I’m not a math wizard but if you figure seven generations have lived in Amsterdam since it was incorporated as a city in the late 1880s I’m guessing between 100,000 and 150,000 different people have called this place home at one time in their lives. Many of them left for one reason or another and created families and careers elsewhere. This list includes the stories of ten of those people. Four are previewed below and the rest will appear in my new book; Fifty Amsterdam New York Top Ten Lists, which will be available in September of 2017:
John Lauriello – was a bit more than a bit wild in his younger days growing up in Amsterdam, NY. When he left here in the early seventies, he had decided to take a job as a bartender in Miami, FL. But he ended up in Birmingham, AL by accident, both literally and figuratively. While on route to the bartending gig he was involved in a horrific car crash which nearly killed him. Injured, broke and estranged from most of his family, he reached out to an Uncle in Birmingham, AL who sent him a one-way bus ticket to that southern city along with a stern warning that he needed to straighten out his act when he got there. And he did. He went back to college and to pay for his tuition, got a job selling clothes in a mens’ apparel store on nights and weekends. The owner of the store took a liking to him and became a mentor in his life. He also got his real estate license, hoping to earn some additional income selling houses in his spare time. Today Lauriello is the owner and founder of Southpace Properties. What began as a two-man operation in a small office in 1984 is now the largest independent commercial real estate firm in Alabama. With 22 full-time brokers and a staff of 25, Southpace offers office, retail, land, warehouse and industrial sales and leasing, tenant and landlord representation, development, asset management, consulting, investment sales and property management. Considered one of Birmingham’s most influential business executives, his untiring development and civic efforts over the last quarter century have helped spark a revival in that city’s skyline and economy. But Lauriello has not forgotten where he came from and continues to maintain strong ties and do very nice things for the city of his birth.
Leslie Lawrence Sullivan – Many Amsterdamians remember when Peter Lawrence was the principal of Wilbur Lynch High School in the late sixties and early seventies. He and his wife and five children lived in this community for three plus years and his kids still consider this upstate community their hometown. One of them, daughter Leslie went on to get her degree in journalism from the University of South Carolina and soon thereafter landed a job in the media department of the Chicago White Sox baseball team. Within five years became the team’s Director of Broadcasting. She then went to work for Major League Baseball in 1985 and when she left there in 2001, she had become Sr. VP of Broadcasting and one of the most respected names in the business of sports media. Leslie helped transition the league’s broadcasting business model into the digital age and worked hand-in-hand with all of the teams and major networks to integrate the rapid pace of technology into baseball’s most watched events.
Dr. Richard Picciocca – I served on the Greater Amsterdam School Board during the mid 1980’s and had the fortunate opportunity to closely observe both formally and informally a very special group of young Amsterdam men and women make their way through high school. They seemed to work hard at everything they did both in the classroom and on the fields of athletic competition. They respected their parents, their school, their teachers, their coaches and each other. And they had a sense of ambition that drove them. Don’t get me wrong. They had their share of screw-ups among their ranks but as an adult, whenever you were around them you sensed their confidence and seriousness (and their senses of humor too!) Rick Picciocca serves as a classic example of what I’m describing. Good kid from a great Amsterdam family who grew up eating his grandmother’s sauce, playing sports and video games and working hard in school. After graduating from AHS he went to Union and got a degree in civil engineering and then began a career as a bridge designer for the state of New York. But after a few years into that, he decided he wanted to switch careers and go into medicine. That’s what I’m talking about. This group of Amsterdam kids had a confidence about them that broke difficult challenges down into matters of more time, a tighter budget and more hard work. Picciocca got his medical degree from Downstate Medical College in Brooklyn, completed his training as a general surgeon at Albany Medical College and then studied thoracic surgery at Wake Forest. He is now a practicing surgeon in the state of Florida, a husband and a dad but still one of those Amsterdam kids from back in the mid-eighties and still making his family proud.
Michael Slezak – I admit it. I was a huge fan of “American Idol” the Fox Network’s revolutionary new-age talent show that dominated television ratings during its early years on the air. Almost as entertaining as the show itself was a blog/column being written by Amsterdam native Michael Slezak that critiqued each and every episode, performance, contestant and judge that appeared on “Idol” during its amazing run. My kids had appeared in the same Amsterdam Recreation Department’s summer productions as Slezak did in his younger days and I worked with his brother-in-law so I had kept track of his progress as a writer. I remember when he first went to Manhattan to work for a technical magazine. By the time Idol debuted in 2002, he was on the writing staff of Entertainment Weekly, a popular magazine that covered the entertainment industry. The publisher had also launched a sister web site EW.com. Within just a few short months, Sleazak’s extensive, wise and witty online reviews of each Idol episode were drawing millions of hits and becoming must reading for fans of the hit show. He quickly mastered the capabilities and possibilities afforded to him by the rapid advance of Internet technologies and his link-filled columns and video features soon became entertainment in and of themselves. In 2011, he became on of the original staff members of a new entertainment site called TV Line, where he continued his coverage of Idol while also expanding his talents deeper into the reality genre, by providing his patented morning-after commentary on The X Factor, The Voice, Dancing With the Stars, Project Runway, Survivor, The Next Food Network Star, So You Think You Can Dance, The Glee Project, and Glee, among others