August 28 – Amsterdam Birthday “Clips”

41bfb44b3c414d4aab7392d9e32d1043Two different Amsterdam hair cutters from two different generations celebrate birthdays today. Art Iannuzzi was an Amsterdam institution. The folks who regularly sat in his barber chair in the shop on Market Hill were treated to much more than a haircut. Art was living proof of the American dream. He had come to this country from Italy in 1938 at the age of fifteen and just six years later was fighting for his adopted country against the German Army in France, where he won a Purple Heart. He returned home and married the love of his life, Lena Fusella. That union would last over 65 years and produce two daughters and a son who Art absolutely adored. In addition to cutting hair to take care of his growing brood, Art worked at GE for many years. Those who knew him best remember a guy with a great sense of humor and wonderful unabashed patriotism. For many years he would visit elementary classrooms in Amsterdam schools on Flag Day and talk to the students about patriotism. There were few among us more qualified or willing to do so.

13716240_10153834182527075_4857059583878331713_nToday’s second Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant certainly is a lot different than Art Iannuzzi. First of all he’s young enough to have been his grandson and unlike Art, Jeffrey Kozlowski was born right here in Amsterdam and graduated from Amsterdam High School in 1986. But he’s accomplished quite a bit in his rather young lifetime and he’s battled a few of life’s struggles along the way. I spend just twenty minutes with this young man every five weeks but so look forward to doing so because I know I will enjoy the conversation and the company. He’s thirty years younger than me but if you listen to all the things he’s done and been through in his life, he sounds as if he’s lived at least twice as long. He was a licensed pilot, owned a chain of video stores, and holds the worlds record for most consecutive days eating a banana split. But as different as he is from Art Iannuzzi, he’s a lot like him too. He works tremendously hard, he is amazingly good at what he does, he loves his country, his family and his friends. I’m honored to be one of them.

August 27 – Happy Birthday Bob Caputo

Caputo222Back in the 1960’s in this town, bowling was the most popular sport around. I’m gonna guess that at least half the men, women and children living in Amsterdam used to bowl and many of them owned their own ball and a pair of bowling shoes too (remember the AMF Three Dot and the Dick Weber Five Star?) The game was so hot that even though there were three bowling alleys already in operation in and around the city, a group of local investors still got together and built another, a true showcase of keggling over on Route 5S that they christened “Windmill Lanes.”

Amsterdam’s newest bowling emporium opened its doors on September 30, 1967 and instantly became the hottest spot in this city. Everything about the place was top shelf and it quickly attracted the best bowlers around and back then one of the very best was today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant, Bobby Caputo.

Just 20 years old when Windmill opened, Caputo not only bowled real good, he looked real good too, sort of like a young Paul Anka in a bowling shirt. Back then, Windmill’s Men’s City League was Amsterdam’s premier bowling circuit and the sport was so “in” that they bowled on Friday nights. Caputo was that league’s flashy young superstar. He was so good that if he failed to hit 700 it felt as if he had an off night…

My complete birthday post for Bob Caputo will appear in the new second edition of A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam, NY Birthdays, which will be available before the 2016 Holiday season. I also distribute an Amsterdam, NY Birthday Blog Monthly Newsletter that includes the full birthday posts for three of the twenty-to-thirty  people whose birthdays I recognize each month. Each newsletter also includes an Amsterdam Birthday Quiz that will test your knowledge and memory of people and events in your hometown.

The monthly newsletter is free. If you’d like to receive it, just make sure your name and e-mail address are included on this list.

August 26 – Happy Birthday William Mycek Jr.

mycek222If one didn’t know better, one might think that heredity had a lot to do with who filled the various judgeships that exist in New York State’s Montgomery County. Regardless of how it came to pass, the dispensing of justice in this area certainly seems as if it has evolved into a cross-generational family affair. The current Supreme Court Judge is Joe Sise, whose recently departed father, Robert Sise served in various judgeship roles during his long and distinguished career on both the county and state benches. Current Montgomery County Court Judge, the Hon. Felix Catena has even stronger genetic ties to the head seat of a local courtroom. His grandfather and namesake was the revered Supreme Court Judge Felix Aulisi and his dad, Gene Catena held the gavel in the local Family Court for many years. The county’s current Surrogate Court Judge is the former County D.A. Guy Tomlinson, whose dad Malcolm once held the same position and was also a long time Police Court Judge in the City of Amsterdam. And finally, last but not least is the newest member of the local bench, today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant, William Mycek Jr, who was recently sworn in as Amsterdam City Court Judge while proudly wearing the robe of his late grandfather, former County Surrogate Court Justice John Mycek.

