April 11 – Happy Birthday David Weissman

weissmanThough he helped lead Amsterdam High School to two consecutive Class A football league titles in his junior and senior years, Dave “the Rocket” Weissman was not exactly warmly welcomed when he first arrived at the Lindbergh Ave. school in September of 1971. The problem was that he had attended and played football for Perth High School in his freshman and sophomore seasons and some of the returning members of the Amsterdam Rugged Rams gridiron squad were not exactly well versed in the art of welcoming outsiders to their close-knit fraternity. So I remember very clearly the first day of the 1971 school year being told by some of my good buddies who were on that team that many on the squad were not enamored with the young fleet-fitted running back. But then I met the guy myself. And one of the first things I noticed was just how nice he was to everybody. Now if you remember back to your own high school days, there were usually a certain clique of “jocks,”  usually among the upper classmen, who thought their own excrement didn’t stink and who treated most non-jock males and any girl not considered popular as if they were from a sub-human species. From his first day at Wilbur Lynch, Weissman went out of his way to make sure he befriended these very same people. And the most impressive thing about it was that even after the first few football games, during which he proved his talent and toughness as a fleet-footed running back and earned the respect of even his most arrogant teammates, this guy didn’t change his friend-making ways. In fact, he doubled down on them, as if he realized how bad the hurt felt by teenagers who’ve been ostracized and decided he was going to be different, and he was.

April 10 – Happy Birthday Tim Kolodziej

kolod

He was the first Amsterdam High School superstar athlete I can actually remember. I only got to see him play once or twice because I didn’t begin going to the games up at the Wilbur Lynch Gymnasium until the very tail end of his senior season. But I was an avid sports fan and I’d read every sports page of every newspaper I could get my hands on from the time I was six or seven years-old. One of those papers was the Recorder and I’d devour every line of the two or three pages of sports that would be included in each evening’s issue, from the “Art of Sports” columns written by my old neighbor, the great Art Hoefs, to every name and score that appeared in those nightly “Aces of the Alley” listings.

I remember not being able to pronounce his last name for the longest time. “K-O-L-O-D-Z-I-E-J;” how the hell did they expect a 7-year-old kid to sound that one out? But whenever an article reporting the results of a Hilltopper basketball game appeared, my eyes immediately went to the box score and specifically, the numbers alongside that name I could not pronounce. I’d do a similar thing with the Daily News. My Dad would bring one home every night and if it were baseball season, I’d go right to the Yankee box score and check Mickey Mantle’s numbers. That’s what being a young fan was like a half century ago if your parents weren’t into sports and didn’t take you to games. You waited for the paper, you looked at the box score and you reacted to the numbers that appeared alongside your favorite players.

Most of the time, the number in the column alongside Tim Kolodziej’s name would be something in the twenties. During his final year, in 1964 it got into the forties twice, (40 points versus New Rochelle and 42 points versus Johnstown) which remains even in the much faster paced game of today, a pretty spectacular achievement for any high school hoopster.

But what the box score couldn’t describe for me was the tremendous all-around game this guy had. He was six feet five inches tall, fast, and strong, could jump, had great basketball instincts and was also extremely smart. Art Hoefs would use the phrase “slashing and dashing” to characterize his amazing ability to drive into and through the lane at top speed and put the ball into the hole in a variety of ways.

The rest of this City was reading all those box scores along with me and hundreds were cramming into that glorious old pit of a gymnasium at the top of Brandt Place to watch this supremely gifted athlete lead some of the school’s best ever basketball teams to record-breaking win streaks and league championships. Kolodziej ended up “slashing and dashing” his way to an AHS record of 1,106 career points and a four-year-scholarship to play for Duke University. I even learned how to pronounce his last name. I’m trying to remember if his number “32” jersey and the game ball from his 42 point outburst against Johnstown are still being displayed in the trophy case up at the High School. If not, they should be.

Tim was one of three children born to Ed and Sally Kolodziej, who owned and operated the old Kuk’s Grill up on James Street. After graduating from Duke, he married the former Sandy Gallagher, also from Amsterdam. They now live in New Hampshire and are spelling their last name “K-O-L-O-J-A-Y.” Even a seven-year-old box score reader could have figured out how to pronounce that.

Another April 10 Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant never payed round ball but he did become famous for something else that was round.

