October 1 – Happy Birthday Art Hoefs

2hoefsArt Hoefs had to be one of the busiest people in Amsterdam. At one time in the early 1960’s, my family lived next to his on upper Guy Park Avenue and I can attest to the fact that during those three or so years, the guy was almost always working.

He was born in Amsterdam, NY on October 1, 1917 and was raised on Caroline Street with his three brothers and a sister. He was a cheerleader with his classmate Isadore Demsky (aka Kirk Douglas) at Wilbur Lynch High School where he graduated in 1934. His youngest daughter Kim told me that he then attended Union College and studied journalism.

A talented percussionist, Art was a featured drummer in local bands all his life. He played with popular Amsterdam bandleaders like Dean Dale, Tony Brooks and Dusty Miller. Kim told me that her Dad also took classes at both the Columbia School of Journalism and Julliard School of Music and while in New York City, he worked for the New York Mirror newspaper and played drums for both Broadway and burlesque shows and also with the Gene Krupa Band.

During WWII, he was a member of the Army Air Force Band. After the war, he started his career in sports reporting first with the Schenectady Gazette before moving over to his hometown Amsterdam Evening Recorder in 1960, where he became the well-known and highly respected Sports Editor of that newspaper in ‘64.

Talk about a hectic schedule, on Saturday nights during the summer he could be found up at the half mile dirt oval known as Fonda Speedway where he served as the official timekeeper and the head of publicity during the glory days of that famed venue’s stock car racing. Art was also the head of publicity for NYRA for several years and every August, he’d make frequent visits to the Flat Track in Saratoga during the afternoon and once in a while he’d even meet Dean Dale at the harness track in the evening as well.

During the school year you’d find him in the press box at Lynch Field for Saturday afternoon Amsterdam High School football games and at the scorer’s table in the always-too-warm Lynch gymnasium for Tuesday and Friday night AHS Varsity basketball contests plus he’d follow both those teams on the road. He’d often times cover St. Mary’s and later Bishop Scully games as well. And he’d get up to Perth and Broadalbin and over to Fonda to cover the big games of those schools as frequently as he could.

So he’d spend his nights attending this area’s sporting events and his days at the Recorder offices writing about them, composing his weekly “Art of Sports” column and organizing the sports section for six editions of the Recorder each and every week. And don’t forget, he was still playing drums at various Amsterdam nightspots on weekends plus playing in the pit orchestra’s of at least a couple of Bert DeRose plays every year. On top of all that, he and his wife Gladys raised a family of six kids split evenly between boys and girls.

You had to wonder how on earth any person could keep up such a hectic pace for the over three decades he was at it. And he didn’t just go through the motions. Art Hoefs was very good at what he did. He knew every major scholastic sports figure within an hour’s drive of Amsterdam personally. He was on a first name basis with major national names as well, including the legendary thoroughbred trainer Hollie Hughes and several members of both the New York Yankee and New York football Giants organizations. He’s the guy who coined the legendary phrases “Fabulous Five” and “Rugged Rams” and his annual “Christmas wishes” column became one of the most popular Recorder-read features in the history of that paper.

The late nights, impossible deadlines, and rushed meals had to be a grind but you’d never know it by the end product Art turned out day after day, year after year. He kept right on going till he retired in 1978. They gave him a memorable roast at Bishop Scully to commemorate the occasion. Unfortunately, that retirement only lasted three years. His family buried him with his drumsticks probably because there was no room for his typewriter. It was an honor to be able to say that Art Hoefs was a friend of mine. He was an Amsterdam original.

This long-ago AHS athlete who became an expert in technology transfer was also born on October 1.

September 30 – Happy Birthday Andy Heck

Today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant is in a position where he could visit anywhere in the country traveling in a top-of-the-line custom RV while towing a sleek new boat, which he could use to cruise whatever body of water he encounters along the way. But that is not how Andy Heck travels. Instead of driving on roads in one of his Alpin Haus vacation homes on wheels, he runs and cycles over them and instead of enjoying a lake or river in a boat, he swims across them. Heck is an avid participant in Ironman competitions, not because he expects to win them, but because he thrives on the challenge of completing them and improving his personal best times in the grueling process.