Amsterdam’s Top Ten All-Time Eat-In Restaurants

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Here are the top three restaurants on the list. The rest will appear in the August 2016 issue of the Amsterdam NY Birthday Blog Newsletter which will be distributed via e-mail before the end of this month:

  • Russo’s – Outlasted them all and still going strong.
  • Isabel’s – The booth room was magical and the thin-fried eggplant appetizer divine.
  • Brownie’s – At three AM, two dogs all the way with fries & gravy and a chocolate milk were all that mattered.

Your comments are more than welcome!

Subscribers to the Amsterdam NY Birthday Blog Newsletter will find out what other current and former Amsterdam eateries made the grade in the upcoming August issue. We will be featuring an Amsterdam Birthday Blog All Time Top Ten list in each monthly issue of the newsletter going forward. Next month’s list will identify our choice for the Top Ten Amsterdam-born Baseball Players of all time.

If you have not yet subscribed to the free newsletter for this blog you can do so here.

August 25 – Happy Birthday PFC Edward Steffek

1964, PI Plt 183, Steffek, Edward Stephen_dob 8-25-1946 - 1-1-1966(Here are some excerpts from my post about this brave Amsterdam Marine.)

As hard as it is for me to believe, the first death of an Amsterdam, NY serviceman during the Vietnam War took place a half-century ago, on New Year’s Day in 1966. The young hero was Edward Steffek, a nineteen year old graduate of Amsterdam High, who grew up working on his grandfather’s farm in the Town of Florida…

…His unit was stationed in the Thua Thien Province of South Vietnam and that is where Private First Class Steffek lost his life. At the time no details about his death were published in the press but according to information now available online, his death was officially ruled….

…Ed Steffek’s boyhood buddy, “Jungle Jim” Yermas was at the ceremony and actually helped put his friend’s stone in place. Yermas told a Schenectady Gazette reporter covering the event that he and Steffek used to ride their bikes together as kids and go fishing in a pond that was located behind Steffek’s home…

…Edward Steffek would have turned 70 years-old today. We honor his memory, the supreme sacrifice he made on our behalf and thank him for his honorable and courageous service.

My complete birthday post for PFC. Steffek will appear in the new second edition of A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam, NY Birthdays, which will be available before the 2016 Holiday season. I also distribute an Amsterdam, NY Birthday Blog Monthly Newsletter that includes the full birthday posts for three of the twenty-to-thirty  people whose birthdays I recognize each month. Each newsletter also includes an Amsterdam Birthday Quiz that will test your knowledge and memory of people and events in your hometown.

The monthly newsletter is free. If you’d like to receive it, just make sure your name and e-mail address are included on this list.

August 23 – Happy Birthday Zeke Bella

Zeke Bella222When the Yankees signed Johnny “Zeke” Bella out of Dartmouth College in 1951, they initially assigned the 20-year-old native of Greenwich, Connecticut to the Binghamton Triplets, their Class A Eastern League affiliate. But when the Triplets had completed their short spring training season, New York’s front office changed their minds and sent their young outfielder to Amsterdam to play for Rugmaker Manager Johnny Novosel in what would be the final year of that affiliates existence as a C-level Yankee farm team.

It turned out to be the right move. Novosel teamed Bella in right field with Billy Casanova in left and Frank Wehner in center to form what quickly became one of the most productive starting outfields in Rugmaker history. Bella led the team with a .382 batting average, Casanova belted .354 with 87 RBI’s and Wehner hit .306 and smacked 12 homers. An ankle injury cost Bella a couple of weeks worth of games and then toward the end of the season he was sent back up to Binghamton, where he continued his hot hitting, averaging .317 in 21 games of action against better pitching.