April 9 – Happy Birthday Elizabeth Kent

GPAvenue222
The former Guy Park Avenue Elementary School

If like me, you attended Amsterdam’s Guy Park Avenue Elementary School in the early 1960’s, the names of these teachers would be familiar to you. Mrs. Palazzole, Mrs. Riley, Mrs. Templeton, Mrs. Miller, Mrs. Cannon and Miss Hoos. My favorite was today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant, Elizabeth Kent. She taught second grade at Guy Park and she made learning so interesting that I can remember actually being disappointed when the bell rang at the end of a school day. She and I had a great teacher-student connection, which I think was because we both loved to read.

She would take me down into the basement of that school where there were a few old shelves filled with library books and she’d help me pick out a good one to read. She’d always encourage me to pick one that had a few more pages and slightly harder-to-understand words than I was used to reading.  My favorites became books about American History and biographies of Major League baseball players. I’d bring a book home almost every afternoon, read it cover to cover that night and bring it back to Mrs. Kent the next morning. She’d then ask me questions about it or ask me to draw a picture depicting something I especially enjoyed in the book.

She also introduced me and the rest of my classmates to the Student Reading Achievement program or SRA for short. It was ail housed in this huge shiny file box. There were about ten color-coded levels of comprehension and the objective was to read yourself up to the highest level possible. You’d read a story and then try to answer questions about what you read. Keep in mind that as second graders, our entire class had just learned to read the year before, using very basic materials that employed simple words and simple sentence structures. Remember “See Jack. See Jack run. See Jack and Sally, etc. etc.?”

Nine months later, Mrs. Kent not only had me reading complete books, she had helped several of us make it all the way to the top comprehension level of that SRA box. On top of that, Mrs. Kent was also responsible for teaching us math, science and social studies, plus music too! To this day I remain in awe of her ability as an educator.

My best friend back then was Joe Spencer, who would grow up to become a national news correspondent for ABC News. We both loved reading about Civil War battles and Mrs. Kent would encourage us to illustrate what the books were about by drawing pictures depicting what we had read. The finished products would be between 50 and 100 crayon drawings of the armies of the north and south in epic battles. We would tape the pictures together into a huge role and Mrs. Kent would let us present them like a movie to the entire class, narrating the action as we went along. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that this long ago opportunity to make live presentations helped Joe and me develop the written and verbal communication skills each of us would use to make a living as adults.

I happened to be on the Greater Amsterdam School District Board of Education when Betty Kent passed away about a decade ago. I asked the Board to offer a moment of silence as a tribute to a teacher who made a huge positive impact on my life. I’ll end this post with words I wish I had spoken to her before she passed. Thank you Mrs. Kent.

 

Mrs. Kent shares her April 9 birthday with this legendary Amsterdam High School coach.

April 8 – Happy Birthday Rabbi Samuel Bloom

RabbiBloom222

Rabbi Samuel Bloom was born and raised in Savannah, Georgia on April 8, 1926. Highly educated, he earned bachelors and doctorate degrees from NYU, sandwiching a masters in between from Union College. He was ordained at Beth Joseph Rabbinical Seminary in Brooklyn.

The Congregation’s Synagogue was located on the corner of Liberty and Grove Street when Bloom first arrived in town and it thrived under his leadership. He was a gifted orator, just as well versed on most secular issues as he was the Torah. His schedule was filled with speaking engagements all over the city and every Sunday morning he hosted his own talk show on WCSS radio for thirty years. A true servant of the community, Bloom was a very active volunteer in Amsterdam’s United Way campaigns and was a champion of this town’s efforts at interfaith dialog and understanding, also serving as President of the Greater Amsterdam Clergy Association.

He and his beloved wife Eleanor raised a son Michael and a daughter Nadine. The talented Mrs. Bloom was also very active and involved in her faith, serving as executive director of the Empire Region of the United Synagogue of America and sitting on the board of the National Jewish Youth Directors of America.

The highlight of Rabbi Bloom’s wonderful stewardship of Congregation Sons of Israel was its move to a beautiful brand new home at 355 Guy Park Avenue in 1976. Bloom documented the historic moment with these words: “A Congregation, too, lives in moments. Many years are spent in planning, working and dreaming. Then at long last, the dream is realized. The exciting moment arrives. The great moment for which Congregation Sons of Israel has indefatigably worked is now here.”

