'A part of everything': Community pays tribute to Jon Shay, a pillar of Dansville

Dansville businessman, community leader, philanthropist remembered for making a difference

By Jasmine Willis
The Express
Jon Shay, pictured here with his wife, Linda, at the opening of The Shay Family Athletic Hall of Fame at Alfred State College in July 2020.

DANSVILLE — A community mourns the loss of a great businessman, community leader, friend and humanitarian.

Jon Shay, 78, passed away at Noyes Hospital on Monday, Jan. 18. He left behind an enriching legacy that cannot be replaced or measured.

Jon Shay touched every life in his hometown of Dansville and beyond. People called him Mr. Dansville. They will tell you he was everywhere at once. He was at all of the events, impacted every life he touched, and made you believe in yourself.

Tom Wamp, Dansville Rotary Club member and a childhood friend, said Jon Shay was the key to making anything a success in the community.

“We were both hometown boys. Even though he was only a year older than me I always looked to him as a mentor. We did a lot of the same things. When his father ran the truck company he talked about the importance of volunteerism. Jon saw from his father’s example how important volunteer work was to the community. He knew how much the community would benefit from volunteerism,” he said.

“I noticed that if there was any way to have a successful project in this community you needed the pieces of the puzzle to come together. The key piece of that puzzle was always Jon Shay. There were very few projects that didn’t go through Jon first to become successful. He was always the key component. The community of Dansville was always number one in his eyes.”

Throughout his life, Shay was a strong supporter of commerce and community in Livingston and Allegany counties. He was a member of the Alfred State President's Society and the Alfred State Development Fund Board, Inc. His contribution to Alfred State’s Major Gifts Campaign resulted in The Shay Family Athletic Hall of Fame, which is located in the Orvis Activities Center and is the new home for the 88 individuals and 10 teams that have been honored in the past.

“Alfred State is deeply saddened by the loss of Jon Shay, who has long been a strong supporter of our college. Just last year, thanks to his generosity, we were able to open The Shay Family Athletic Hall of Fame, which will serve as a permanent tribute to both Pioneer Excellence and the Shay family," said Alfred State President Dr. Skip Sullivan. The college flag was lowered at half-staff for the rest of the week. 

After graduating from Dansville High School in 1960, Shay quickly became involved in the family trucking business - Shay's Service, Inc. He remained in an ownership role of Shay's Service and other family corporations until 2012.

During these 50-plus years, Shay oversaw the growth of existing family businesses with his brother Tim, and father, Harold. He was an integral part of the creation and expansion of new family businesses: Main Tire Exchange, Inc., HASCO Realty, and Dansville Mini-Storage, Inc. He was also a president of the New York State Motor Truck Association. 

While his businesses flourished, Shay was equally successful in making a positive impact in the community. 

“Jon Shay taught all of us how important volunteer work is to a small town. I watched him do this since we were young boys. We went to St. Patrick’s together and were alter boys. We were in little league together. Jon was a leader from the very start. He was always the wheel that made the operation a true success,” Wamp added.

“Jon was part of everything in this town. He was part of the hospital, chamber, clubs, school, fundraisers, and anything that was important to Dansville in the last 50 years. Jon was the key component to everything in the last 50 years. If there is a successful project in this town look for Jon Shay’s name to be attached to it. Jon was a mentor to so many people and led most of the activities. It didn’t take long for him to become the president of chairman of whatever he was passionate about. That was Jon Shay. He meant a lot to me and it will never be the same without him.”

Jon Shay, front row at right leading the charge with the Dansville Rotary Club.

Throughout his life, Shay was repeatedly recognized by his peers for his outstanding service to others and earned many awards and honors, including the Dansville Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year (1982); being named the first recipient of the George Tabor Community Service Award by the Livingston County Chamber of Commerce; being named the Tire Dealer Magazine (a national publication) Humanitarian Award Recipient (2006), given for charitable and civic community contributions; and his 2020 enshrinement on the Foundation for Dansville Education Wall of Pride, one of the Dansville community’s highest honors.  