There was by then no doubt Bella had what it took to be a big league ballplayer but history got in the way. He would spend the next three years in the US Army during the Korean War. By the time he returned to another full season of minor league baseball with Binghamton, he was 24 years old. The absence had not effected his hitting skills. He averaged a career high .371 for the Triplets in his return season, which won him the Eastern League batting title. He then got promoted to the Denver Bears the following year and hit .317 for the Yankees’ top farm team. That earned him a call-up to the Bronx in September of that 1957 season, and a big league debut that would become part of the lore that surrounded legendary Yankee skipper, Casey Stengel…

My complete birthday post including the hilarious way Stengel summoned Bella for his first-ever big league at bat will appear in the new second edition of A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam, NY Birthdays, which will be available before the 2016 Holiday season. I also distribute an Amsterdam, NY Birthday Blog Monthly Newsletter that includes the full birthday posts for three of the twenty-to-thirty  people whose birthdays I recognize each month. Each newsletter also includes an Amsterdam Birthday Quiz that will test your knowledge and memory of people and events in your hometown.

The monthly newsletter is free. If you’d like to receive it, just make sure your name and e-mail address are included on this list.

 

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August 22 – Happy Birthday Carl Yastrzemski

167940When I first started following Major League baseball in 1960, I did not hate the Boston Red Sox like I do now. There really was no reason to because back then they stunk and my Yankees were the most successful franchise in all of sports. Today of course, things are different. The Red Sox have not only won more World Championships than my Bronx Bombers in the 21st Century, they currently have a pretty significant edge in talent on their big league roster so its much easier to despise those Beantown Bums. But because above all else I am a baseball fan, there have always been individual Red Sox players I admire. The current one is their wonderful second baseman, Dustin Pedroia, who plays the game the way it was meant to be played. Back when I was a kid my favorite Red Sox was Frank Malzone, who had been born in the Bronx, in the shadows of Yankee Stadium. He was a hustling, hard-hitting and good fielding third baseman and had been a Fenway favorite for years.

Then there was Carl Yastrzemski. The first time I saw him play live was at a 1962 or ’63 Yankees-Red Sox game in the House that Ruth Built. Every time he came up he hit the ball hard and every time a ball came near him in right field, he gobbled it up. Fortunately my Yankees won that day but on my way out of the old Stadium I stopped and purchased a package of 5 x 8 black & white glossy player photos of the Boston Red Sox to add to my growing collection. I got both Malzone and Yastrzemski in that package and I was one happy little baseball fan on the ride back up the thruway that evening.

It was Yastrzemski who would lead the Boston ball club out of the wilderness with his 1967 Triple Crown Performance that helped get the Red Sox to a World Series. By then, the Yankee Dynasty had already crumbled so rooting for Boston and Yastrzemski against St. Louis in the 1967 World Series was easy for me to do, but they lost.

At this point you may be asking yourself why, if this blog is supposed to be celebrating the birthdays of folks who were either born or at one time lived in Amsterdam, NY, you are reading about Carl Yastrzemski, the son of a Long Island potato farmer? There are two answers to that question. The first is that I can find no other August 22nd birthday celebrant to write about and the second is that Yastrzemski did live in Amsterdam for a short while, a very short while but he made quite an impression while he was here.

The kid who would one day be known simply as “Yaz” came to Amsterdam during the last week of July in 1955 to participate in the New York State Babe Ruth League Tournament. By then, the Rug City had lost both their Yankee minor league franchise and the Bigelow-Sanford carpet mills along with the thousands of jobs that went with it. Organizers were hoping that the scores of families who would be coming to Amsterdam from across the state to watch their boys play would not just enjoy the baseball but also get a great impression of the host city. Those organizers included Mortan Guttenberg, Dick Case, Carl Ferrarra, Mike Valerio, Dick Ruback, Norm McKnight, Joe Janeski, Iggy DiMezza, John Cady, Ray Sinda, Bud McQuatters and Joe Demars. As then-Recorder Sports Editor, Johnny Page observed in one of the columns he wrote which welcomed the Babe Ruth-er’s to our City, “…the Tournament is serving notice that our town is not dead.”

