Ten Ideas for Reviving Amsterdam, New York

I call them “buzz-worthy project proposals.” They are ideas designed to enhance development of an urban community and its surrounding area, which are designed and structured in such a way so that they have the potential of generating huge volumes of FREE PUBLICITY. Let’s face it. There are plenty of reasons why developers, new businesses and tourists are not flocking to or spending money in Amsterdam on their own. We need to eliminate those reasons. How? By being smarter and more creative in our efforts to convince those same groups otherwise. They need to be sold so we need to come up with better development and tourism packages that are compelling and unique enough to get newspaper editors and bloggers from outside our area to write about and help sell them. Here are five such idea packages that I think have this type of appeal. I include five more in my upcoming book. I’d like to get your feedback and perhaps other ideas you may have for enhancing Amsterdam’s economy and quality of life:

Business Plan competition to fill vacant Chalmers’ site: How can the City of Amsterdam attract young entrepreneurs with solid, fully financed business plans to consider locating their start-up businesses and their personal residences in our City? By providing them with attractive enough incentives to do so. What could the City offer as an incentive? How about one year worth of free rent for newly constructed combination living and business space on a rejuvenated waterfront and their choice of a free membership to a Robert Trent Jones designed Golf Course or a fully equipped health club.  Where would this City find the new business applicants needed to drive this program? By having AIDA, with the assistance of Montgomery County EDC and the offices of Tonko, Amedore and Santabarbara network with all of the local universities (RPI, Union, Albany State etc.) and all of the state, county and privately funded programs that promote incubator business development. How would AIDA decide who receives a grant? Applicants would need to submit a business plan that includes full financial disclosure. A committee of business and finance professionals would be formed to review these plans and select those most likely to succeed. Those selected would receive the above-described incentive. Who would develop the combo units on the Chalmers property? One of the advantages of pursuing this strategy is the fact that the incentive offered the entrepreneurs would also serve as a strong incentive to potential developers of the post demolition Chalmers property. The fact that AIDA would be willing to promote the property and pay the first year’s rent of new tenants significantly reduces the burden and risks that the developer of such a property would normally face. What happens after the first year? Each new business selected for this grant would be required to sign at least a two year lease at an agreed upon rate for the second year. Perhaps the City could also agree to adjust the property tax rate for the property so that during the first five years of the development’s existence the owner is paying taxes only on those units occupied by tenants. Small businesses have been traditionally, the single largest provider of new jobs in the US economy. Thanks to the Internet and the efficiency of wireless and e-commerce technologies, location is no longer an essential component of success for so many types of business start-ups. Put yourself in the shoes of a young electrical engineering student at RPI, or Nano Tech graduate assistant at SUNY who has a documented great idea and a brilliant mind. Being able to start your business on the first floor, live on the second floor with a balcony that looks out over a beautiful river, play golf at Muny, be in Albany or Saratoga in just half an hour. Why not Amsterdam?

Create a New York State Walk of Fame that extends from The old Armory on Bridge Street, across the Pedestrian Bridge through Riverlink Park; I love Amsterdam’s new pedestrian bridge, I really do. The problem with it, however, is that folks who don’t live in Amsterdam are not coming to see it in any where near the numbers originally projected by its planners. So the challenge now is how do we make that happen. There are 62 counties in the State of New York. Lets create a more compelling reason for residents from every one of those counties to consider coming to see the new pedestrian bridge that opened in 2016 or at least consider making it a stop in Amsterdam to take a look on their way to someplace else. Let’s incorporate the bridge into New York State’s Official Walkway of Fame. Ask our state legislators to seek a state charter for this designation. Then let’s find out via an online election, who residents feel is their county’s most famous native. We will have 62 winners. Have a designer come up with a standard plaque/display piece to commemorate each Walk of Fame honoree and then have each county create one for their most famous resident and as those displays are completed have an official unveiling ceremony for that county held on the bridge. Add new inductees each year. The bottom line is that a bridge that celebrates the history and culture of our entire state will have much greater media and tourist appeal than a bridge that celebrates the history and culture of only our community.

Build the largest Cross in the world at the Auriesville Shrine: In the 1970’s I worked for Tom Constantino at Amsterdam, New York’s Noteworthy Company. Tom loved the Auriesville Shrine and wanted to do something that would assure its long-term survival. He presented the owners of the Shrine, the Society of Jesuits a plan to construct the largest Cross in the world on the grounds of the site. The Jesuits rejected it back then but now they have ceded control of the site to the Albany Diocese. Perhaps the time is now right to get the Cross project approved. Back when Constantino was pushing the project, there was no Internet, which means fundraising efforts for the construction would have had to been raised via expensive direct mail and broadcast efforts. Today, one well designed, Web-based campaign on a popular donor appeal site like GoFundMe.com might be all that is needed to raise the necessary funds. Adding such a significant spiritual landmark to the location where the first Christian missionaries to North America were martyred, would greatly enhance the Shrine’s appeal as a religious attraction and would certainly garner the ongoing attention of both the Christian and mainstream media.