Andy has never been a stranger to tackling tough challenges. He earned his CPA after graduating from Siena in 1988. In 1992 he left his accounting firm job in Albany to take over the Presidency of Alpin Haus from his dad, Bud Heck. He immediately began working to grow the already huge recreation products provider by taking on new products and opening new locations and his efforts have achieved spectacular results. What I admire most about the way he runs the business is the way he’s always on the lookout for tools to keep his workforce educated and motivated.
He and his lovely wife Lorraine raised three kids who all have joined the staff at Alpin Haus. About the only time you will ever catch Andy sitting down is when he’s rooting on his beloved Siena Saints basketball team in his Times Union Arena court-side seat. The Heck family is one of Amsterdam’s greatest success stories and Andy Heck has been instrumental in making sure that story continues.

September 29 – In honor of National Coffee Day

sugarbowlThis is my Grandmother’s sugar bowl. And that’s the spoon that came with it, when she purchased it sometime during the early 1920’s. The sugar it held sweetened every cup of coffee my grandfather ever had in their house in the West End of Amsterdam, and every cup my Dad, me and my four kids ever had there as well. That’s about 75 years worth of caffeinated brew for the Cinquanti family spanning four generations.

My Grandfather, who died in 1960 was the patriarch of our family’s coffee consumption habits. In his house, sugar was the first thing you put in the cup, never the last. He would always use a giant light-blue soup-bowl sized cup and it would take three spoonfuls of sugar to coat the bottom of it the way he liked it. Next came the perfectly percolated, steaming hot Eight O’Clock brew poured from my grandmother’s old black and silver pot which had to be held with one of her mopeens to keep from getting second-degree burns during the pouring process.

The volume of the pour was critical. Nobody in my family ever drank their coffee black. In fact, we all drank it very light. But none of us ever used half&half or cream. Instead it was always whole milk, poured out of glass quart bottles, which Nobby Fryc the Milkman would place in the insulated tin milk box on my grandmother’s front porch every week.

Only my grandmother and aunt were ever allowed to pour the coffee. They both had this genetically imbedded measuring system in their right wrist joint that automatically stopped pouring when the coffee was exactly three-sixteenths of an inch from the rim of an adult’s cup and precisely double that space for the cups they would pour for the younger members of the family.

The remaining vacant space was then filled with Nobby’s milk leaving exactly enough liquid ripple room to permit the cup to be slid along the smooth porcelain-topped kitchen table (now stored in my basement) to where each family member was sitting without spilling a drop. That’s when the slurping began.

It was my grandfather who taught me everything I knew about the art of slurping coffee. Once your cup was placed in front of you, you did not pick it up. You grabbed the handle and bent your head down to the rim where you proceeded to breathe in hard through your mouth not sipping but instead suctioning the hot liquid in between your lips. You sucked enough coffee out of your cup so that you could pick it up without spilling any and take the first actual sip. The objective of the sipping was simple yet essential. You needed to consume enough of the coffee out of the cup to permit you to add the next ingredient without causing the dreaded overflow.

What other ingredient did my family members add to our coffee? There were actually several possibilities. Again, it was my grandfather who established the precedents. He’d put corn flakes into that big blue cup in the morning. He would submerge about ten Royal Lunch crackers in there at lunch time and those dimpled biscuits would absorb so much of the liquid it formed a pasty, heavily sweetened gruel. At night, for desert, he’d go with at least a half-dozen Sunshine Oatmeal cookies.

I personally never did the corn flake thing but I became a devoted aficionado of both the Royal Lunch Cracker and Sunshine Oatmeal Cookie coffee stews for much of my childhood. As I mentioned earlier, the trick was not to permit a drop of the coffee in your cup from going anywhere except inside your mouth. If, you miscalculated the level of vacant space necessary to get all your crackers or cookies into the cup without spillage you’d hear my Grandfather repeat his favorite line of condemnation for a poorly executed effort, which was “God darn ya!” But if you did it just right, you’d look up toward his spot at the head of the table and he’d have a little smile on his face and you’d hear his trademark “heh-heh-heh” expression of pride and approval.