In 1988, tragedy struck the family and the Congregation when Eleanor Bloom died that February and the good Rabbi passed away just five months later. He was just 62 years old at the time of his death. No permanent replacement has ever been named.

This Amsterdam WWII hero was also born on April 8.

April 7 – Happy Birthday Bill Albertin

Joan, Dale and Bill Albertin
Joan, Dale and Bill Albertin

My little sister was born with a severe developmental disability back in 1965. I remember how difficult it was for my mom, when after three-plus years of wondering if there was an issue the doctors told her that Claudia would never develop cognitive skills beyond that of a two or three year-old. Back then, many parents of a child with special needs felt completely alone, as if they had to scale a thirty thousand foot mountain with no climbing trail in order to find the services and assistance their child would need to have a decent quality of life. But fortunately for my mom, my beloved sister and our entire family, there was a group of parents here in Montgomery County who decided that their special needs daughters and sons were not going to be denied the opportunities to enjoy happy and productive lives. Bill Albertin was one of those parents. His son Dale had been born with Down Syndrome and Bill and his lovely wife Joan were among the group of pioneering mom’s and dad’s who banded together to form the Montgomery County ARC, which later became better known as Liberty. They simply refused to accept their children’s disabilities as liabilities. They advocated, petitioned and proposed programs for their kids to governments, school systems and employers and bit by bit, piece by piece, penny by penny, they developed one of the most successful ARC agencies not just in this state but in the entire country.

I’ll never forget the day my Mom first introduced me to Bill. We had driven my sister up to the old Fort Johnson Elementary School where Liberty was introducing the first ever summer school program for children with developmental disabilities. Standing next to the front door that morning, welcoming each child and parent were two men. One was a young Frank Capone, who had just been hired by the Liberty board to run the agency. Standing next to Capone was Albertin, but just before I shook his hand my Mom said, “Mike, I want you to meet the angel God sent to me!”

Now Bill was a very busy guy. A 1952 Amsterdam High School graduate who had served as Montgomery County Sheriff and County Clerk, he and Joan had also run their own business. In addition to Dale, they also had four daughters to raise so time was definitely at a premium. But Bill remembered what it felt like as a parent to be told that your child would never be normal. He had stood before that same mountain as my Mom and he made the decision that he was not going to let another Montgomery County parent or special needs child make that climb alone. So for the rest of his life and long after his son Dale passed away, Bill Albertin remained on the board of the Montgomery County ARC. For an incredible span of 55 years, he continued to be an active advocate and an “angel” for folks like my sister and my Mom. He passed away in 2011, but the Albertin family continues its deep commitment to this noble cause in the form of Bill’s daughter, Valerie Albertin Zabo, who continues to serve on the ARC Board to this day.

This former Bacon School teacher also celebrates her birthday on April 7.

 

April 6 – Happy Birthday Guy Isabel

guyisabelThe best way to describe Isabel’s Restaurant on West Main Street in Amsterdam for folks not old enough to remember it is that it really was the Raindancer of the 1950’s and 60’s. And today’s Amsterdam Birthday Blog celebrant truly was “the Guy” who made it “the place” to have dinner in this town for a period of over three decades.

When I was born in 1954, my family lived on Leonard Street, the one-block strip of two family homes dominated by the old (and now collapsing) Breton factory building. At the foot of that street, on the south side of West Main stood Isabel’s. Back then the place had no parking lot, so every Friday and Saturday night for most of my childhood, I can remember our street-lighted whiffle and kick-ball games getting continuously disrupted by the constant flow of late-model sedans that were parking to go to Isabel’s or just leaving the place after having dinner. It seemed as if every doctor, lawyer, businessman and politician in Amsterdam would show up for for a weekend meal.

The reason why? Well let me put it this way; I probably had dinner in there myself at least one hundred times and I never had a bad one. Everything was fresh and top quality; from the steaks veal and chops to the live lobsters crawling around in the cooler outside the kitchen door, to the hand cut French fried potatoes. Plus you were served by people who defined courteousness and professionalism, beginning with the two gray jacketed waiters who manned the famous booth room, Lou Frollo and Pup Isabel and the guy pouring the premium brand cocktails behind the classic long wooden bar, Louie’s brother Bam Frollo.

The kitchen staff was superb. You absolutely never had to wait too long for your meal, though you felt so darn comfortable within the unique personable atmosphere of the place, it wouldn’t have mattered if you did. You got exactly what you ordered prepared exactly the way you wanted it.