Create the Amsterdam Demolition Institute: Propose to the state that Amsterdam become the site of a new training institute for demolition skills certification. Communities from around the state would be able to send their public works employees to this school where they will be taught the skills necessary to safely and responsibly demolish abandoned dwellings in their community that have been deemed beyond repair. All aspects of the demolition process would be taught including site prep, hazard remediation, heavy equipment operation, safety and environmentally compliant disposal of all construction debris. Each class will actually participate in a live demolition of one of Amsterdam’s uninhabitable, irreparable dwellings. Every time a final exam is given another unstable and dangerous Amsterdam eyesore disappears.

Formation of an “Invest in Amsterdam” venture capital group: One of the things I’ve discovered in the process of writing about the history of Amsterdam is that there exists a large community of current and former Amsterdam residents who have done well in their careers here and elsewhere and remain interested in their hometown and would be willing to help rejuvenate it if given the appropriate opportunity. I believe it is entirely possible to find a group of these current and former Rug City residents willing to purchase shares in a venture fund that would then be used as a revolving loan/investment fund to help bring new business to the city and/or expand existing businesses. Even more importantly, many of these ex-Amsterdamians could be convinced to sit on an advisory board to not just evaluate each investment opportunity but to also mentor and advise recipients of these monies.

Amsterdam’s All Time Top Ten Adult Sports Organizations

1. Recreation Softball: If you’re my age and you’ve lived in Amsterdam all your lives, not only did you probably play in the city of Amsterdam’s recreation softball league but your dad and perhaps even your mom did too. So did your sons and daughters and right about now you have grandkids old enough to take their own swings at that stitched and spongy grapefruit sized sphere. And though the generations were different, the game has remained pretty much the same. No taking a lead when on base, ten players to a side thanks to a “short-fielder” who really doesn’t have to be short and of course the two “pitcher” rules. During the game, the “pitcher” has to throw the ball underhanded and then after the game, all team members must gather in a common spot where beer is served, preferably in “pitchers!” Three people I think of when the subject of Amsterdam Recreation Softball comes up are: Marty Tambasco, who is approaching his 50th year as a player and no-one has contributed more time, friendship or enthusiasm to the game; Tom “Flick” Flint who started out as a catcher with DePalma’s in the 1970’s and was still one of this town’s best pitchers when his terminal cancer struck in 2010. The annual tournament he started for his dad remains one of this city’s premier softball events; Jorge Rivera was the guy most responsible for bringing Amsterdam’s Latino population into the recreation softball community. He was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met in my entire life. As for all-time most willing softball team sponsors, the former West Main Street bar known as Liber’s certainly deserved a vote of thanks for sponsoring so many different softball teams for so many years. Below is one of my favorite all-time Recorder photos showing the ladies softball team sponsored by J.J. Newberry’s Department Store in 1947.

2. Recreation Basketball: A much older recreation sport than softball, Amsterdamians have been playing basketball in city recreation leagues since the World War I era. Back before television took over as the main source of after-dinner entertainment, Amsterdam sports fans could head down to Theodore Roosevelt Junior High School’s huge gym on winter evenings or go across the bridge to the Armory’s and watch some of this city’s all-time greatest hoopsters go head to head against each other. Through the 1950’s the teams were mostly neighborhood and ethnically bundled and sometimes a mixture of both. For example, the pre-WWII American Lithuanian Club (ALC) had a super hardwood team for years and drew their rosters from Amsterdam’s burgeoning Lithuanian community, which centered itself around East End neighborhood of the old St. Casmir’s Church. St. John’s Club was where the Polish American athletes from Park Hill played their ball and the Mohawk Athletic Club represented Amsterdam’s Italian dominated West End. None of these teams were beyond recruiting from outside those lines to strengthen their league title chances. By the 1960’s the grills and retail businesses of Amsterdam began to dominate team sponsorships, recognizing that a headline like “Mortan’s Win’s Championship” on the Recorder sports pages was worth its weight in advertising and public relations gold. The picture below shows Mortan’s 1965 city championship team.

3. Over 30 Basketball: The biggest advantage softball has over basketball is that you can still play it competitively in your middle age years. Heck, I still remember when the late great Stan Burza drove a towering smash over our right fielder’s head when he was 64 years old! Amsterdam’s older basketball community was not about to let a little thing like a few too may birthdays stop them from playing the game that they loved. So back in the 1960’s, a group of men got together and formed a four-team organization known as the Over 30 Basketball League and after about a decade of existence, it actually had become one of the most popular recreation leagues in this city’s history. It reminded me of the City High Rise because you had to wait until you were a certain age to get in and even when you reached that age, you had to put your name on a waiting list because so many people wanted to to play! The first venue for “Over 30” games was the old Truax School. The final one a half century later was the gym at the Perth Bible Church. In between were millions of dribbles and hundreds of thousands of shots by guys who may have been losing some hair at the time but not their love for the game of basketball.