Yastrzemski was the 16-year-old star shortstop and pitcher on a team from Bridgehampton, on Long Island, which was coached by his dad. He quickly put everyone on notice just how good he was when he one-hit a team from Harlem-Valley in the Tournament’s very first contest, striking out 13 while driving in two of his team’s five runs with a single and a double and he was just warming up….

My complete birthday post describing the rest of Yaz’s short but effective stay in Amsterdam will appear in the new second edition of A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam, NY Birthdays, which will be available before the 2016 Holiday season. I also distribute an Amsterdam, NY Birthday Blog Monthly Newsletter that includes the full birthday posts for three of the twenty-to-thirty  people whose birthdays I recognize each month. Each newsletter also includes an Amsterdam Birthday Quiz that will test your knowledge and memory of people and events in your hometown.

The monthly newsletter is free. If you’d like to receive it, just make sure your name and e-mail address are included on this list.

 

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August 21 – Happy Birthday John Torani

torani brothers222
John Torani in middle, John Morrell on left and Vito Torani on right.

During the first ten-to-twelve years of my life, feeling hard cold linoleum beneath the soles of my bare feet was part of the waking-up process. Even though Amsterdam was known as the Rug City, most of the floors in the upstairs’ and downstairs’ flats in Amsterdam’s West End were covered with that less expensive hardened linseed oil or resin based material. Your Dad had to have had a really decent job or a good connection with one of the big bosses in an Amsterdam rug mill back then for you to have your toes meet warmer and toastier  tufted carpet when your Mom yelled “Time to wake up” on a school day morning.

But today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant knew a revolution in floor covering was coming when he returned to Amsterdam from military service during World War II. New materials and new manufacturing processes were driving the square foot cost of carpeting down to a point where most everyone could afford it. Between the 1950s and ’60s, carpeting went from being the preferred floor covering in just the formal rooms of the well-to-do, to just about every room of every house in every neighborhood in town. Most of the square yards laid here in Amsterdam were purchased from Carpetland.

John Torani’s parents came to Amsterdam from Pisciotta in Southern Italy at the beginning of the 20th Century. He attended Amsterdam schools and like so many before him, started working in an Amsterdam rug mill until called to duty in WWII. It was after returning to Amsterdam that the idea of opening a store in Amsterdam to sell carpets. Partnering with his brother Vito and brother-in-law, John Morrell, he opened the very first version of Carpetland in a storefront on Forbes Street….

My complete birthday post for John Torani will appear in the new second edition of A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam, NY Birthdays, which will be available before the 2016 Holiday season. I also distribute an Amsterdam, NY Birthday Blog Monthly Newsletter that includes the full birthday posts for three of the twenty-to-thirty  people whose birthdays I recognize each month. Each newsletter also includes an Amsterdam Birthday Quiz that will test your knowledge and memory of people and events in your hometown.

The monthly newsletter is free. If you’d like to receive it, just make sure your name and e-mail address are included on this list.

August 20 – Happy Birthday Tony Filiberto

Tony Filberto working his magic behind Sansalone's meat counter.
Tony Filberto working his magic behind Sansalone’s meat counter.
Mary Filiberto, a West End classic
Mary Filiberto, a West End classic

The neighborhood grocery store was an Amsterdam community mainstay for generations until the big box supermarkets and proliferation of automobiles and multi-car families forced them into extinction. But they fought a good, long and valiant fight here in the Rug City, largely because of the strong personalities of their ownership and the strong relationships those owners built with their customer base. A classic example was Sansalone’s, the former West Main Street market that was last managed by today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant and his wife Mary.

The business was first opened in the late 1930’s by Joe Sansalone, a native of Pisciotta, Italy and his wife Theresa. Theresa kept it going for awhile after Joe died in 1961 but she needed the help of her daughters Rae and Mary to do so. Since both of the Sansalone sisters were also married with three children each of their own, it was pretty clear someone had to step in and run the place full time. That someone turned out to be Mary’s husband Tony Filiberto, who up till then had worked as both an independent carpenter and as a multi-skilled on-the-road repairman for Sears & Roebuck. Born in Amsterdam on August 20, 1927, he also had plenty of grocery and meat cutting experience because at the time he married Mary Sansalone back on Flag Day in 1947, he had worked for his new father-in-law Joe, helping him operate the store.