And it was Guy Isabel who put the whole production together, night in and night out. His parents had moved here from New York City the year before Guy was born in 1906. He was one of six children. He started out as a barber, before getting involved in the restaurant business. His older brother Alex had been a superb high school athlete who then got involved in coaching and City Government as the City’s Recreation Commissioner. That helped spread the Isabel name and make the restaurant a favorite meeting spot. But it was Guy and his wife Ida who figured out how to make sure all those patrons kept coming back. Seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, the cars kept on coming and parking on my street.

Guy had two children, a daughter Mildred a teacher and a son Joseph, who with his Dad would form a company that would soon make all of the television antennas in Amsterdam disappear from the rooftops. Unfortunately, Guy would not live to see Gateway Cable reach its full potential. Cancer claimed his life in 1972, at the age of 66.

Mike and Delores Aldi kept the restaurant running well for quite a few years afterward until it finally closed. I still miss going there to this day.

April 5 – Happy Birthday Antonio Lanzi

8x85qbqc29iawykaAntonio Lanzi grew up on Amsterdam’s McGibbon Avenue, opposite the house in which we raised our four kids. I remember the day the Alpin Haus crew pulled up in front of their home and began digging out the hole that would become their swimming pool. Before they made the decision, Antonio’s Dad, Larry Lanzi had come across the street and asked me how I liked the pool we had put in several summers before. I gave him my pros and cons, telling him it was a pain in the butt to keep clean because of all the trees situated around it but that my own kids had loved it growing up. I’m glad I didn’t try to talk him out of it because, as it turned out, the swimming pool would be the best investment Larry and his wife Rosemary would ever make.

Sure enough, Antonio and his older brother Chris were in it all day every summer. One afternoon, I happened to be over there while they were playing some sort of fetch game and watched as Antonio, who might have been six or seven years-old at the time, swam the length of their pool. To see someone so small and young be able to move through the water so quickly made your jaw drop. I mentioned it to his dad the next time we saw each other and Larry laughed and said something like “I hope he sticks with it!” He sure did.

With his devoted Mom Rosemary’s help, Antonio started competitive club swimming in grade school, and developed into the greatest swimmer in Amsterdam High School history. He competed four seasons for the AHS varsity swim team and set five individual and two relay records during that career. His shining moment came during the 2012 New York State Championships when he won the 200-meter freestyle crown and finished third in the 500-meter freestyle.

That backyard Pool proved to be the first step (or should I say first dip) in a process that would culminate in a full-swimming scholarship for Antonio to the University of Buffalo. Antonio was named Rookie of the Year during his freshman season on the Bulls’ Varsity Swim team. He went on to have a solid four-year career at UB and after graduating has returned to this area to become an important part of his family’s local culinary empire.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of encountering this new generation of the Lanzi family at work in one of their eateries, you realize instantly that the legacy Antonio’s great grandfather Luigi started on Bridge Street way back during the Prohibition is in excellent hands for at least another 40 years. The one thing that can get overlooked about this young man’s swimming success is the amazing amount of work and effort he put into the sport starting at a young age and over a lot of years.

And if ever there was a perfect Lanzi to get the family involved in a seafood restaurant, it would have to be Antonio because he literally grew up in the water. Happy Birthday Tono!

April 3 -Happy Birthday Dick Furman

CranesvilleBlock2
From left to right, Ray Francisco, Dick Furman and John Tesiero.

Contrary to what most Amsterdam residents probably thought, the Cranesville Block Company one of the most successful family-owned businesses in Amsterdam history has not always been owned only by the late John Tesiero.  It was actually a Rug City trio of young WWII veterans that included Tesiero, Ray Francisco and today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant who began the company in a barn on Cranes Hollow Rd. in 1947.

Originally, the blocks were made by hand until Richard “Dick” Furman saw a pattern for a block-making machine in his Popular Science Magazine and built the contraption himself. Within a decade, the company had relocated to Amsterdam’s Erie Street and purchased a Multiplex block-making machine that produced 600 blocks per minute. Within another decade, Cranesville’s business had grown so big that the company moved into the old Adirondack Steam Plant, alongside Route 5S and Tesiero was buying up every sand pit and crushed stone maker he could find to feed the ravenous appetites of the company’s state of the art block making paraphernalia.