4. City Night Softball League: It was the big leagues as far as Amsterdam softball was concerned. Real uniforms, night games under the lights, dugouts, uniformed team managers, a public address announcer, an actual outfield fence and full line-up game stats in the next evening’s Recorder, about the only thing missing from Veterans Field during these games was a beer vendor! From the early 1960’s until about the mid ‘70’s City Night Softball was where all the best players in the area played the game. I can remember when Baia’s Tommy Moran and Rupsis’ Danny Phelps faced off against each other, those rickety sets of Vets’ Field bleachers would just about fill up to watch the league’s two best pitchers go at it. Just before the first ever City Night game on May 18, 1964, Recorder Sports Editor Art Hoefs used the opening section of his popular sports column to promote the new circuit and included this nostalgia churning comparison; “(Night softball) will provide sports competition and relaxation for fans after 8 p.m. Amsterdamians will recall sitting at the Mohawk Mills Park watching the old Rugmakers in the cool of summer’s night. Now this same opportunity will be afforded once more.” Pictured below is the 1971 City Night Champions, Baia’s Tavern. Led by Moran’s lights out pitching, the team representing the legendary Lyons Street establishment was the toughest club to beat for most of the seasons of the league’s existence.

5. Adult Bowling Leagues – Search the closets of any house or apartment in this city from right after World War II until Ronald Reagan left the White House and I guarantee it wouldn’t take you long to find at least one bowling ball. Everybody in this town bowled in one league or another and those leagues, which were organized at classic bowling alleys named Wilton, Bannisters, Sky View, Pin Haven, St. John’s and Windmill Lanes made it possible to bowl three games on a team in this town on any night of the week. Amsterdam certainly wasn’t alone in its love for bowling but no place had a bigger passion for the game or a richer tradition in the sport. One of the great thrills created by this wonderful sport was getting your name placed among those set in the thick bold faced type that used to appear under the heading “Aces of the Alley” on the sports pages of every single edition of the Amsterdam Recorder. Bowling was indeed Amsterdam’s favorite sport and it was the secretaries of the hundreds of bowling leagues that functioned in this city over the years, the men and women who kept track of all those scores and averages, who were the keys to making it all possible. Pictured below is the “Amsterdam Rug” sponsored team that won the 1970 Womens City Championship.

I will finish this list of the Top Ten Amsterdam Adult Sports Organizations in time to get them in my upcoming book which is scheduled for release later this year. I can promise you that though the next five may not have been as popular as those shown above, they most certainly have a rich and interesting tradition in this community. In the meantime, make sure you subscribe to my free monthly Amsterdam Top Ten Newsletter for previews and reveals of more Amsterdam Top Ten Lists. You can sign up for the newsletter here.

Amsterdam’s All-Time Top Ten Youth Sports Organizations

Former City Recreation Commissioner Alex Isabel, who many consider to be the Godfather of youth sports in Amsterdam, NY, used to say “There’s nothing too good for our kids.” Fortunately for the children of our community, each succeeding generation has brought forth enough devoted parent and community volunteers as well as dedicated city officials who continue to believe what Isabel said is true.

1. Little Giants Football: Approaching its 60th anniversary, this organization has to be considered the most successful youth sports league in Amsterdam history. The 1959 brainchild of the legendary “Whitey” Murray, it has provided generations of Amsterdam boys and girls with the opportunity to learn football, cheerleading and team working skills. The rosters of every Amsterdam High School and Bishop Scully football teams were loaded with former Little Giants players and it was no accident that both high schools’ gridiron programs became much more successful as soon as the first classes of Little Giants alumnae reached their grade levels. Pictured below are the 1970 Little Giants Champions, the undefeated Purple Knights.

2. Wee Men Baseball: This is one youth sports organization in our city for which it can be said is as strong now as ever. It actually started in 1950, when Amsterdam City Recreation Commissioner Alex Isabel affiliated the city with Little League Baseball. But over the next five years, the Little League official rules that limited leagues to just four teams and required their affiliates to compete in district and regional tournaments turned off the adults who were then running the program. The affiliation was formally ended in 1955 and Wee Mens’ Baseball was born in the Rug City. It’s six plus decades of operation have been blessed with the leadership of so many dedicated adults like the late Louie Noto, John Russo, Bob Crawford, Steve Porcello and more recently, involved parents like Paul Antonelli. When I look at the amazing improvements made up at Isabel’s field and the continued willingness of parents to get involved in the program in recent years, it makes me confident the Wee Mens’ Baseball success here in Amsterdam will continue. Pictured below are the 1968 Wee Men Major National Division Champs, Kiwanis.

