Born in Schenectady in 1946 to Salvatore and Marion Vacca, Vacca attended Mont Pleasant High School and graduated from SUNY Brockport; he earned his M.S. from SUNY Albany and his Ph.D. from Syracuse University.
He was a professor of special education and literacy at St. John's University, and foster youth advocate for the Department of Social Services. Jim began his career in education as a teacher of persuasive communication at the University of Buffalo where one of his students was Wolf Blitzer of CNN News.
In 1976 developed and implemented one of the first classroom programs for children with autism in Albany. He moved to Long Island as principal at Western Suffolk BOCES.
He has also worked for the Commack School District, Uniondale, Sewanhaka (Floral Park Memorial), and Malverne School Districts. Vacca was chair of the Department of Special Education and Literacy Long Island University and director of the CASE Program.
Vacca started at LIU Post (formerly the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University), as an adjunct professor in 1985 and joined the full-time faculty as a visiting professor in 2001. He was promoted to assistant professor in 2002 and received his promotion to associate professor in 2008. He also taught as an adjunct professor of literacy at Adelphi University from 1985 to 1997. From 1998 to 1999 he was chairman of the March of Dimes Golden Apple Award Committee.
For the past 10 years, he had served as educational consultant and foster child advocate for the Department of Social Services in Suffolk County. In 2010, he was a recipient of the Suffolk County Child Abuse and Neglect Violence Volunteer and Professional Award from the Suffolk County Advisory Board on Child Protection and the Suffolk County Executive’s Task Force to Prevent Family Violence.Described by family members as "a true people person," he loved spending time with his extended families and many close friends. He collected baseball memorabilia and had an encyclopedic memory for music trivia.
Vacca is survived by his wife of 44 years, Mary (Sweeney); his daughters Claire Lamy (Ryan) of Annapolis, Elena Gerkens (Gregory) of Holbrook, and Dr. Maria Vacca (Brennan Matuza) of San Francisco; as well as three grandchildren, Madeline and Colin Lamy and Robert Gerkens; and two brothers, Richard Vacca and Raymond Vacca, and nieces and nephews. He is preceded in death by his parents, his brother Joseph, and his beloved cat Doobie.
A Mass of Christian Burial was said Wednesday at at St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church in Huntington.
Memorial donations may be sent to St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church at Parish Outreach, Trocaire House, Huntington, March of Dimes or Autism Speaks.