When the decision was made, it was perhaps the most coveted elementary school assignment in the history of the Amsterdam School District. That’s why few were surprised when Superintendent of Schools, Raphael J. McNulty announced in April of 1964 that the Principal of the brand new elementary school named in his honor would be today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant.
Rachel DiGennaro was at the time a shining light in the public schools of this city. She had been born in Amsterdam on April 23, 1912, one of three daughters raised by Nick and Carmella Bursese DiGennaro. She graduated from Amsterdam High School in 1930. She obtained her original teaching degree from Oneonta State Teachers College and then went to Syracuse University where she earned both a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s in Education along with certification as elementary principal.
She then returned to Amsterdam and started teaching third grade at Arnold Avenue School. To this day, if you run into one of her former classroom students from that institution and ask them if they remember her, be prepared to hear the phrase “the best teacher I ever had” in their response.
She started her administrative career filling in as “acting principal” of Woodrow Wilson Elementary. It wasn’t long after that the school board approved her appointment as principal at Arnold Ave. Simply put, everyone loved the way this elegant lady ran a school including the students, their parents and her staff. Miss DiGennaro had the sort of positive attitude and enthusiasm for school and education that was infectious. She treated everyone with respect but also with a polite and professional firmness that left no doubt who was in charge. Her leadership skills got her elected president of both the Amsterdam Teachers Association and the Amsterdam Business & Professional Women’s Club.
She had a beautiful singing voice and loved teaching her classroom students music during her days as a teacher. She sang for years with the Mohawk Valley Choir. When the students there learned she was retiring as principal of McNulty School in 1969, many actually went home crying…for their principal! She may have been leaving her work at the time but she was far from ready to pack it all in. Following her retirement, she volunteered as a tutor for the Literacy Program at the Amsterdam Library. She also started a singing program at area nursing homes to help lift the spirits of the residents. She became active in the Amsterdam Retired Teachers Association and was a pillar of the former St. Michael’s Church on Grove Street. She was a tireless volunteer for the St. Mary’s Hospital Auxiliary.
Fortunately for all of Amsterdam, this amazing woman lived to be 98 years old, passing away in April of 2011. In one-way or another she had a positive impact on the lives of thousands of this community’s residents.
One of Amsterdam’s very first car dealers was also born on April 23.