Tony proved to be a perfect choice. He was a bull of a worker, had a great sense of humor, learned to become an outstanding butcher and could deal effectively with every sort of personality that walked through that market’s front door. Whether you were buying two pounds of his exquisite Italian sausage, a half-pound of baloney sliced thin or a bunch of steaks for a weekend barbecue, Tony consistently had what you needed. He would also carry on a full and detailed conversation with you while he cut, chopped or sliced your order, weighed it, wrapped it in paper, wrote the price on the package and handed it to you with a smile, while sticking his writing utensil back behind his ear. Meanwhile his wife Mary worked the cash register with a young assistant constantly at her side who she’d send throughout the store to get this or that for a customer, while she and whoever that patron happened to be discussed much more important things.

sansalone2Which brings me to Sansalone’s other important function. It was more than just a place to buy the food your family ate. The store was also one of the nerve centers for West End news and gossip. If you lived in that section of town and you wanted to find out who died, who was sick, who had a baby, who lost their job, who got a new job, who was drunk in Russo’s last night, who so and so was having an affair with, who bought a new car, or how much someone lost playing cards at St. Agnello that Friday, you didn’t buy a Recorder. Instead, you just went to Sansalone’s.

That place did an amazing volume of business for a store its size and it wasn’t just people from the West End who shopped there. You could run into just about anyone in the City when you visited that market. Each Christmas, I would give my employees their choice of a ham or prime rib and we would always order them from Sansalone’s. My staff loved their stuff!

While several of Amsterdam’s neighborhood grocery stores closed their doors for good by the late 1980’s (in the West End these closings included Califano’s, Boice’s, Andy’s, and Fusella’s) Sansalone’s continued to thrive and then Mary Filberto suddenly died in February of 1988. She was just 60 years old at the time. It was a crushing blow for Tony and their three children and the store never recovered from her loss. Tony eventually retired and he too passed away in 2001, at the age of 74.

August 19 – Happy Birthday Tim Welch

Tim Welch on the SMI basketball team in 1966
Tim Welch on the SMI basketball team in 1966

Imagine if a degree in meteorology had always been a requirement for television weather reporters? David Letterman might never have been discovered and Willard Scott wouldn’t have been able to wish century-old Americans happy birthday. Locally, folks my age would never have heard long-time Channel 6 weatherman Howard Tupper greet his youngest viewers with his familiar “Hi ya small fry!” And today’s Amsterdam Birthday celebrant would not have become one of the best known Capital District television personalities during the late 1970’s and ’80’s.

Tim as a member of the News Center 6 team.
Tim on the News Center 6 team in the early 1980’s

Tim Welch was born in Amsterdam on this date in 1948. He went to school at Saint Mary’s Institute, where he played varsity basketball for Dutch Howlan and graduated in 1966. He would go on to get his Masters degree in Education from St. Michael’s College but instead of beginning his professional career in the classroom, he migrated into the media. By the late 1970’s, Tupper was ready to give up his role as the dean of local television weathermen and WRGB Channel 6 put Welch on the air to take his place.

Thus began a near-decade-long run of Weather with Welch, during which his well trimmed mustache and his louder than loud plaid dominated wardrobe graced a majority of the TV screens here in Amsterdam both at dinner- and bed-times. He was noted for being a bit unorthodox on air at times as the clip located at the very end of this post shows…

My complete birthday post for Tim Welch will appear in the new second edition of A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam, NY Birthdays, which will be available before the 2016 Holiday season. I also distribute an Amsterdam, NY Birthday Blog Monthly Newsletter that includes the full birthday posts for three of the twenty-to-thirty  people whose birthdays I recognize each month. Each newsletter also includes an Amsterdam Birthday Quiz that will test your knowledge and memory of people and events in your hometown.

The monthly newsletter is free. If you’d like to receive it, just make sure your name and e-mail address are included on this list.