If a casting call went out from a Hollywood director looking for the perfect person to portray an elementary school principal from the 1950’s, 60’s or 70’s, auditions would be closed as soon as todays Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant showed up to read for the part. John Riccio didn’t just look like a school principal from that era, he talked like one and most importantly, he acted like one, from the day he was put in charge of Johnstown’s Warren Street Elementary in 1953 until he exited the Principal’s office at Amsterdam’s Bacon Elementary on the very last day of his outstanding career in 1980.
He was born in Amsterdam, NY on March 17, 1916, the fourth child of Michael and Sophie Riccio. The couple would have four more children and then in 1926, John Riccio’s father tragically died. For the rest of their childhood, the older siblings did what they had to do to help take care of the younger ones, including John who took a job as an usher in Amsterdam’s Rialto Theater when he got to High School and worked his way up to Assistant Manager of the popular movie venue. He graduated from Wilbur Lynch High School in 1935. It then took him the next seven years to work his way through St. Lawrence College and when he finally did in 1942, World War II was raging and Riccio enlisted in the US Army.
His superiors in the Army were among the first to recognize this young man’s gifts as an administrator and John remained stateside during the entire war, serving as a Sergeant Major and Chief of Personnel at Camp Gruber in Oklahoma. He came home in 1945 and got his first teaching job as a science instructor at Knox Junior High in Johnstown. A year later he made the best decision of his life. He married an Amsterdam native, Evelyn Insogna. She had been the librarian at Amsterdam’s Free Library up until 1942, when she became librarian at the Theodore Roosevelt Junior High. She spent the rest of her career in the Amsterdam district retiring with her husband in 1980 from her last position as Supervisor of Media Services.
Meanwhile John spent his summers earning his Masters degree in educational administration from Columbia University. He spent a few summers after that supervising the recreation program for Amsterdam’s Playgrounds. In 1957, he was hired away from the Johnstown district to become the Principal of the two Amsterdam elementary schools located on Guy Park Avenue at the time, West Spring and Guy Park…
The rest of John Riccio’s birthday post will be published in the second editionof A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam NY Birthdays, which will be available for sale right after Thanksgiving. To make sure you get your hands on one of the first copies, join my mailing list here.
The first edition of A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam NY Birthdays, which features my birthday posts for 320 current or former Amsterdam residents, is currently being sold at Liberty Fresh Market, on Route 30 in Amsterdam. You can also purchase it online here.
Mr. Riccio shares his St. Patrick’s Day birthday with this former Amsterdam “flower guy.”