Deaths | August 10, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Community Pulse - August 10, 2012


Renee Serventi

Services were held Aug. 8 for Renee Serventi, a teacher at Walter Hays Elementary School who died Aug. 4.

Serventi, 38, died from complications of Type 1 diabetes, which she had lived with since the age of 4, her husband, Tony Serventi, said.

Walter Hays Principal Mary Bussmann called Serventi "an incredibly devoted teacher who was passionate about teaching and preparing her students academically but also building skills to become contributing members of society.

"The Walter Hays community is feeling a great loss at this time," Bussmann said. "We send our prayers and thoughts to her wonderful family."

Renee and Tony Serventi moved to Sunnyvale from Grosse Pointe, Mich., last year, and Renee Serventi began teaching fourth and fifth grade at Walter Hays at the start of the 2011-12 school year.

Born July 5, 1974, in Grosse Pointe, Renee Bommarito Serventi was the first of four children of Mary Margaret Felling and Vito Bommarito. As a child she attended ADA Camp Midicha, a camp for children with diabetes.

She attended Grosse Pointe public schools, graduating from Grosse Pointe South High School in 1992. She earned bachelor and master's degrees in autism spectrum disorders from Wayne State University. She loved children, her husband said. While completing her education, she worked for many years as a nanny.

She taught in the Grosse Pointe public schools until moving to the Bay Area last year. As a child, Serventi enjoyed spending time on her ancestral family farm in Padua, Minn. She celebrated her 38th birthday in July with her husband, mother and dozens of aunts, uncles and cousins. She enjoyed pottery, shopping, arts, cooking, reading and entertaining.

In addition to her husband and parents, Serventi is survived by her siblings, Helen, Frank and Edward; nieces, nephews and many aunts, uncles and cousins.

Memorial contributions may be made to Camp Midicha, ADA Southfield, 300 Galleria Office Center, Suite 111, Southfield, MI 48034 (; or to Adrian Dominican Sisters, Adrian, MI 49221 (

Russell Wright

Russell Wright, a popular children's gymnastics teacher, drowned in Yosemite National Park Aug. 1.

Wright, 57, taught Palo Alto children for a decade at Gym Fit for Little Ones at the Lucie Stern Community Center. He taught toddlers and kids up to age 12 a creative, ever-changing gymnastics program that was meant to open them up to the joys of gymnastics and self-expression rather than turning them into professional athletes, said his sister, Moria Peters.

"He was teaching children how to be children," she said. "Rusty always tried to draw out from everyone their highest creative potential. He had this ability to get people to open up to the natural world."

Peters said he was an "extraordinary father" to his 20-year-old daughter, Monica, and his eldest daughter, Rachelle Thomas, 28, of Springfield, Ore.

She said he attended Aragon High School and Walden School in San Mateo and lived in San Mateo with his mother, Elsie Wright. She said his death is the hardest thing she has ever dealt with.

"Everybody that knew him was extremely fond of him. He had a personality that just seemed to mix with everybody," she said.

He loved music and was a well-known local guitarist for many years, filling the home's family room with instruments of all kinds, she said. He was a composer and guitar teacher who wrote and performed avant-garde improvisational jazz. Peters said her brother was extremely bright, but he initially had trouble in school because of undiagnosed dyslexia. But his introduction to guitar at age 14 and his love of gymnastics opened up his world.

As a boy he loved to climb a large tree in the family's yard and walked along the top of the backyard fence. His remarkable agility earned him the nickname "Monkey Boy," she said. He would hop the fence and sneak into the adjacent College of San Mateo gym. He taught himself gymnastics there, she said.

Parents whose children took lessons from him also expressed sadness. Gabrielle Conway said Wright's death is a huge loss for the children. Her daughter, Abigail Brown, was in his class.

"My daughter absolutely adored Russ. Russ was so amazing. A gentle giant. My daughter loved being free to do what she wanted in his class. It was a class full of joy," she said.

Personnel at Lucie Stern on Saturday expressed shock and sadness when they learned of his death.

He was at a Merced River swimming hole with his daughter when currents carried him downstream. His foot became caught between two boulders, his sister said. His daughter Monica was with him for their annual trip. They loved to swim in rivers and often went snorkeling, Peters said.

On Wednesday they were alone in the spot near the entrance of Yosemite when the accident occurred. His daughter sustained minor injuries while trying to rescue him. After she realized she could not safely free him, she sought help, Peters said.

"It was a real ordeal. He was her best friend and her entire world. When they left here they drove out of here laughing. He was probably as happy as he ever was moments before he died," she said.

He is survived by his mother, Elsie Wright; daughters, Rachelle Thomas and Monica Wright; sister, (Nancy) Moria Peters; and "a large and loving extended family and many grieving friends," Peters said.


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