3. Church League Basketball: The male youth of Amsterdam’s Protestant houses of worship started competing against each other in basketball way back at the beginning of the Twentieth Century as part of the YMCA youth activities program. Then in 1921, the churches formed a Sunday School League that became known as the Church League. They used the opportunity to play basketball as the carrot to get young boys to attend services every Sunday. This league had a much wider age grouping than it’s younger Catholic cousin, CYO basketball. Rosters included kids from grade school into high school. Pictured below is the 1971 champs, Trinity Reformed.

4. Cinderella Softball: Back in 1965, a small group of Amsterdam, NY parents decided it was time for the young ladies of the city to have a league of their own. So caring moms and dads like Vera Januszewski, Theresa Scialabba, George Lazarou, and Stan Pendrak under the determined leadership of Nadia Tuman went to work and created Amsterdam’s Cinderella League. It was a hit from the start. They needed to add two teams for the league’s second season to accommodate all the young girls in the city who wanted to play and then two more when they expanded the league to include thirteen year-olds. Still going strong and now called the Amsterdam Girls Softball Association, the league opened its 52nd consecutive season in May of 2017. Pictured below are the 1969 Cinderella League Champs; Sportsmen’s Club.

5. CYO Basketball: Though Amsterdam’s Catholic parishes began forming kids basketball teams to compete in city recreation leagues in the early 1940’s, it wasn’t until the fall of 1955 that the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) Basketball League was formed. As was usual back then the league was originally just for boys and only five parishes, St. Stanislaus, St. Mary’s (who sponsored two teams), St. Joseph’s, St. Stephen’s and St. Casmir’s participated in that first season. Coaches that initial year included Dutch Howlan, Joe Pabis, Joe Dylong, Harry Flint, John Yurkon and Ed Murphy. St. Stephen’s team from Hagaman, pictured below, won the first league title with a 14-0 record. CYO basketball became a winter sports staple for Amsterdam’s 12-14 year-alders and then later expanded to include both younger age groups and girls!

I will finish this list of the Top Ten Amsterdam Youth Sports Leagues in time to get them in my upcoming book which is scheduled for release later this year. In the meantime, make sure you subscribe to my free monthly Amsterdam Top Ten Newsletter for previews and reveals of more Amsterdam Top Ten Lists. You can sign up for the newsletter here.

All Time Greatest Amsterdam Participants in Ten Non-Major Sports

In Amsterdam, local baseball, football and basketball teams and their stars have always received a lions share of the media attention but not all of it. Those of us who have faithfully followed the Amsterdam Recorder sports pages for a few decades or more are fully aware of the rich tradition several other “non-major” sports have established in our community. This list represents my attempt to identify the all-time greatest participant(s) in ten of those less publicized competitive activities. In today’s post I share my choices in Bowling, Weightlifting, Handball, Horseshoes and Speedskating. Those of you who subscribe to my free All-Time Amsterdam Top Ten’s Newsletter will be able to see my picks for greatest Track & Field participant (male & female), Swimmer (male & female), Tennis player (male & female), Skier and Race Driver in the July issue. If you haven’t yet subscribed to the free newsletter you can do so here.

Bowling: Nick Miseno Jr. – With 67 perfect games, four regional PBA Tour titles and two State Masters titles already to his credit, this Amsterdam native has rolled himself to the very top of an elite list of all-time great Amsterdam keglers. That’s not a misprint, Miseno has rolled 67 perfect games! As for the ladies, when I was a kid I bowled Saturday mornings in the Pin Haven junior league for boys right next to the Junior Girls. Even way back then, when Pat Meagher’s ball hit the pins it made a special sound. During the late sixties she dominated female bowling in Amsterdam, frequently beating the men’s top scores. I give Meagher the edge over great lady keglers like Julie Wilkevitch, Dot Jobin and Deal Guisti as the the top woman bowler in Rug City history.

Weightlifting: Though Fred Bryce was born in Broadalbin, he made a name for himself as Amsterdam’s most prolific weightlifter. In 1952, the then 32-year-old strongman travelled to New York City to try out for the US Olympic weightlifting team and finished in fifth place in the middle-heavyweight division. That same year, Bryce won the New York State 198 pound championship with a 320-pound clean and jerk lift and in 1953 he added the prestigious Eastern States Championship to his lifting resume. At one point, he won 23 straight Capital District weight lifting titles, beginning the amazing streak in 1939.

Handball: Marshall Lech was the godfather of Amsterdam handball. He started playing the sport in the 1930’s and use to travel to Schenectady so he could participate in the handball league sponsored by that city’s YMCA. He finally got the Amsterdam Y to form its own league and then dominated it for a couple of decades. I remember when he and Paul Lazarou use to team up in doubles tournaments and the sound of that little black ball slamming against the wall would echo throughout the entire Division Street facility. Lech kept playing and winning tournaments into his seventies!

 Horseshoes: The greatest horseshoe pitcher in the history of Amsterdam, Tom Brownell won a total of seven New York State titles. His best performance at the World level was an incredible third-place finish at the 1955 World Championships held in Salt Lake City, Utah. During his best years, Brownell averaged 75 ringers for every 100 shoes he pitched. In the 1955 State Tournament, he set a New York State record by throwing 30 ringers in 31 pitches for a percentage of 96.9%.