How times have changed. If I ever poured any of my grandkids a cup of coffee, their parents would disown me and if I ever put three spoonfuls of sugar into anything they drank, their Mom’s would press charges. But I do intend to show them their great great grandmother’s sugar bowl and maybe even give them the Cinquanti-family slurp lesson. Heh-heh-heh!

September 28 – Happy Birthday Michael Lynch

31713_Lynch_Michael_DOB_19482I entered Amsterdam’s Wilbur Lynch High School as a sophomore in September of 1969. Just six months before that, a graduate of that school had been killed in Vietnam. He was an Army medic in the 5th Infantry and on March 15, 1969, his mechanized unit was on patrol between Cu Chi and Tay Ninh, South Vietnam when, their convoy of Armored Patrol Carriers was ambushed by the enemy. When the two lead vehicles were hit with rocket-propelled grenades, this young hero from Amsterdam rushed to help and as he was bending down to assist a wounded soldier he was hit by small arms fire and killed. His name was Michael Lynch.

Michael Lynch had been an active member of the school’s Drama Club, serving as its President in 1966 and appearing in several of the Club’s productions during his high school years. I remember as a kid going to see Camelot in 1966 and being absolutely amazed at how professional the whole thing was. It was hard to believe you were sitting in a high school auditorium and not in some theater on Broadway. That’s how good the actors, actresses, musicians and stage crew performed. Michael Lynch played the absent-minded King Pellinore in that production and he was so good I still remember him in that role today, almost fifty years later.

Bert DeRose, the Drama Club’s advisor described Michael as being someone who acted much older than he was. He was loved and highly respected by his friends. He was always trying to do the right thing and he had this amazing sensitivity for others. For example, the only reason he went to Vietnam in the first place was because he gave the issue a lot of thought and decided he had an obligation to go and serve his country. At the time, he was in the middle of his college education at SUNY New Paltz and had a student deferment. He could have done what so many of his generation chose to do and completely avoided the situation that caused his death. Instead, explaining his just-made decision to DeRose in the parking lot of a local grocery store, he told his old mentor he just didn’t feel right knowing others his age were there in harms way and he was not.

By 1969, the US public’s support of America’s involvement in the war had just about dried up. To illustrate just how upside down the situation had become, that October, our high school hosted a symposium-like event that featured a local Amsterdam priest, rabbi and minister along with the GASD Superintendent and one of the district’s building principal’s who all told us students that the war was a mistake and the US should withdraw. This is while alumni from the school, many of whom had siblings sitting in the audience of that event, were still fighting in that country.

At that same time the memory of Michael Lynch was as fresh as could be and his friends wanted to honor him. So they and Mr. DeRose came up with the idea of a scholarship in his name that would go to a deserving graduating senior who was planning to attend college and pursue a career in the theater. Now they could have immediately started asking others to contribute to the scholarship fund but instead they reached into their own pockets to come up with the cash for that first year’s award. Like the friend they loved and who’s memory they were honoring, they felt it was the right thing to do.

Many of those same friends and Mr. DeRose got together again four decades later and decided it was time to make sure the memory of Michael Lynch lasted even longer. They conducted a successful campaign to get the recently renovated Wilbur Lynch auditorium renamed in Michael Lynch’s honor. He so loved that elegant Amsterdam venue.

This one-time Rugged Ram Super Sub  was also born on September 28. Though I’m certain his parents lived in Amsterdam, I’m not certain if this legendary television star with a September 28th birthday ever actually did.

September 27 – Happy Birthday Sam Stratton

Samuel_S._Stratton_94th_Congress_1975As each year passes, the memory of the strong political legacy established by todays Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant continues to fade but make no mistake about it Sam Stratton was a powerful political force in his day. He represented the City of Amsterdam as a conservative Democrat in the House of Representatives for 30 consecutive years, from 1959 until illness forced him from office. His seniority made him a ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee and from that perch he was able to get loads of dollars from the US defense budget earmarked for Capitol District expenditure. He probably was personally responsible for keeping the Watervliet Arsenal operating the last fifteen years of its existence and the dollars he steered to GE helped maintain employment levels at that company’s Schenectady facilities for at least a generation.

