June 27 – Happy Birthday Herbert H. Klug

2herberteileen2

The announcement appeared in the April 30, 1963 edition of the Amsterdam Evening Recorder. It stated that a young lady, who was a former resident of Amsterdam was engaged to a young man from Storrs, CT named Stuart Rupert. They had met at the University of Connecticut, where the future Mrs. Rupert was still a student. Mr. Rupert himself had already graduated and was working for the Electric Boat Works in Groton. An October 1963 wedding was planned but the bride’s Dad would not be there to walk her down the aisle.

The future bride’s name was Eileen Klug and the announcement had been made by her mom, Mrs. June Kowalski, who was also a former Amsterdam resident. The reason for the difference in last names between mother and daughter was the same reason why Eileen’s Dad would not be there to walk her down the aisle that October.

To find out what that reason was, it is necessary to go back to another article that appeared in the Amsterdam Recorder, this one in the August 30, 1944 issue. It describes the content of a telegram received by Eileen’s Mom at her 36 McCleary Avenue home. It was sent from the War Department informing June, that her husband, US Army Sergeant Herbert H. Klug had been killed in action on August 1 of that year in France.

Sergeant Klug was 32 years old at the time of his death, having been born in Amsterdam on June 27, 1912. He was educated in the City’s public school system and like so many of his peers, had secured employment in the rug mills. I could not find out when he married June but he was inducted into the Army four months after Pearl Harbor. After basic training, he spent another year stateside. He came home one last time on leave during the spring of 1943 and then got sent overseas that October. Eileen Klug was born in January of 1944.

So not only did Herbert Klug miss the wedding of his only daughter, he missed her birth as well. And based on the dates above, it looks as if he never even got the opportunity to hold her in his arms. I kept searching and searching online for an article describing Eileen Klug’s October 1963 Connecticut wedding to Stuart Rupert, because I wanted to find out who walked her down the aisle on that date but I came up empty. Was it her stepdad, a grandfather? I just hope that she had a magnificent wedding and is still enjoying a wonderful life because Eileen was one of thousands of young brides from her generation who were forced to walk down the aisle without their Dads.

June 26 – Happy Birthday Richard Horigan

HorriganForty years ago, when we sold our first house, we had a minor property dispute with our neighbor and my regular attorney had to recuse himself from the case. I asked him who he would hire if he needed an attorney and he immediately responded “Richard Horigan.” He told me that Horigan was the best lawyer he had ever met but he also told me I didn’t need an attorney for this particular minor matter. He was wrong. I lost the case and I never got the opportunity to meet today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant.” That was definitely an even bigger loss on my part. Why? Everything I’ve learned about Richard Horigan in the process of preparing for this blog post confirms that not only was he an outstanding jurist he was also a remarkable man and I would have loved to had known him.

Horigan was born in Pennsylvania on June 26, 1925, the son of a retail executive who helped oversee his company’s east coast operations, which required the family to relocate quite a bit. He attended Prep school in Maryland and then enlisted in the US Navy at the age of 17 and ended up serving as an Ensign in the Pacific theater. After the war, he graduated from Georgetown University and then Georgetown Law but he also went on a blind date that ended up getting him a wife and a new hometown.

The “wife” was the late Marie Smeallie, daughter of a prominent Amsterdam paper manufacturer. The young couple ended up getting married here in St. Mary’s Church in 1950 and the newlywed’s original plan had them settling in Massachusetts, where Horigan’s dad was then living. But probably beginning on their Maine honeymoon, the new Mrs. Horigan began lobbying for a move to Amsterdam. She must have made a pretty good case because in 1951, Horigan went into a law partnership with Montgomery County Children’s Court Judge Lewis J. Mullarkey and the Mullarkey & Horigan Law Firm pretty quickly became one of this town’s most popular dispensers of legal services.

