A memorial service to celebrate the life of Tony Della Penna is planned in Ashland Sunday.
Della Penna, whose legal name is Frank Damiano, was murdered Oct. 10 by robbers who broke into his home on the outskirts of Ashland, police say.
The celebration will take place at 4 p.m. inside the Havurah Shir Hadash, 185 N. Mountain Ave., and will be led by the Rev. Ruth Kirby of Ashland.
Della Penna, 62, lived at 1 Corral Lane, in the Bear Creek Mobile Home park between Interstate 5 and South Pacific Highway.
Officials said whoever killed Della Penna used a sharp-edged weapon.
Investigators believe Othon Robert Campos Jr., 41, and Merlin Elmo Bound III, 34, entered Damiano's trailer on Oct. 10 with the intention of robbing him. For reasons unknown, the robbery turned into a homicide, police say. Both suspects are lodged in the Jackson County Jail awaiting trial, and both have pleaded not guilty to all charges.
"This has just been unbelievable; I am still in some level of shock," said Kirby, who was a close friend to Della Penna for more than 10 years. "It's been just kind of unbelievable that it would happen to someone like him. "¦ There is just a huge group of people that are affected by this in a pretty deep way."
Kirby said Della Penna, in addition to being a theater enthusiast, was a dedicated tenor who sang in the Rogue Valley Peace Choir and Rogue Valley Gay Men's Chorus.
"He was very much involved in the gay community and very outwardly about that and very strong and powerful and clear about his identity," Kirby said. "He was really into the theater, had season tickets in a few of the local theaters in the area, and he went regularly to that. He also made jewelry, and did massage and had a business for talismans."
A talisman is a piece of jewelry or another object thought to have supernatural properties that protect and bring luck to whoever possesses it. Della Penna interviewed individuals and helped them craft personal talismans to aid them on their own journeys through life, Kirby said.
"Everybody that he was involved with "¦ they all feel like they were close to him," said Kirby, who has led a healing circle for about 35 people who grieved together over Della Penna's death. "He just takes them into his heart and they connect. He was able to generate closeness with people."
David Kellogg, 31, of Central Point, who knew Della Penna for about five years, said the two formed a special bond during their friendship.
"He always called me 'son,' in return I would call him 'dad.' We had this father-son relationship and he just meant the world to me," Kellogg said. "It was just awesome that I could be there for him, he was basically a father to me."
Kellogg and Della Penna met at a Southern Oregon Pride parade, Kellogg said, but the pair didn't hit it off immediately.
"Later on we ended up talking to each other and we just became the best of friends. Since then he kind of took me under his wing — as my dad in a way," Kellogg said. "I remember when I use to work at Macy's he was my best customer. He would buy fragrances all the time. He would always wear a different one every day."
Della Penna's favorite fragrance was The One, by Dolce & Gabbana, Kellogg said.
Before Della Penna moved to Ashland, he worked as a jewelry salesman in Los Angeles, where he lived with his ex-wife and son, Kirby said.
"All of that came to a close before he moved up here "¦he hasn't been close with them in this last 15 years," Kirby said, though the family is holding its own memorial service for Della Penna in Los Angeles.
In order to pay for some of the costs of the service and other expenses incurred by Della Penna's family, a memorial fund titled "Bear Man Memorial Fund," named after his extensive teddy bear collection, has been established to accept donations at Wells Fargo Bank. Any additional money in that fund will be donated to the Camelot Theatre in Talent, Kirby said.
For additional information about the service or memorial fund, email firstname.lastname@example.org. There is also a Facebook page established for the event titled "Celebration of Life Service for Tony Della Penna."
"He cared about a lot of things, he was involved not with just the gay community, the theater, the peace choir, he was involved in a lot of things and he touched a lot of people's lives, and to have this person no longer is just an incredible loss," Kellogg said. "He was such a powerful person, he brought so much life and joy and happiness to this valley."
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or email email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/swhlr.