“I'm certain you could write a book about Jon and his accomplishments and the influence he had on the community. He was certainly a huge positive influence on so many. He remembered everything about people. He always showed genuine interest in people and gave them his undivided attention when speaking to them. That act made you feel important; worth his time,” Jenni Leuzzi, Dansville Rotary member, said. “He always made me think ‘What would Jon expect of me’ when someone asked me to volunteer and I'll always feel he's watching over me helping make sure I do the right thing. I'll miss him for a long, long time.”

“When I first met Jon Shay, I was just starting my career with the Dansville Wayland Pennysaver in 1996," recalled Judy Smith-Cronk, Dansville Rotary Club member. "I remember being impressed by his generous, friendly nature. He remembered my name and always made it a point to say hello to me no matter where we bumped into one another. Years later, I would have the privilege of serving in the Dansville Rotary Club with Jon. He embodied the Rotary slogan of ‘Service above self.’ You could find him anywhere he was needed with his take charge and get things done personality. He was a true hometown hero and he will be missed deeply by many.”

Jon Shay had a major impact on Dansville Central School. He believed in the youth of the community.

“If you’ve ever lived in Dansville in the past 70 plus-years, Jon Shay is someone that has had a positive impact on you, whether you know it or not," said Dave Moodie, Dansville Varsity Boys Basketball coach. "Been to Noyes Hospital? Jon Shay! Babcock Park? Jon Shay! Appreciated the flower beds on Main Street or witnessed community members picking up trash on the side of the road? Jon Shay! Thanksgiving dinners, books, food in a backpack, fun week at camp, trophies, T-shirt’s and successful fundraisers... Jon Shay! The list goes on and on. 

"His accomplishments and the ability to provide for others was not done alone, and that’s probably his greatest attribute to all of us. He motivated others to do more! Leadership is the ability to influence others. The influence and impact that Jon Shay has had on Dansville is unmeasurable. I’m a better person because of Jon Shay. Dansville is a better place because of Jon Shay.”

Jon Shay influenced the lives of every person he ever met. They went on to inspire greatness in other people. His legacy created ripples that reached beyond the community walls.

“When I came to Dansville more than 42 years ago to start WDNY, Jon Shay was one of the first people I met. He was Mr. Dansville. There's no one who promoted Dansville more than Jon and the Shay family. Decades ago, the Shay family gave a big chunk of the land that Noyes Memorial Hospital is built on today. Jon was instrumental in supporting the hospital, most recently chairing the fundraiser for the new Emergency Department,” David Mance, Dansville Rotary Club member, said. “Jon worked to rehab the old hospital into the senior apartment complex it is today on Main Street. Jon was someone I always looked up to. I am proud to have known and been a friend of Jon's. He was loved and respected by not only Dansville residents, but people all over Western New York. His support of Rotary was unbelievable. He was at every event and organized most of them. His love of golf was only outdone by his love of his family and Dansville. We will miss him greatly but will always remember what a great, great person he was.”

Floyd Sick, Dansville Village Board trustee, worked with Jon Shay for 18 years.

“I worked for him for 18 years and they were the best days of my life. He will be sorely missed by many and not replaceable by anyone.” he said.

Shay and his wife, Linda, were married in 1963 and had three daughters, Kelly (ASC '85), Kristine (ASC admissions counselor 1990-99), and Nicole. During his life, he demonstrated enormous generosity in giving back to his community, having been a member and president of the Noyes Memorial Hospital Board of Directors, a member and president of the Tri-County Family Medicine Board of Directors, a chair of Noyes Health Foundation, a member and president of the Dansville Chamber of Commerce, and a 40-plus-year member and multiple term president of the Dansville Rotary Club. You could always see him at the Thanksgiving Dinners and Community Clean-Ups.

“All of us at Noyes are saddened by and mourning the passing of Jon Shay. His life-long dedication to Noyes and to the health and well-being of the greater Dansville community were a gift that kept on giving. We are all so grateful to have known him, and we will continue to be inspired and motivated by his commitment to helping others,” said Noyes Health in a statement.

Jon Shay left behind an impact that will continue to enrich lives and make his hometown a great place to live, work, and raise a family.