Speedskating: Ted Ellenwood was born in Dunkirk, NY and moved to Fort Johnson with his family in 1924, when he was just five-years old. He grew up skating on the Fort Johnson rink. He began skating competitively with the Fort Johnson Athletic Association, which competed in meets every winter against teams from all over Upstate New York. In 1941, Ellenwood won five itles including the New York State Championship. He finished tied for third in the 1941 Nationals and just missed qualifying for the 1942 US Olympic team. Just before joining the US Navy to fight for his country in World War II, Ellenwood travelled to LaCrosse, WI to compete in the AAU National Speed Skating Championships and brought back home first place medals in both the 220 and 440.

Ten of the All-Time Most Effective Amsterdam, NY Church Leaders

Religious disputes have given rise to some of the most horrible wars in human history and also, as it turns out, many of the Amsterdam churches we Rug City residents were baptized in. For example, the very first church building constructed in what is now the city of Amsterdam, the Dutch Reformed Church of Veddersburg was erected on the iconic corner of Market and Main Streets in 1800 by a group of disgruntled Reformists after they lost a battle with the rest of their congregation, who voted to build their new house of worship up by Manny’s Corners. Three decades later, after that first church had aligned itself with the Presbyterian denomination, about 100 disgruntled members broke away from it to form the Second Presbyterian Church of Amsterdam, which has occupied the same location on Church Street (across from the Amsterdam Free Library) since 1832. The Lutherans of Amsterdam split when the non-German portion of their congregation wanted services in English and not German. Protestants were not the only folks of faith seeking separation from their brethren. The Irish and German Catholics of St. Mary’s parish went their separate ways when the German portion of the congregation consisting of about 100 families, built St. Joseph’s Church on Guy Park Avenue (then called Spring Street) in 1884. Ditto for the city’s Polish Catholics who lived on Park Hill. They broke off from their St. Stanislaus parish on Reid Hill to build their own neighborhood church which they christened St. John the Baptist. The Mohawk River eventually became the dividing line between Amsterdam’s Italian Catholics, most of whom had arrived here to work on the construction of the Barge Canal. The north side portion formed St. Michaels while the South Siders chose Our Lady of Mt Carmel.

This is why I believe strongly that buildings don’t define a church, it’s the people who worship there that do, which is where the pastor comes in. As the leader of the flock, he or she is the one who sets the tone of the congregation. Will they be aggressive or passive, active or disengaged, tolerant or strict, forgiving or damning, unified or divided? Will the church grow or decline faster or slower than others in the community. It is of course impossible for me or anyone to objectively decide who the top ten church leaders are in Amsterdam’s history. So instead, the following list profiles ten of the many great ones who’ve ministered here in this old mill town.

Reverend Frank T. Rhode: Second Presbyterian Church – When a carload of Second Presbyterians left Amsterdam one morning in 1921 for a two-day trip to Majestic, Connecticut, they were on a mission to find the fifth pastor in that Church’s 80-year history. They were headed to meet and observe a young graduate of the Chicago Theological Seminary named Frank T. Rhodes, who was then serving as a student pastor for a congregation in the seaside New England town. They liked what they saw and the decision to hire Rhodes was made. Fast forward to March 18, 1957. Three hundred and fifty members of the Second Pres. congregation have gathered in the Church hall to celebrate Rhode’s retirement. The consensus that evening was that the “Rhode” Trip taken 36 years earlier had been a success. Rev. Rhode had become one of Amsterdam’s most respected spiritual and community leaders during his tenure at Second Pres. and would remain so as Pastor Emeritus throughout his retirement years.

Rabbi Samuel Bloom: Congregation Sons of Israel – He became the spiritual leader for the Congregation Sons of Israel in 1949, replacing Rabbi Jack Weitman, He continued in that role for the next four decades. Born and raised in Savannah, Georgia, Bloom earned bachelors and doctorate degrees from NYU, and a masters from Union College. He was ordained at Beth Joseph Rabbinical Seminary in Brooklyn. The Congregation’s original Amsterdam 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. 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.

Father Anton Gorski: St. Stanislaus Church – Like all immigrant Catholics who came to Amsterdam, NY in the mid-to-late 1800’s, the first Polish people who settled here (circa 1880) worshiped at St. Mary’s Parish. By 1888, they had formed their own sub-group called the Saint Stanislaus Society and were ready to form a church of their own. In September of 1895, the Bishop in Albany sent them their first official pastor. His name was Anton Gorski. Within two years their new Cornell Street house of worship was open and by 1906, so was their parish school. Gorski headed the church for a total of 35 years and the strength of the foundation he established is still evident today to anyone who attends the still-going-strong St. Stanislaus Summer Festival.