Dick Furman graduated from Amsterdam High School in 1943 and then joined the Navy to fight for his country. He married his wife Florence in 1947 and together they raised a family of four sons and a daughter. As he proved when he constructed that first block-making machine, Furman could build just about anything, including his own home. As successful as his business was, he remained a man of simple tastes and a giving heart.

Dick Furman passed away in May of 2015 at the age of 89. He shares his April 3rd birthday with this former Amsterdam Congressman.

April 2 – Happy Birthday Marty Tambasco

That’s Marty T. above with two of his favorite fans!

Playing softball in Amsterdam isn’t just a sport, its pretty close to a religion. When the time comes, you either get invited to join a team or you start one of your own and you keep playing until there’s a verifiable and irreversible reason why you can’t play any longer. Game nights are eagerly anticipated, not just for the thrill of the competition but also because its a night out with a bunch of good friends and a chance to laugh, reminisce, tip a few cold ones and maybe if you’re lucky, rip a shot into the gap and make it to second standing up. And its been going on forever. Ask anyone whose played recreation league softball from my dad’s generation, from mine or my kids’ to name a best memory from their own playing days and they will instantly recall five.

When I think of people having fun playing softball the first name that enters my mind is always Marty Tambasco. In fact if softball really were a religion, today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant would be its Pope. He has been playing the game continuously since the late 1960s, when his U.S. (later Shorty’s) Clippers team won their league’s championship (see photo below.) His hair has changed color and his competitive juices may not flow quite as aggressively as they did back then but this guy still loves every aspect of the game and plays it with the zeal that old timers like me truly admire.

For the past couple of decades he’s worn the Post 701 jersey. He’s also done a phenomenal job maintaining that team’s official Website. A great teammate and a cherished friend, I know hundreds of Amsterdam softball players past and present join me in wishing Marty Tambasco a very Happy Birthday. Mart, your playing career has outlasted Mantle, Murcer, Mattingly and Jeter. Next up is Aaron Judge!

 

April 1 – Happy Birthday Jessica Collins Capogna

220px-Jessica_Collins_1Five years after she watched her one-time baby sitter, Ruth Zakarian win the Miss Teen USA Pageant, today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant almost duplicated the feat, finishing first runner-up in the 1988 version of the same event. Born in Schenectady, NY on April 1, 1971, Jessica Capogna moved to Amsterdam as a young girl and grew up with her mom Eileen, on Bunn Street.

Like Zakarian, Capogna had captured the Miss New York State Teen title in June of 1988, after completing her junior year at Amsterdam High School. She then travelled to San Bernardino, California the following month to compete (as Jessica “Collins”) against the most beautiful teens from around the country. Just about everyone in her hometown was glued to their TV’s during the nationally televised pageant. Thanks to live on screen scoring results, we all knew this beautiful young lady was one of the judges’ favorites that evening, as she received the highest scores in a number of the categories including both the bathing suit and personal interview segments. But in the end, she was somehow edged out for the title and the $150,000 worth of prizes that went along with it by Miss Oregon.

She then returned to Amsterdam, where she completed her senior year at AHS and served as captain of the school’s majorette corps. From there it was off to acting schools in London and Los Angeles, followed by a long successful acting career during which she again used her “Jessica Collins” stage name.

Her acting credits included the role of Dinah Lee Mayberry in ABC’s “Loving” from 1991 to ’94, the role of Meredith Davies on Fox Network’s supernatural TV series, “True Calling” from 2002 to 2004, and a return to the Soaps in 2011 in the role of Avery Bailey Clark on CBS’s “The Young and the Restless” for which she was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award as Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in 2013.

She made her big screen debut in the 1994 horror film “Leprechaun 4: In Space.” She was also one of the airline stewardesses Leonardo DiCaprio duped in the Stephen Spielberg film, “Catch me If You Can.”

Collins left her role in “The Young and the Restless” in 2015 to have her first child, a baby girl named Jemma Kate. She also went back to school and earned her degree in culinary arts. She currently lives in California with her daughter and husband, writer Michael Cooney. It was just announced in February 2019 that Collins will be appearing in the upcoming Netflix anthology series Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings, in an episode entitled “Cracker Jack” . 

Jessica shares her April 1 birthday with this former Amsterdam Recorder columnist/reporter and historian.