Many Amsterdam attorneys over the years have been professionally and financially successful outside of the courtroom but not so much inside one, when arguing cases in front of a judge and/or jury. The most effective trial lawyers are not necessarily those with the most in-depth knowledge of the law or who prepare the best briefs. They are instead the individuals who learn fast, process information the quickest, anticipate problems  before they occur and stay two steps ahead of the lawyers arguing against them. Nobody in Amsterdam’s legal community did those things any better than Dick Horigan. While the attorneys he opposed in court would often show up with briefcases full of all kinds of papers It was not uncommon for Horigan to walk in with just an apple and a yellow legal pad.

Horigan started his own firm in the 1970’s proudly bringing in his son Tim as his partner and then adding James Lombardo to the firm in 1980. They took over the landmark former State Bank of Albany building in downtown Amsterdam as their law office’s location and have kept it in pristine condition ever since. He sadly lost his beloved Marie in 1977. Two years later a wonderful new merger took place when Horigan married Eleanor Harrower Smeallie, widow of Marie’s brother Peter Smeallie. The new union converted what had been two groups of close cousins into a family of 13 brothers and sisters.

Today’s birthday celebrant was a devout Roman Catholic. He loved to hunt birds, ski downhill, golf and bet the ponies up in Saratoga every August. His legion of friends absolutely loved him. He was ninety years of age when he died in November of 2015. At the time of his death, both Montgomery County Supreme Court Judge Joe Sise and E. Stewart Jones, the well-known Capital District defense attorney eulogized him as a “lion of the bar.”

June 25 – Happy Birthday Cousin George Cassabonne

2cousingeorge“Cousin” George Cassabonne was born in Northville, NY on June 25, 1886 and lived most of his life on a farm in West Charlton until moving to Amsterdam during his later years to live in the home of his daughter, Georgianna Chirickio, on Lyons Street. Every season, Cousin George would make his way over to the Recorder offices to deliver his long-term weather forecasts, which the newspaper would publish with great fanfare. According to an article about him in Bob Cudmore’s excellent book “Hidden History of the Mohawk Valley,” Cassabonne said he based his predictions on the “sign of the moon like the Indians did.”

Cassabonne did have other occupations. In his younger days, he worked with his father as a stone cutter and one of the buildings they helped construct was the Montgomery County Courthouse in Fonda. He also drove a forklift at GE, retiring from there at the age of 65 in 1951. In addition, he worked his farm, called square dances, and played Santa Claus at all sorts of events. He was known to frequent the streets of downtown Amsterdam with his fiddle or guitar, serenading local shoppers. There were reports that he did the same at some of this City’s well-known adult watering holes. His popularity was not limited to the Amsterdam area. Several local papers published his predictions, he was a regular guest on a whole list of local radio shows and he even appeared on local television.

Cassabonne also did not invent this role. According to Cudmore’s book , there was a guy named Uncle George Van Derveer from the Town of Florida, who used to do a similar thing up until he died in the 1930’s. That’s when Cousin George stepped in to fill the void.

Cassabonne’s health really began to fail him in 1973 and he was forced to send his daughter to deliver what would be his final published forecast the following spring. Four days later, on the first day of Spring in 1974, Cousin George died at the age of 88. As Cudmore wrote in “Hidden History” , the snow which came early on that day later turned to rain, just as this treasured local personality’s final forecast had predicted it would.

June 24 – Happy Birthday Tim McKnight

timmymck.photoI clearly remember watching him race downfield up at Lynch Stadium and then stretching or leaping for a Buddy Flesh spiral thrown in his direction. Tim McKnight was an absolutely splendid split end for some of the first Amsterdam Rugged Ram football teams coached by the late Gene White. In his senior season during the fall of 1968, he caught 25 of Flesh’s passes for over 550 yards and finished near the top of the old Class A League scoring column with eight touchdown receptions. He wasn’t physically big, weighing maybe 150 pounds tops in full pads but he was tough, quick, had great hands and was never afraid to take a hit if it meant making a catch. A great all-around athlete, Tim owned the AHS track & field record in the triple jump for a generation and he was fast enough to anchor the 880 yard relay for Prof Cionek’s AHS Track squad.

