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Teacher, Retired Police Sergeant Bellafiore Selected as Waubonsee Featured Alumnus
When asked to discuss his educational journey, Vince Bellafiore often boils it down to three numbers:
It’s not a secret formula. Nor is it the combination to a lock.
Rather, it represents the unusual number of years it took Bellafiore to earn his associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, respectively.
"I tell the boys I teach that they can follow my example," Bellafiore said.
"But I wouldn't recommend following my path," he added, with a laugh. "I am the 'forever student,' in the non-traditional sense."
Throughout the past four decades, Bellafiore, 62, of Batavia, has never opted for the ordinary path in a professional journey that has included three distinct decades-long careers, as a carpenter, Batavia police officer, and, for the last 15 years, a teacher at Marmion Academy in Aurora.
And for his decades of service, tenacious pursuit of his goals, and perseverance in the face of adversity, Waubonsee Community College has recognized Bellafiore as its Featured Alumnus for the month of March.
When a young Vince Bellafiore first set foot on the Waubonsee campus in 1970, he didn't imagine it would take him 17 more years to complete his first two-year degree.
But after taking a few classes at Waubonsee, he left to pursue his first career.
"I had a chance to go out there and earn a living as a full-time carpenter," Bellafiore said. "So, while I went through a four-year apprenticeship, and then continued to learn as a journeyman, school was really kind of put on the back burner."
But after about a decade in carpentry, Bellafiore stumbled upon a career with which he quickly fell in love - law enforcement. It began with a stint as an auxiliary officer with the Batavia Police Department in the late 1970s. And as his love for police work deepened, Bellafiore decided to take the oath of a full-time Batavia Police Officer in 1981.
While with the department in the 1980s, Bellafiore discovered that, to advance his career, college coursework would be valuable. So he returned to Waubonsee, "taking classes here and there," he said.
"But it was more there than here, if you know what I mean," he said, with a laugh.
Nonetheless, in 1986, Bellafiore's dedication paid off with a promotion to the rank of sergeant. The following year he graduated from Waubonsee with an associate degree. He continued as a sergeant in the Batavia Police Department until 1998, when an injury in the line of duty forced him to retire.
But Bellafiore didn't stop there. A year later, he took a position at Marmion, teaching classes to the young men who take part in the Roman Catholic military academy's Leadership Education and Development, or LEAD, Program.
Bellafiore now serves as director of the LEAD program, which provides instruction in leadership ethics, skills and strategies to the approximately 20 percent of the school's cadets not enlisted in the Junior ROTC program. Students are required to either participate in ROTC or the LEAD program throughout their four years at the school.
Soon after taking the Marmion position, however, Bellafiore realized that he needed more than a two-year degree to excel in his new role. So, more than three decades after first setting foot in a college classroom, Bellafiore dedicated himself to earning first his bachelor's degree, then his master's degree, from National Louis University in Wheeling. He was able to attain both degrees within three years thanks to the university’s accelerated degree programs and the prior credits he had earned through years of various courses here and there at schools like Northwestern University, the University of Illinois and Aurora University.
"Here I was, in my 50s, and in two-and-a-half years, I finished both degrees," Bellafiore said. "I was proud of that. And at the same time, it was something I knew that, if I had tried to do it the traditional way, I would never have finished."
But he said the lessons imparted to him by his experiences in and out of the classroom have provided him with valuable insights to share with his students – lessons that are applicable to anyone, anywhere, at anytime.
"Learning is important in all aspects of what we do," Bellafiore said. "We're all lifelong learners.”
"But even more so, it's the idea of keeping your eye on the prize, having vision, and, definitely, finishing what you start."
Bellafiore said those are some of the same lessons he and his wife of 41 years, Peggy, have attempted to impart to their own children, Anthony, VJ and Emily, all of whom are now in their 30s and have embarked upon their own life journeys.
Anthony, for instance, followed at least partially in his father's footsteps, also graduating from Waubonsee in the late 1990s with an associate degree, though in a much more traditional timeframe.
"Waubonsee offers a great foundation," Bellafiore said. "No matter the educational setting, what you get out of your education depends on what you put into it."
Teachers, he said, can point their students in the right direction, and schools can provide strong foundational pieces.
But it's what a student does with those pieces that will determine the destinations they can reach on their personal and professional journeys.
And, Bellafiore said, how long it takes to get there is secondary.