Reverend William D. Orr: St. Ann’s Episcopal Church – All of Amsterdam was shocked when the 56-year-old Rev. Orr suffered a stroke while teaching a confirmation class of young St. Ann parishioners in February of 1961. Tragically, he died one week later. Orr had to be one of the most devoted, enthusiastic and involved citizens in Amsterdam history. In addition to being the spiritual leader of the St. Ann’s congregation, he served on the Board of Education, the Amsterdam Housing Authority and was credited with rejuvenating the Amsterdam Concerts Association at a time when local support had all but disappeared. He rarely missed an Amsterdam High School home sporting event, was a talented pianist and very active in both the Rotary Club and the Masons. He had come to St. Ann’s in 1935 after graduating from Harvard University and serving parishes in Albany, NY and Ann Arbor, Michigan. At the time, the St Ann’s congregation was burdened by a huge mortgage on their church in the middle of the Great depression. Not only did Orr get that mortgage paid off, he also purchased a home next to it and got it converted into the church’s first rectory. He was a native of Newton Center, Massachusetts.

Father Joseph Girzone: Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church – He was caring, compassionate, friendly, very smart and though he had some difficulty making prepared speeches on the altar he was a genius at making a difference in the community. He understood government as well as he understood God and he was instrumental at getting the Montgomery County Office of the Aging initially funded and up and running. Then he showed us all how to love thy neighbor by doing the same thing in neighboring Fulton County. Girzone was a driving force behind the launch of Amsterdam’s Meals for the Elderly, a wonderful program that continues to serve a vital function for so many of our senior citizens four full decades later. He started a youth community center at Mt. Carmel, which offered all kinds of cultural and recreational programs for teenagers. He brought God’s words into area jails and advocated for better treatment of prisoners. He worked closely with the Red Cross to provide assistance to victims of disasters. He truly tried to live his life the way he thought Jesus would want him to. In fact, he often found himself at odds with church doctrine, which he thought at times focused too much on harshness, telling people what they couldn’t do and driving them away from God. In 1983, shortly after a heart ailment had forced him to retire from the priesthood, he wrote and self-published his interpretation of what God would be like if he was here today. He called the book “Joshua” and sold copies from the trunk of his car. Everyone who read it loved it including professional reviewers and new talent editors at Doubleday. When he passed away in 2015 at the age of 85, over 3 million copies of his books had been sold spreading his story of Joshua around the world. This wonderful priest who sometimes had a tough time explaining the will of God from a pulpit, had absolutely no problem doing so with a pen and paper.

I will reveal my choices for the other five top Amsterdam church leaders in my new book; 50 Top Ten All-Time Amsterdam Lists, which will be released later this year. If you subscribe to my free monthly Amsterdam Top Ten Newsletter, you will receive a special offer that will permit you to order my new book at a special discounted price. You can subscribe to the free newsletter here.

Amsterdam, NY Reactions to an All Time Top Ten List of Historical Events

In this Top Ten list I’ve selected ten of the most significant historical events to take place since 1900 and provided a glimpse of how Amsterdam’s media and people responded to each. In the preview below are two of those reactions, both involving historic manned flights. I will unveil the entire list in my new book which is scheduled for release later this year. In the meantime, make sure you subscribe to my free monthly Amsterdam Top Ten Newsletter for previews and reveals of more Amsterdam Top Ten Lists. You can sign up for the newsletter here.

Wright Brothers First Airplane Flight: December 17, 1903 – It took a little over five months for the Amsterdam Recorder to report the Wright Brothers flight to their readers. Even when they did, the article was just one paragraph long and buried midway down the fifth column on page 7 of the local paper’s May 27, 1904 edition. The lack of editorial urgency for such a landmark achievement was not unique to the Amsterdam newspaper. News of the successful flight trickled out, usually in short dribs and drabs with few details, much like the Recorder’s report reproduced here. It was not until 1908 when Wilbur’s test flight in France and Orville’s in Virginia convinced everyone the brothers had indeed conquered flight. Much more local attention would be paid to a much longer flight taken 66 years later.

Man Walks on the Moon for the first time: July 20, 1969 – Amsterdam, NY had a direct connection to one of mankind’s most historic events. When Apollo 11 Astronaut Neil Armstrong descended the short ladder from the Eagle landing craft and became the first human to set foot on the Moon, it was a native of Amsterdam, NY who was as responsible as anyone for Armstrong’s “giant leap for mankind.” Rocco Petrone, the 43-year-old director of the Apollo Program’s launch operations at Cape Kennedy was born in Amsterdam, NY in 1926 and left fatherless 18-months later, when his dad, a railroad employee had been hit by a train while working on the tracks just east of the city. Young Rocco went on to become a football star at Amsterdam High School and Salutatorian of his 1943 graduating class. An article, reprinted from the NY Post that appeared in the July 21, 1969 issue of the Recorder shown here, described Petrone as “the conductor of a large orchestra…Its his job to harmonize it all, men, machines, even the weather to make things go off without trouble.” Back in the summer of 1969, I can personally remember being completely surprised to find out that someone so critical to the success of this miraculous technological achievement had gone to the same high school I was about to enter in a few weeks time. It really made me proud of him and my city!