McKnight was born on June 24, 1951, the son of Ed and Vivian McKnight and grew up with his two brothers, Butchie and Mike, on Amsterdam’s Elias Street. His parents were instrumental in helping the Little Giants football league sustain itself because they graciously ran the concession stand during all the years their three boys played in that program. After graduating from High School, Tim went to the University of Vermont and became a social studies teacher. In fact, he became one of the most popular social study teachers in the history of the Lynch Middle School, highly respected and well liked by both his students and coworkers. Some that I’ve spoken to said it was because he absolutely loved his profession, his subject area and genuinely enjoyed being around young people.

McKnight did more than teach during his long career in the Greater Amsterdam School District. He also served as a highly skilled coach in the district’s interscholastic sports program. It wasn’t surprising that his greatest contributions in that role were in the same two sports he excelled at as a student, football and track.

Tim is married to Amsterdam native Terrie Giardino, who is also a retired Amsterdam schoolteacher and they raised a daughter, Kelly. If he hadn’t become a teacher, Tim could have probably made his living as a carpenter. The guy is a regular Gepetto when it comes to building anything out of wood. Happy Birthday Tim!

(Tim shares his June 24 birthday with this former National Commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.)

 

June 23 – Happy Birthday Eddie Kuczek

photo_012420_2749454_1_photo1_cropped_20141009.jpgxIt wasn’t surprising that a future Major League ballplayer like Steve Kuczek could average .536 during Amsterdam High School’s 1941 varsity baseball season and help extend the team’s winning streak to 13 straight games. But the shortstop wasn’t even the best player on that squad. That honor went to his older brother and today’s Amsterdam Birthday celebrant, Eddie Kuczek. It was Eddie who led the team in batting average with a .620 mark while also leading Coach Jack Tracy’s outstanding ball club in runs scored. At the time, Tracy called the gifted second baseman “the best Major League prospect he’d ever coached” and the New York Yankees agreed. (Note: Eddie and Steve had four other brothers who played AHS baseball and all six Kuczek’s were incredibly good at the sport!)

kuczek's2
Steve (l) and Eddie Kuczek in 1946

During his junior season at AHS, Eddie had been invited to work out with the Amsterdam Rugmakers, the Yankees’ Class C affiliate in the CanAm League. Eddie Sawyer, who managed the Rugmakers during that 1940 season loved the kid and had recommended that the Bronx Bomber braintrust sign Kuczek right then and there. But the Yankees head scout at the time, the legendary Paul Krichell decided it was best to let the young infielder finish school. So Kuczek spent a second consecutive season playing with his high school team and practicing with the Rugmakers. He was then asked to ink a Rugmaker contract in January of 1942 and he would have become the first ever Amsterdam-born player to sign with the local team.

Unfortunately, the timing of the offer couldn’t have been any worse. Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor just a month earlier and the US was at war. Eddie decided to continue his education instead and that spring, he enrolled in the pre-dental program at Colgate University and also play collegiate baseball. All he did at the Hamilton, NY school in his freshman season was lead their varsity baseball team in hitting with a .365 batting average and get offered a tryout at the Polo Grounds by one of New York City’s other baseball teams, the Giants.

By 1943, Kuczek decided it was time to serve his country and he did so as a member of the Army Air Corp. He made it back home safely despite being involved in an airplane crash that injured his hand. He returned to Colgate in 1945 after being discharged from the service and earned his diploma that spring. But he still had some baseball eligibility left so he returned to the school in 1946, where he was reunited with his brother Steve. The siblings expected to form the Raiders starting middle infield. But Ed’s hand injury hindered his return to the sport he had once mastered. At the age of 25, he gave up the hope of playing in the big leagues and instead went to work for Sears for the next 38 years and ended up living in Pennsylvania. He died there in October of 2014 at the age of 91. His younger brother Steve had passed away four years earlier at the age of 85.

