July 16 – Happy Birthday Shorty Persico

24831_391817347146_210318_nWhen Amsterdam’s Carmen “Shorty” Persico was on a boxing card, regardless if the fights were taking place in the Rug City or one of the many other upstate New York communities that comprised the Adirondack section of the Amateur Athletic Union back in the 1930’s, the young South Sider was usually a crowd favorite. He was built like a fire hydrant, short for a lightweight but packed with muscle. The problem was his reach. He often fought much taller opponents in his weight class who had longer reaches. He therefore had to work twice as hard as a typical boxer to defend himself and get good punches landed. But round after round and fight after fight he was able to do just that. Its why regardless of what town he was fighting in, the fans took to this condensed dynamo and cheered him on and none cheered harder than his legion of admirers from Amsterdam’s South Side.

Shorty Persico was without a doubt one of the all-time most popular members of Amsterdam’s Port Jackson neighborhood and his boxing exploits as a young man were only a small reason why. He had the sort of friendly, outgoing and respectful personality that made him instantly likable. How likable? When he joined the Army to fight for his country, Luigi Lanzi’s old restaurant on Bridge Street was filled to capacity to pay tribute to Shorty the day before he left for basic training in January of 1941. Those assembled included Amsterdam Mayor Arthur Carter, Mt. Carmel Pastor John Reidy and Recorder Sports Editor Jack Minnoch.

When he returned from four years of action in the Pacific he married his beloved Philomena “Phil” Morini. He then opened what would become one of the most popular bars in the history of the Rug City and called it Shorty’s Tavern. It was located on Broad Street next to the legendary Pepe’s Bakery and for the next 25 years, it became “the place to go” for good drinks, great food and the opportunity to talk to one of Amsterdam’s most respected, kindest and well-liked sports personalities.

I will never forget the first time I ever met Shorty. My older brother used to hang out there and would one day marry Shorty’s oldest daughter Maria. He took me to his Tavern for one of Shorty’s famous sausage and provolone sandwiches. Shorty reached over the bar with his Popeye-sized right arm grabbed my right hand in a vice-like grip, looked me straight in the eye and told me what a pleasure it was to meet “Jerry’s little brother.” I could instantly tell this wonderful man sincerely meant every word that had just came out of his mouth. He treated me, my brother and our friends as if we were family not customers and we all came to love him. I’m not exaggerating when I say that he was  “perfect” for the role of a South Side tavern owner. He sponsored our softball teams, made sure we acted responsibly and bragged about our accomplishments like a proud father.

His heart was even bigger than his huge biceps. He was constantly helping folks in the neighborhood who were down on their luck and he was a big contributor to his beloved Mt. Carmel Parish. Shorty donated the money for the beautiful bell tower that is located on the grounds of that church. In addition to Maria, he and his wife Phil had two sons, Felix and Anthony and another daughter Louise, all of whom he adored. When Phil died a week before Christmas in 1971, a part of Shorty went with her. A year later he sold the bar and retired. During the last six years of his life, Shorty suffered from dementia but his eyes would still twinkle when he’d see me and he’d still shake my hand with that vice-like grip. Even though his death was expected, when it finally came in 1997, it hit the entire South Side hard. Those of us who were fortunate to have known him were most sad because we realized those who came after us would never have that same wonderful opportunity. It truly felt as if an era had ended.

His Tavern still stands and still uses his name. It should never be called anything else.

In 2017 I wrote an article entitled “All-Time Top Ten Amsterdam, NY Boxers in which I included Shorty Persico. You can read it here. 

 

4 thoughts on “July 16 – Happy Birthday Shorty Persico

  1. From “Where Do We Find Such Men”:

    One of the best of the “older” fighters is Carmen “Shorty” Persico. Though he had already done time in the Army, when war looms Shorty re-enlists. On Patriot’s Day, April 19, 1942, he manages to get home on a short furlough to attend the South Side Bowling League banquet, where patriotic keglers chip in from their cash prizes to purchase a carton of cigarettes for each of their members in the service.
    According to Recorder sports editor Jack Minnoch:

    When “Shorty” Persico got up to speak the rafters at Luigi Lanzi’s big banquet hall literally rattled, so loud was the ovation he got.
    And it wasn’t so much what “Shorty” said as the way he said it that got him the big hand he received at the finish. The one-time boxer who fought Lou Ambers to a standstill as an amateur spoke the same as he once socked – straight from the shoulder, and with no punch pulling. If the boys don’t remember another thing he said, they’ll never forget that last line: “We’re in this fight to win. And there’s only one way to win: that’s fight!”

    Lou Ambers, “The Herkimer Hurricane,” went on in his professional career to become Lightweight Champion of the World in 1936, a title he held off and on until May of 1940. That’s how good Shorty is in his day.
    Shorty goes on to the Pacific, serving in Saipan, after the battle, among other places.

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  2. Mike, you wrote a beautiful tribute to Shorty and once again, stirred the memory bank. I was one of the group that Shorty referred to as “his boys.” He always made us feel welcome, treating us with respect and a genuine caring affection. His smile would light up any room he entered and his kind words were always uplifting. He was one of a kind, a gentle soul and one of the nicest individuals I ever met.

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  3. Shorty being my great uncle was one of the most genuine people I had ever had the pleasure of knowing (and being related to). When we were very small children, Uncle Shorty always had a twinkle in his eye and a dollar to stuff in our pockets. His sister Libby Nolan adored Shorty and she took care of him until the sad day when he left us all. They looked so much alike they resembled twins! I bet they are together right this moment enjoying each others company! Here’s to you Aunt Lib and Uncle Shorty! Thanks for giving us wonderful memories!

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  4. I only knew Shorty after we became a resident at the Wilkinson Center, where I worked. We’re not “supposed” to have our favorites, but he was one of mine. His wonderful smile was a delight to see everyday, and I loved our talks. He had such a devoted family, and it was easy to see how proud he was of them. Reading about some of his past here is so nice. I will always have fond memories of Shorty.

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