 

All Time Top Ten List of Female Doctors Who Practice/d in Amsterdam

Though indications are that the ratio is changing, there are currently only half as many females practicing medicine in the US as there are males. I’m not sure what that ratio is for Amsterdam, NY but I’m confident it too is beginning to improve as far as the percentage of local lady doctors is concerned. In today’s blog post, I preview five of the top ten lady doctors in Amsterdam history. In addition to practicing here, four of these five dedicated individuals were born and raised in our community!

Dr Helen Blanchard – Her maiden name was Kansas. She was born in Amsterdam, NY and her dad owned a popular Rug City restaurant located on East Main Street. After graduating from Amsterdam High, she got her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rochester and her doctor of medicine from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. She then did an internship at a Rochester hospital where she met her husband, Dr. Thomas Blanchard. The couple would open an Amsterdam practice together at 192 Market Street in 1960. He specialized in internal medicine and she, obstetrics. During the next three decades she became the best known female physician in Amsterdam history, delivering and caring for hundreds of babies. She also became very active in community affairs. Dr. Blanchard ran successfully for the Board of Education in 1968 and served in that capacity for ten years.

Dr. Nancy Knudsen – Born in Amsterdam, NY in 1954, her maiden name was Slezak and she was Valedictorian of her 1972 Bishop Scully class. She then graduated with honors from RPI and received her medical degree from the State University of New York Upstate Medical University. Dr. Knudsen currently serves as the highly respected Hospice/Palliative Care Specialist at St. Mary’s here in Amsterdam.

Dr. Deborah Sculco – Another Amsterdam, NY native, Debbie grew up in the West End on Division Street, the oldest of four siblings. After graduating from Amsterdam High, she got her bachelors from Geneseo and her medical degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine. Debbie specializes in medical oncology and hematology and is affiliated with the Cancer Program of Amsterdam’s St. Mary’s Hospital. I used to bowl with Debbie’s dad and know both her brothers well but I’ve never really got to know Dr. Sculco. I do however know both patients and friends of her’s and they are both thrilled and grateful that she decided to return to this area.

Dr. Mary Kate Barnett – A native of Amsterdam, NY, she was an honors student and athlete during her days as a member of the Amsterdam High School Class of 2002. Like Dr. Sculco, Dr. Barnett has strong genetic ties to Amsterdam’s West End. Her Mom was raised in that neighborhood. Dr. Burnett received her doctor of medicine from the University of Buffalo School of Medicine and BioSciences and did her internship at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady. She is now a general practitioner with Amsterdam Family Practice.

Dr. Emily Etzkorn – Though she wasn’t born in Amsterdam, she was raised in this area and graduated Cum Laude from Albany Medical College in 1994. Her mom and dad raised a large family of seven children and five of them have become doctors. Dr Etzkorn completed her dual residency in internal medicine and pediatrics in 1998. She has been in private practice in Amsterdam since 2001 and that practice is one of the busiest in our community.

I will finish this list of the Top Ten Amsterdam Female Physicians in time to get them in my upcoming book which is scheduled for release later this year. In the meantime, make sure you subscribe to my free monthly Amsterdam Top Ten Newsletter for previews and reveals of more Amsterdam Top Ten Lists. You can sign up for the newsletter here.

All-Time Top Ten Bad Decisions for Amsterdam, NY

What struck me as I attempted to isolate ten decisions that caused the most negative consequences for Amsterdam, NY was that half of them were made hoping the results would be the exact opposite! The complete list of ten will appear in my new book; 50 Top Ten All-Time Amsterdam Lists, which will be released later this year. I’m also preparing a list for the top ten best decisions ever made for Amsterdam, which will also be included in the book. If you subscribe to my free monthly Amsterdam Top Ten Newsletter, you will receive a special offer that will permit you to reserve one of the first signed copies of the book at a special discounted price. You can subscribe to the free newsletter here.

1. Amsterdam’s oldest rug company decides to abandon the city. In 1954, Bigelow-Sanford Carpet Co. management announced the firm intended to consolidate its manufacturing operations into one location. The battle was on between Amsterdam, the original home of the Sanford half of the company and Thompsonville, Connecticut, where Bigelow was born. On January 29, 1955 the decision was announced and it was a horrible body blow to the upstate New York community, eradicating close to 2,000 jobs and emptying hundreds of thousands of square feet of factory space.

2. Ten years after Bigelow-Sanford moved out, Mohasco made the decision to begin the process of doing the same, relocating the firm’s carpet-making operation from its huge mills in Amsterdam’s East End to its new and expanding Laurens Park Mill in Dublin, Georgia. By 1968, the city once known as the Carpet-making Capital of the World had no carpets being manufactured within it. The last corporate office of the company started by the four original Shuttleworth brothers in 1878, left Amsterdam in 1987. Five years later, an arsonist set the firm’s former Forest Avenue complex ablaze and it seemed as if an entire city gathered to watch a mighty symbol of this community’s proud industrial past go up in flames.