In addition to baseball, Eddie Kuczek was also a world-class speed skater in his younger days. He won regional and state championships skating for the Fort Johnson AAU Skating Club.

(This well-known Amsterdam physician also celebrated his birthday on June 23.)

 

June 22 – Happy Birthday Norbert Petricca

By the late 1930’s World War II was already raging in Europe and the Japanese were already engaged in hostilities in Asia. Though America had not yet entered the fighting, the US Government saw the need for preparation so Congress authorized the expansion of Naval Shore Activities including construction of military bases in both War theaters. According to the Federal Government’s protocol at the time, private US firms were hired to oversee these projects. The civilian employees of those firms were urged not to resist military actions by the enemy because if they did and were captured while doing so, they could be executed as guerrillas under existing international wartime conventions. When the US entered WWII, the need to militarize these construction crews became apparent and that’s how the Seabees were born.

The “Sea” portion of the name came from the fact that the the Seabees were a branch of the US Navy and the “Bee” from the insects of the same name, who are always busy working, bothering no one unless they themselves are bothered first at which point they retaliate with a sharp sting. The official logo was a flying bee wearing a seaman’s cap and carrying tools and a machine gun with its six legs.. The Seabee motto translated from Latin was “We build, we fight.”

To staff these new construction battalions, the Navy sought experienced highly skilled craftsman in all areas of the construction trade. Young Norbert Petricca, a 1935 graduate of Lynch High School who was born on June 22, 1916, had learned the plumbing trade from his dad Joe. The elder Petricca had moved to Amsterdam’s South Side from Schenectady in 1924 and started his own plumbing and heating business. Norbert had gotten married to an Amsterdam girl named Geraldine Loucks in 1939 and he and his Dad were in the process of growing their client list when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. One month later, Petricca enlisted in the newly formed Seabees.

In late January of 1943, he boarded a ship with the rest of his unit and headed off to Europe. The ship never made it to its destination. It was attacked by a German U-Boat somewhere in the North Atlantic on February 2 and Norbert Petricca was officially declared as killed in action that April. Besides his Wife and Dad, the young hero left behind his Mom Anna and a sister Clara.

June 21 – Happy Birthday Sam Fox

2SamFoxIf you lived in Amsterdam, NY during the 1950’s, ’60’s or ’70’s and remember shopping in the city’s downtown, there were two great clothing stores that should stick out in your mind. If you were a man or teen age boy it was Mortan’s and if you were a woman or young lady, Holzheimer & Shaul was “the” place to shop. The folks who ran these two businesses just seemed to work harder at everything. They always carried the latest styles, they offered the biggest variety, they had great promotions and each store always looked absolutely fantastic inside and out.

Today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant, Sam Fox was the merchandising wizard behind the longtime success of Holzheimer & Shaul. He was born in Rhode Island in 1914 to a German Jewish family and graduated from Bryant College planning to become a Certified Public Accountant. The problem with that career goal was that at the time, America was in the midst of the Great Depression and hiring accountants was not a top priority of struggling companies. So instead, Sam went into the family business of retailing, first going to work for his Uncle, who owned a department store in Elmira, NY. Then, after serving in the Navy during World War II, Sam came to Amsterdam.

bus_345_wemSam’s Grandfather had started a department store in Amsterdam back in the 1860’s called S. Levi and Sons. It was a large store located on the south side of East Main Street and it sold menswear, womenswear, furniture, china, cosmetics and even had a full service beauty salon on site. Sam’s Uncle eventually purchased the store from his grandfather, moved it to its iconic location at the northeast corner of East Main and Church Streets and renamed it Holzheimer & Shaul.