Stratton was born in Yonkers, NY on September 27, 1916 and moved up to Schenectady with his family as a young boy. He saw service in the Military in both WWII and the Korean Conflict as an intelligence officer. He earned degrees from the University of Rochester and Harvard and then got elected Mayor of Schenectady. Though it was a very weak office back in the 1950’s it gave him the political base and exposure he needed to make his successful bid for Congress.

My favorite personal memory of Stratton occurred over a span of time. When I was a teenager I played taps for Amsterdam’s Sirchia Am Vet Post whenever they were asked to serve as the honor guard and firing squad for a local event. That’s why I was present at a dedication ceremony for the Fifth Ward Veterans’ Memorial at which Stratton served as the keynote speaker.  After the Sirchia Firing Squad fired their third volley, I began my first note of Taps, when all of a sudden I was interrupted by what sounded like a cannon shot. Luigi Lanzi, who must have been in his eighties at the time, had come out of his old restaurant across the street from the park and fired his shotgun as his own special tribute. Everyone laughed and we all ended up at his bar after the ceremony, where Stratton shook my hand and blew a few notes on my trumpet.

Fast forward six or seven years and I’m now a student at Albany State coming out of the Student Union Building on a beautiful spring day, heading toward my next class. Coming up the stairs directly in front of me is Stratton with an aide. We exchange greetings and he asks as we pass “Still playing the trumpet?” That’s what you call a master politician and Sam Stratton fit that label perfectly.

Stratton actually had a residence in Amsterdam for a while on upper Guy Park Avenue. I’d see him jogging by my house from time to time. He passed away in 1990.

This other September 27th Birthday celebrant belongs in the Amsterdam Softball Hall of Fame!

 

 

September 26 – Happy Birthday Fanny Dean French

Fanny Dean
Fanny Dean

It was Amsterdam’s wedding of the year in 1904. A September 21st, Wednesday evening affair that witnessed Mr. Charles Edward French, son of Dr. S. H. French, the most prominent physician in the Rug City, wed today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant, Fanny Dean, the daughter of Luther Dean, one of Amsterdam’s most successful businessmen. The wedding ceremony took place at the former First Reformed Church, which still stands on the corner of Arch and Center Street in this City’s South Side. The reception that followed was held at the bride’s parents home at 80 Locust Avenue, where guests were served a “sumptuous” sit-down wedding dinner by Caterer McElveny of Albany and were entertained by Zita’s Orchestra, which was also from Albany.

 

Charles E. French
Charles E. French

The new Mrs. French had graduated from Mt. Holyoke College in 1899. At the time of their wedding, Mr. French was the treasurer of the Amsterdam Savings Bank. He would later serve as president of that same institution for 60 years! The couple would have two children, a daughter Eleanor who was born in 1908 and a son Marcus, who came along five years later. Tragically, the boy would die in 1929 from a streptococcic throat infection at the age of 16. Eleanor French would end up graduating from Holyoke like her mom and then marrying a magician and professional bridge instructor named Ralph Blessing. The couple would return to Amsterdam where they opened the Marel Gift Shop up on Route 30 in Perth and lived at 42 Van Dyke Ave for many years. Fanny Dean was an active volunteer for several local organizations. She would spend the last five years of her life, seriously ill as a patient at the Amsterdam Memorial Hospital.She passed away on August 7, 1964. Her husband followed her to the grave three months later.

80 Locust Ave.
80 Locust Ave.
Amsterdam's old First Reformed Church
Amsterdam’s old First Reformed Church

September 24 – Happy Birthday Bob Quick

BobandTWBob Quick was a good man. He was a smart man. He was a generous man. His sudden death in February of 2015 while wintering in Boynton Beach, FL, was a hard blow not just for his family and many friends, but also for the entire Amsterdam, NY community because Bob Quick loved his hometown too.

Born on September 24, 1943, he grew up in Amsterdam’s Rockton neighborhood, where he made lifelong friends and was active in all kinds of sports. After graduating from Lynch High School he went to the University of Buffalo and started his professional life as a teacher. He left the classroom to go to work for New York State, where he put together a 25-year career as a manager of information technology and chief information officer. He then leveraged all of his experience and his significant network of technical contacts into a consulting company he named Tailwind Associates. Tailwind specialized in providing software services to firms and organizations in both the public and private sector.

