program at the hospital’s Fralick Cardiac Rehabilitation and Fitness Center. Especially in the winter, he said, medically-supervised workouts at Thompson are a good opportunity for exercise. There is also a strong sense of camaraderie.

“Everybody there is pretty much in the same boat,” Valenzano said. “I’ve made some good friends over the years.”

Those friends are no doubt grateful for the family’s continued support of the cause, despite the challenges presented in recent months.

“We know that both the Rose Walk and our cardiac rehabilitation program mean a lot to many, many families in our community,” said Development Specialist Heather Rickett. “We were saddened that we couldn’t all get together this year at Sonnenberg, like we normally do, but we were heartened by several community donations and incredibly touched to learn of the Valenzano family’s gesture. It’s just so uplifting, because it’s the perfect example of carrying on with a sense of fun, creativity and generosity during a challenging time for so many people.”

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