The store began catering exclusively to women and became one of the most successful retail establishments in the history of the Rug City. Sam’s promotional instincts and his ability to recognize what female customers wanted were keys to the store’s success. It was Fox who came up with Old Fashion Bargain Days, Farmers’ Markets and Fashion Shows as promotional events and each caused significant increased traffic to downtown. After managing the store for his Uncle for many years, Sam purchased it outright in 1968.

When the first phase of the Mall opened in 1977, Sam made Holzheimer’s one of its anchors. At first, the store thrived in its new location but by the time Sam retired in 1987 and closed his beloved business, it was pretty clear the Mall was not going to be the long-term savior of retail in downtown Amsterdam.

In addition to running one of Amsterdam’s most popular shopping spots, Sam became deeply involved in the community via the Boy Scouts, Kiwanis, the Chamber of Commerce the Masons, and his beloved Temple if Israel Synagogue. There were few local charities he did not support and few local people who did not know him. He and his wife Maxine had two children, a daughter Amy and a son Alan. Sam died on September 4, 2001.

 

June 20 – Happy Birthday Robert Trent Jones

9174353-smallIt sits on a 196 acre plot of land that forms part of the border between the city and town that share a common name. Most of the area used to be owned by the family of former Amsterdam Mayor John Carmichael and was known as Carmichael Heights. During the depths of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration was put in place to fund public works projects that would benefit and expand the infrastructures of our country and its state’s counties and cities and more importantly, give the unemployed jobs. In 1934, then Amsterdam mayor Art Carter is credited with getting it put on the list of approved WPA projects but it was today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant who took the money, men and materials provided and turned Carmichael Heights into a masterpiece.

Robert Trent Jones was born in England on June 20, 1908. He came to this country at the age of five and his family settled in East Rochester. He fell in love with the game of golf at a very young age and became very skilled at the sport. Health problems would prevent him from competing at the professional level but would not stop him from becoming a legend of the game anyway. When he was ready for college, he went to Cornell University and convinced officials there to let him devise his own curriculum for golf course architecture. Because golf courses were WPA fundable, he couldn’t have picked a better time to become a course designer.

Jones formed a partnership with a golf architect from Canada named Stanley Thompson and after designing several Canadian courses they opened an office in New York City. It was Mayor Carter who called them up and asked them to design Amsterdam Municipal and during the years 1935-38, Robert Trent Jones became a frequent visitor to the Rug City and a regular guest at the Barnes Hotel.

After just three weeks on the job, Jones told Recorder Sports Editor Jack Minnoch that the site chosen for the Amsterdam course was “spectacular” and that the crew of workers placed at his disposal “the best” he’d yet worked with, which was very impressive praise considering by that point the firm of Thompson and Jones had already designed 100 golf courses. Jones’ goal with Muni was to create a paradise for both nature and golf and though that sounds a bit superfluous, this author can attest to the fact that he came awfully darn close!

Jones made sure the course was designed and constructed in such a way that it challenged the very good golfers while at the same time providing forgiveness to the beginning hacker. For example, he built the fifteenth hole in such a way that a long straight drive from the elevated tee had a great chance of landing in the creek that crossed the center of the narrowing fairway at the 220 yard mark but he left everything before that creek wide open to give a duffer a clear and shorter second shot over the same obstacle.

Jones absolutely loved the natural ravine that ran through the property and used it to serve as the setting to two of Muni’s most picturesque par 3 holes, the fourth and sixteenth. I challenge anyone to find a more picturesque view in the Mohawk Valley than the one you can gaze at from the patio of the Muni clubhouse looking south over the course. It’s as if Jones took the hand of God and gave it a perfect manicure.

It took work crews that varied from 50-200 men (depending on the season) three years to finish the course itself. The grand opening was held in July of 1938, when Jones arranged for the great Gene Sarazen and PGA champion Tom Creavy to play an exhibition match. Creavy’s partner was Antler’s pro John Lorde while Sarazen played with Amsterdam Muni’s first-ever first pro, Frank Hartig. Hartig’s initial staff included Dick Stennard as his assistant and Alphonse “Measles” Raco as the caddy master.