Bob’s timing was flawless. Remember the huge panic surrounding the Year 2000 Computer bug? The concern was that every computer in the World was going to crash when the new millennium hit because their operating system’s internal clocks might not be able to handle dates beyond 1999. Tailwind made a lot of money helping clients make sure they were prepared. Bob was also able to build an on-call collection of experienced software professionals in all technical areas and get them project based contract work with clients all over the country. It was a super successful business strategy and by 2013, Tailwind was exceeding $11 million in revenue annually, and had offices in Schenectady, North Carolina and Texas. For several years, Bob based Tailwinds main offices right here in Amsterdam, at the Riverfront Center.

Bob had retired from his full-time role at Tailwind and was enjoying a semi retirement, spending time with wife Elizabeth, playing lots of golf with his buddies and rooting for his beloved Yankees and the Syracuse Orange basketball team. I had also not known that Bob had at one time co-owned a fast pitch softball team that had won two World Championships. He was certainly a multi-faceted and very interesting guy.

Even after retiring, he remained very active in his community. He was one of my fellow members on the Liberty ARC Board. He also served on the Board of St Mary’s Healthcare and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. He had a lot to offer these organizations, serving as the go to authority on information technology issues and opportunities. He is sorely missed by so many.

This former Amsterdam High School football great was also born on September 24.

September 23 – Happy Birthday Fran Sikorski

sikorskistationHarry Truman was still President, there were only 48 states in this country and the carpets of both Mohawk and Bigelow-Sanford were still being produced in this town when Casmier and Albina Sikorski opened their Amsterdam, NY service station at 33 Prospect Street in 1949, right in the middle of one of this city’s busiest and most chaotic intersections. For the next 34 years this hardworking Rug City couple dedicated their lives to making that business successful and to raising a family. Then in 1983, Casmier died.

Most betting folks back then would have probably given you odds that there would be no way that family-run business would still be around for another 34 years. And when you look at how that industry and Amsterdam itself changed over just the past couple of decades, the odds that Sikorski’s would still be going strong today would have even been steeper. Coleco and its thousands of employees are gone, taking their thousands of cars with them. Chain convenience retailers like Stewarts took over the gasoline business and automotive technology continues its transition from mechanical to digital. But Casmier and Albina had been developing a secret weapon, today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant, their son Fran Sikorski.

Fran successfully transformed the business from a gas and service station into a modern hi tech car and engine repair center. He invested heavily in the latest analytical technology and made sure his mechanics were properly trained on how to use it. But there were a few key things Fran did not change from the days Casmier Sikorski opened up the place. He made sure Sikorski’s goal continued to be to treat each customer as fairly as possible by making sure they performed each repair as cost-effectively as possible. Translation? They never overcharged. They stood behind every single thing they did. If they made a mistake they admitted it and corrected it on their dime. Were they perfect? No, but they tried to be and that’s all a customer can ask.

After almost 70 years in operation, Sikorski’s is no longer owned by a Sikorski. Fran and Jackie sold their beloved car service and repair center to one of their long-time employees.

Like Casmier and Albina, Fran and Jackie raised three children all boys and the couple have been dedicated members of the Amsterdam Elks Club for many years. The story of Amsterdam really can be told by weaving together the life stories of its people. The story of Fran and Jackie Sikorski is one of hard work, strong family values and giving back to their community.

 

September 22 – Happy Birthday Peter Urban

Urban2The invasion of Western Europe may have enabled the Allies to defeat Germany in WWII but it certainly brought life-altering tragedy to a young Amsterdam woman named Anna Urban. Within a matter of a few weeks, this Rug City native received notifications that her brother Lt. Vincent Dargush had been wounded in France, her twin brother Anthony Dargush had lost his life there and Peter Urban, her beloved husband of less than two-years had also been killed in action in the fighting that followed the June, 1944 D-Day invasion of Normandy.

