Chaplain’s faith uplifts his family’s spirit |

Chaplain’s faith uplifts his family’s spirit

by F.T. Norton
Appeal Staff Writer
Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Bill Colonna, a former chaplain with the Carson City Sheriff's Department, talks Tuesday with his wife Shelly. Colonna, who has been hospitalized since February, is dying from complications of diabetes.

There is an unexpected lightness in Bill Colonna’s hospital room despite the fact that the former Carson City Sheriff’s chaplain and one-time radio personality is dying. His once-full cheeks and thick fingers are now drawn and thin. The ravages of a lifetime of diabetes that finally sucked the last strength out of his body are obvious.

But beyond that is his trademark cropped haircut that made him look more like a grunt than a man of the cloth. With his face gaunt, there’s no doubting that those are deep brown Sicilian eyes looking back at you. And when he grasps your hand, it’s a firm grip that lasts a little too long, as if he’s saying a silent good-bye.

When Colonna isn’t floating in the relief that pain medication gives him, he speaks slowly and deliberately.

He said his 14-year-old son Dominick, who played several songs for him on his violin, is “awesome. He’s awesome.” Colonna’s message to those who read this story is simple, “Love the Lord.”

When he is washed away in a Dilaudid wave, the medication doesn’t inhibit his ability to smile. He smiles a lot.

Colonna, 45, and his wife of 16 years, Shelly, decided on Dec. 12 to turn off the dialysis machine that was keeping him alive. Doctors are uncertain how much time he has left, but they are certain the end is coming.

His father, Nicholas, said he was not very happy with that decision.

“But Bill said, ‘I never wanted to live on a machine, and now I realize that the dialysis is a machine.’

“It’s not more progress. As a matter of fact, we’re going backwards and not forward,” the patriarch said, casting loving glances at the youngest of his three sons whom he calls his “baby.”

“The kidneys are gone and other things aren’t working like they should, and it’s a constant breakdown of his system. He said ‘I don’t want to be a burden. I don’t want to sit there and be a vegetable,'” Nicholas recalled, “And he said, ‘Besides, I’m going home to the Lord.'”

Shelly sits next to her husband, repeating to him the things that his visitors say. When he sleepily looks at her, she leans in and smiles at him. On a bulletin board in his room are messages from those who’ve visited. In a display box on a table is Carson City Sheriff’s Chaplain’s badge No. 5, retired by Sheriff Kenny Furlong as a gift to honor Colonna’s four years of service to the department.

“That was his congregation,” Shelly said.

The foot of his hospital bed is draped in garland, courtesy of a nurse, said Nicholas.

Colonna spent his first 14 years in New York, a year in Florida, and at age 15, he moved to Nevada with his parents.

He graduated from Wooster High School around 1979, and for a short time worked as a disc jockey in Louisiana, Georgia and in Reno on K-BULL.

Diabetes stole his eyesight for two years while he was in Georgia. When he could see again, he became a chaplain in 2000 and then almost immediately became a sheriff’s chaplain.

In March 2006, they found out his kidneys were failing, and he’s been hospitalized since February. He’s been unable to walk since August.

Shelly said Colonna’s favorite thing to do, besides minister, is to sit outside and smoke a cigar and play cribbage.

She said he’s fearless when it comes to what will happen next.

“There is nothing to be scared of,” Colonna said.

• Contact reporter F.T. Norton at or 881-1213.


Messages for Bill Colonna can be left at

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