Jones went on to design a total of 500 courses. He died in June of 2000 at the age of 93.

(June 20 is also the birthday of one of Arthur Carter’s successors as Mayor of Amsterdam.)

June 19 – Happy Birthday Bruce Anderson

BruceAnderson2Bruce Anderson, a black man, was born on June 19, 1845 in the town of Mexico, NY, which is located about an hour’s drive north of Syracuse, near the southern shore of Lake Ontario. By the time the Civil War broke out, Anderson had moved east and was living with a white family in Gloversville, most likely working on the family’s farm. Then in August of 1864, he enlisted in the 142nd New York Infantry Group K, one of the few mixed-race regiments in existence in the Union Army at the time.

On Christmas Day in 1864, Anderson’s regiment landed just north of Fort Fisher, NC, a heavily fortified position protecting the key southern port of Wilmington, NC. It was the last major coastal stronghold still held by the Confederate Army. The 142nd was supposed to have joined in on the first attack on the Fort but the battle was called off shortly after it had commenced and Group K was brought back. Three weeks later, Anderson’s regiment was made part of the brigade led by Brigadier General Newton Curtis, which was to lead the second attack on the Fort.

Curtis asked for 12 volunteers who were to attempt a mad dash over open ground and under withering fire from 600 enemy riflemen to the large wooden pole fence that served as the Fort’s first line of defense. Then using only axes, those 12 men were to create holes in that fence so that the rest of the brigade could break through at various points. Anderson was not one of the first twelve to volunteer but when he realized a friend of his from Gloversville, who had a wife and two children had done so, he insisted he be allowed to take his place.

The 12 men miraculously succeeded at their mission but ten of them were killed in the process. Anderson was one of the two survivors. Major General Adelbert Ames, the Union commander of the successful second assault on the Fort, prepared a report recommending all twelve men be awarded the Medal of Honor. Somehow, his report was then misplaced.

After the War, Anderson moved to Illinois for a short time, but census data verified he was back in New York, living in Johnstown by 1870 with his first wife and three children. He then divorced his first wife, moved to Amsterdam, NY married a women named Julia James and fathered four more children. He worked as a servant for the family then living at 317 Guy Park Avenue and listed that address as his residence. In 1914, he hired a lawyer to petition for the Medal of Honor he had never received. The Army’s Adjutant General opened up an investigation and on December 28, 1914, he was awarded this country’s highest military honor.

Anderson died in Amsterdam on August 22, 1922 at the age of 77 and is buried here, in Green Hill Cemetery.

 

June 18 – Happy Birthday Maria Riccio Bryce

Mary HeadshotThere is no shortage of Amsterdam Birthday Blog celebrant candidates for June 18th. For example, Felix Aulisi was born on this date. He’s the shoemaker’s son who immigrated to Amsterdam from Italy as a 12-year-old and grew up to become a revered Supreme Court Justice. Then there’s Sammy Pepe, who opened and ran one of Amsterdam’s most popular Italian restaurants and was also a noteworthy promoter of local boxing. Congressman Paul Tonko was also born on June 18. I believe he is the only congressman in our City’s history to be born here and to live here his entire life. All three of these gentlemen certainly deserve to be featured in their own Birthday Blog post, which should tell you just how much I admire the woman I will be honoring today.

Maria Riccio Bryce used to be my babysitter. Well actually, my working Mom would hire her to watch my younger sisters and brother during the summer months but when she was at my house I usually stuck around too. At the time, she was a student at Wilbur Lynch High School and one of the most talented student actors and musicians to ever grace the stage of the elegant Lynch auditorium. Back then she played a marvelous Anita in West Side Story, and absolutely nailed the lead role of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl.