Anna had married today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant in a double ring ceremony in November of 1942 in an Atlanta church near her new husband’s Ft. Benning, Army base in Georgia. That is where Private Urban was attending parachute school. Urban, his wife and both her brothers had all attended Wilbur Lynch High School. He had been working at Mohawk Carpet Mills until being drafted into the Army in April of ’42. He was shipped overseas in December of 1943, where he spent three months in Ireland and two more in England, preparing for the D-Day jump. As we now know, parachute troops played a key role in the invasion, dropping in many cases behind enemy lines to capture key strategic locations in advance of the Allied landing forces. The fact that it took almost two months for the Army to notify Anna Urban of her husband’s June 8th death is probably indicative that his death was not discovered until advancing Allied troops reached the area of Urban’s jump target. Anna would later remarry. She passed away in 2005.

 

September 21 – Happy Birthday Joe Constantine Jr.

jconstantineThey would descend upon that gas station like an Apache raiding party. The three of them would usually announce their presence by jumping on the black air hose about fifty times each and the sudden loud and repeated clanging of that bell would startle the hell out of me. Then they’d come crashing through the front door and start rampaging all through the station. One would head for the tool bench, another would go down in the pit and the third would start pressing keys on the cash register while all three would beg me to let them wait on the next car that pulled in.

They were the Constantine brothers, Matt, Anthony and today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant Joe. They had an older sister and I think a younger brother but it was always these three who showed up together. Joe was the oldest of the trio. They were the children of Joe Constantine and his wife Gilda and Gilda was the sister of Joe Montuoro, who was my boss and the owner of Montuoro’s Sunoco Station. Joe and Gilda’s mother lived in the house next to the gas station so every time the Constantine’s came to visit her, they’d make my dinner-time and weekend work shifts at the station a bit more interesting and challenging.

As crazy as they were, I could tell even way back then that these guys had a curiosity about everything that would serve them well in whatever field of endeavor they chose. They asked a ton of questions, the majority of which I could not answer but they kept asking anyway. The boy’s dad was a local heating and cooling contractor (Joe’s Refrigeration) and was also a pretty skilled carpenter who had built the family home up on Tremont Avenue. He made sure each of his boys came to work with him and he taught them all how to do whatever they did the right way.

While still in his teens, Joe Jr. was constantly on job sites with Joe Sr. which gave him the opportunity to work with all sorts of different tradesman. He took a real interest in carpentry and by “real” interest I mean that what really excited him most were jobs that required a huge amount of thought, creativity and detail. The more difficult the spec the more young Joe enjoyed the challenge and he told his parents, he wanted to start his own business. They encouraged him to go to school before he did so and get some business training and he followed their advice and got an associates degree in construction technology from Fulton Montgomery Community College. But it wasn’t the degree he got there that became the key to his subsequent success as an independent builder and carpenter. It was instead a girl he met there named Jules Tomkins. She was a computer whiz with a natural talent for marketing and business and when she became Mrs. Joseph Constantine and business manager, Constantine Builders took off.

One of Joe Constantine's Jaw Droppers!
One of Joe Constantine’s Jaw Droppers!

Now during all this time I had completely lost track of the Constantine brothers because I was busy raising my own family and building a career. And then one day someone asked me if I had seen the house Joe isabel was having built up where the old Henrietta Heights playground used to be. I had not, so I took a ride up there. The place was massive and though perhaps a bit too ostentatious for that neighborhood, a very impressive structure none-the-less and a true challenge for any builder. When I found out that the home was being built by Joe Constantine Jr. I was shocked because I had no idea the kid who used to jump up and down on that gas station bell was building anything at all, much less jaw-dropping homes.

I learned that Joe had his brother Anthony working as his lead builder. Meanwhile his brother Matt had taken over their father’s refrigeration and heating business and was doing all of the HVAC systems in Joe’s new construction projects. The brothers who used to invade that gas station on Main Street were now taking over this area’s market for upscale homes.

Joe Constantine still spends ten-to-twelve hours a day on the job. He still cherishes projects that require lots of creativity and detail. Thanks in large part to the influences of working for his dad, Joe’s a “Green Freak” too. He was committed to designing in energy efficiency and air quality in his very first build and he remains ahead of the curve in that critical area today. A Constantine-built home means low heating bills and no new-house smells.

Constantine Builders celebrated its thirty eighth year in business in 2016 and though he still loves what he does, Joe looks forward to some day retiring to a home in the Adirondacks. I wonder who will build it?

This Amsterdam native with a Viking nickname was also born on September 21.