People Who Have Influence My Life-Pete Lanasa

I attended Gorman Elementary School. Gorman was a school for kids with disabilities and located around the corner from United Cerebral Palsy and Dayton Children’s Hospital. I used to think it was ironic for all of the facilities to be located in the same area. I now know it was purposely set that way to be convenient for caregivers, just like a one stop shop. Gorman is also where I met Mr. Pete Lanasa.

Mr. Pete Lanasa, the principal of Gorman, stood what seemed like twelve feet tall. He was Italian and had a very deep voice. Although nice, the man was stern. He knew all the students by name and required us to have eye contact when conversing with him.  He invoked a very important lesson in my young brain because now, I’m the queen of eye contact.

You never knew when Mr. Lanasa would pop in and have a seat.  He would just stop in the classroom at any given time to check out what the kids were learning.  We would always do our best by taking time to answer questions, just to impress him. I could see in his face how thrilled he was for the students trying to show off for him. He would reward us with a smile, hi-five or hand-shake. He would also pop in on therapy sessions to see how we were developing physically because if there was anything we needed, he was going to make sure we got it.

The one thing that has stayed with me till this day….making sure I never use the words, I CAN’T.  I said it a few times and Mr. Lanasa would look over his glasses and say, “Shari Cooper, the word can’t is not in the dictionary”.  Back then I was thinking this man has issues, does he not know I have a disability? As I grew older and wiser, I started to understand why Mr. Lanasa didn’t like those words. If you keep saying, “I can’t” it will eventually hinder you from even trying. Because of Mr. Lanasa’s philosophy, you will not catch me saying those words. Even when things are hard for me, I will not say them. Instead, I’ll figure out another way to get things done even if that means asking for assistance. It doesn’t matter how you get things done as long as they get done in the end.

I later found out Mr. Lanasa had a son with a disability. I now understand why he was so invested and compassionate about the students succeeding. Not only was he our principal, but a father who truly understood what it means to live with a disability.

When I moved into my first apartment, I needed some items in-order to enhance my independence. I found out Mr. Lanasa was over a foundation that could assist. Of course, I reached out to him and he was right there to help me once again.

Mr. Lanasa finally retired.  His wife, Flo, found me on Facebook and sent me a message saying Mr. Lanasa wanted to talk to me, so I gave her my number. Mr. Lanasa left me a message saying he had read a column on RESPECT that I had written in the local paper.  He wanted to let me know how proud he was of me. Talk about emotional!  Mr. Lanasa helped transform me into a positive thinker who believes, I CAN and for that, I salute him. Thank you for your influence Mr. Lanasa!

21 comments on “People Who Have Influence My Life-Pete Lanasa

  1. Phil Eddy on

    Great story.
    I know the Lanasa’s, Pete, Flo, son Tommy and the their two daughters.
    I’m glad you had a chance to experience another great human being, like yourself.
    Just keep doing what you’re doing because our world needs people like you and Pete.
    Peace to you.

    • Shari Cooper on

      Hey Averette My Fellow Gorman Classmate!
      Yes, Mr Lanasa was great! Remember our Gorman talent show when we preformed Michael Jackson’s Beat It! Those were the good days! Thanks for the comment and hope all is well.

  2. Dionne Jilani on

    He was my principal when i was in elementary… at Cornell Heights I had always wonder3d what happened with him…Great story and also mentor he was

      • Flo Lanasa on

        Dear Shari, Pete couldn’t have received a better 84th birthday present than the article you wrote about him.He was so proud to share it with our children and friends. He loved working with the Dayton Board of Education and especially at Gorman School and gifted students like you. He was so proud of you and what you have accomplished in your adult life! My feelings are all of us, at some time in our lives will need someone who cares and will take care of us, from infancy until we die. Those with physical or mental challenges need us a lilts more .You have help educate others that by saying “ I CAN” makes them aware of what people with disabilities can accomplish. Keep up the good work. You, like Mr. Lanasa, are advocates for the disabled.

        • Shari Cooper on

          Hello Mrs. Flo!
          I’m so glad Mr. Lanasa got to see this article. I owe a lot of my achievements to him and just had to let him and the world know. Knowing he’s proud, means a great deal to me. Tell him happy birthday and I’ll never quit advocating!
          Much Love and Many Hugs

  3. Jerome Haney on

    Shari I remember his name, from having been a former classroom teacher at DPS for sixteen years. Yes, He was an incredible person. I too am reminded of my first grade teacher. The late Mrs. Mary Blackburn. I decided then that I wanted to be a teacher, and its was my seventh grade teacher that continue that inspiration, and my high school Negro History teacher at Belmont, former Mayor Rhine McLin that I decided I wanted to teach history. I once read, “teachers affect eternity, they never know where their teachings stop.” Thank you for sharing and even bringing my memories back.

  4. Larry Wells on

    Hello all,

    I also attended Gorman in the early to mid-80s. Mr.Lanasa was also one of the most important people in my life. He was one of the first individuals, outside of my family to believe in me, and to instill in me that I was capable of achieving good things. Today I am a husband, a father, and the full-time manager of approximately 20 other individuals, who also happen to have disabilities. It’s such an honor to pass along some of the lessons that Mr. Lanasa taught us at such an early age.

    I came across this post as a stroke of luck, or as I prefer to see it, as a blessing. First, I would love to speak with and see him again soon. I’d just love the opportunity to shake his hand and thank him. Would any of you happen to have contact information for him? If you do, or if you happen to remember me from Gorman, please feel free to email me at



    • Shari Cooper on

      Thanks Larry for your comment,
      If you read through the comments, you’ll see Mr. Lanasa’s wife Flo, commented. Perhaps, she’ll see your comment and give Mr. Lanasa your contact information. Keep your fingers crossed.

      Glad to read Mr. Lanasa was a great influence in your life as he was mines.


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