After graduating from Lynch, she went to Manhattanville College, married an Englishman named Alan Bryce, who she had met in summer stock and then moved to London. The two of them founded and ran The Overground Theatre, which became one of that city’s leading fringe (think off-Broadway) theatres in London during the 1970’s. Then came the 1980s and Margaret Thatcher, whose Conservative Government ended subsidies for the arts, which in the high rent district of London meant the Bryces’ theatre could no longer afford to operate.

She and her husband decided to return to Amsterdam with their two young sons and a third on the way. To say Maria was not happy about the move would be a gross understatement. Slowly but surely, however, she reconnected with family and friends and watched her sons thrive in school, become fanatic followers of the New York Mets and get woven into the fabric of her old hometown. For Maria, Amsterdam was evolving from being a great place to grow up to becoming a great place to raise her own family. She’s never again left.

I reconnected with Maria when all three of her boys, Duncan, Andrew and Peter played on the Firefighters Wee Men baseball team I helped coach. Her husband became a de facto assistant on our coaching staff and Maria came to every game, often with her Dad, the late Pete Riccio, who was the guy who convinced Kirk Douglas, his best friend from High School to go with him to St. Lawrence College.

Once back in Amsterdam, Maria returned to her composing, writing and theatre direction at both Proctors and The Egg in Albany. Her play, Hearts of Fire, which commemorated the Schenectady Massacre was well received. Then in 2000, she responded to an advertisement she saw that was publicizing grant availability for a community art project. Maria’s marriage had just ended in divorce and her youngest boy, Peter had just left for his first year of college, making her the emptiest sort of an empty nester. She applied for the grant. She got it. The result was what I personally believe was one of the greatest gifts the City of Amsterdam ever received.

The idea for writing a choral work about Amsterdam had originally come to Maria as she was riding back to Amsterdam after bringing her Peter to Harvard. Her oldest boy Duncan had gone to MIT and the middle son Andrew, to Swarthmore. As she made her way back up the Mass Pike she started thinking about how big of a role Amsterdam had played not just in her life but also in the lives of her three boys. She began thinking of a way she could show her gratitude.

The result was The Amsterdam Oratorio, sixteen wonderful songs, each focusing on a different aspect of life in our old Rug City. One celebrated birth another death. Love, going to school, immigration, the mills, church, war, Maria brilliantly put to music and words the path of life so many of our families have followed as residents of this City.

I was just as impressed by Maria’s ability to put together a huge, multidimensional group of people to promote, stage and perform her work. Every aspect of the production was handled near flawlessly. Then, less than a month before the scheduled October 5, 2001 opening night, the 9/11 terrorist attacks on our Country occurred. Maria’s first thought was to cancel the Oratorio but her crew argued that it needed to go on. Thankfully for Amsterdam, she listened.

I was one of the hundreds of people Maria and her staff had contacted to see if I was interested in working on the project. I offered to serve as an usher. I will never forget the impact that first performance had on me. The brilliance of Maria’s work was that every single person in the audience sitting in that packed Lynch auditorium could make a direct personal connection to every line of every song in that magnificent production and they did. After each of the three ninety minute performances of the Oratorio that took place, the long meandering hallway at Lynch that led from the auditorium to the parking lot exit door would be crammed with people. I can still see the tears and the smiles on their faces, hear the excitement in their voices and sense their pride and amazement at what they had just witnessed.

You know there have been lot’s of times people have asked me why I stay in Amsterdam. I wish they had time to listen to sixteen songs.

A few years ago, Amsterdam’s Bob Going got the brilliant idea to take a recording of Maria’s son Peter singing the song Requiem, from the Oratorio and synchronizing it with pictures of the young Amsterdam heroes who lost their lives in World War II. You can experience the power of this presentation and the incredible talent of today’s Amsterdam Birthday Blog Celebrant via YouTube.

I’m sure if Felix Aulisi and Sammy Pepe were alive today, they’d join Congressman Tonko and me in saluting Maria Riccio Bryce for her long and steadfast devotion to our Amsterdam and for her amazing Oratorio. Happy Birthday Maria!