3. City fathers and downtown merchants decide an enclosed downtown mall is best for the future of Amsterdam’s retail shopping district. At the time, I agreed with them and according to a phone survey conducted in 1972, so did over 80% of the people living in the city. Boy, were we all wrong! Remember though that the glory days of Amsterdam’s downtown had been waning since the late 1960’s. Big N and Family Bargain Center, this area’s first big box stores had opened on Route 30 north of the city and WT Grant’s left downtown for the same destination. Colonie Center and Mohawk Mall were also peaking in popularity. All the competition was emptying East Main Street of shoppers and just about everyone in this town thought something dramatic needed to be done. But those making the decisions went overboard! They ended up knocking everything down and starting all over again and when everything was done, a new, gleaming shopping Mall stood in the middle of what had been Main Street. Business was great at first, but then began tapering off, first slowly and then dramatically. One tenant after another began pulling out and by the 1990s all that was left was the building blocking Main Street and all the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Amsterdam’s downtown back together again.

4. Coleco decides to make and sell a personal computer. Flush with both confidence and cash from their smashing Cabbage Patch Kids success, Coleco unveiled its plans to produce and sell the Adam Computer at the 1983 Consumer Electronics Show. Their strategy for the product sounded good. They hoped to sell a home computer bundled with a printer at the bargain basement price of $600, targeting children ages 8 to 16 and their dad’s. Their competitors at the time were Commodore and Atari and both sold much higher priced boxes and neither came with a printer. Coleco hoped to sell 500,000 units by Christmas and planned to have them shipped to stores by that August. But August came and went and so did September and October and still no Adam’s. It turns out Coleco was having all kinds of trouble fixing bugs in the printer and by the time December came around, the company could only ship 95, 000 units and almost all of those were defective. Coleco ended up getting crucified by the mainstream media and losing tens of millions of dollars on the Adam’s failure. Investors reacted by dumping Coleco’s stock. The company never recovered.

5. Based on the strong recommendations of the City Controller at the time, Amsterdam’s common council approved the purchase of new accounting software in 2008. The switch was supposed to make it easier for Amsterdam’s chief financial officer to manage the city’s money. Instead, it made it impossible. By 2009, Mayor Anne Thane knew things had gone haywire and told her common council the recordkeeping were a mess. A new controller, Ron Wierzbicki was elected in 2010 and he discovered the situation was much worse than everyone expected. He discovered it was impossible to accurately determine how much money the city had on hand, plus the municipality’s various bank accounts had gone un-reconciled for months. The problem grew even more severe when Wierzbicki died suddenly in December of 2012. A subsequent 2014 audit of the city’s books conducted by the state’s Comptroller’s office found Amsterdam had commingled bond anticipation note proceeds in its primary bank account that contained cash balances for all of its operating funds. This was illegal. In June of 2017, Amsterdam’s financial records for these years in question were still not in compliance and according to the current City Controller, Matt Agresta, they may never be!

All-Time Top Ten Good Decisions for Amsterdam, NY

The rise of Amsterdam over the past two plus centuries and the quality of life it helped provide can be traced to a series of good decisions made by all sorts of people for all sorts of different reasons and motivations. In today’s post I’ve attempted to identify five of the most important of those decisions. The complete list of ten will appear in my new book; 50 Top Ten All-Time Amsterdam Lists, which will be released later this year. I’m also preparing a list for the top ten worst decisions ever made for Amsterdam, which will also be included in the book. If you subscribe to my free monthly Amsterdam Top Ten Newsletter, you will receive a special offer that will permit you to reserve one of the first signed copies of the book at a special discounted price. You can subscribe to the free newsletter here.

1. Sir William Johnson decides to ignore his uncle’s explicit instructions and move his base of operations from the south side of the Mohawk River to its north side. In 1738, his British Admiral uncle sent him to settle a tract of land he had purchased on the south side of the Mohawk River in today’s town of Florida with instructions to initiate a fur trading relationship with the Indians in this area. When Johnson arrived and began those tasks, he quickly took note of the fact that the most popular Indian trading routes were north of the Mohawk so he took the initiative and moved to the opposite bank which today constitutes the very western portion of the city of Amsterdam and the village of Fort Johnson. So the question is if Johnson had remained on the south side would the existing downtown mall now be on Bridge Street instead of Main Street?

3. John Sanford decides to change careers. The patriarch of Amsterdam’s Sanford family moved from his birthplace of Roxbury, Connecticut to Amsterdam in 1821. Interestingly, this guy made the move not to start a factory but instead to become a teacher, first in Amsterdam for a few school terms and then in Mayfield. It was in that hamlet that he opened a store, which he later moved down to Amsterdam. It was as a merchant that he became well known and respected, so respected that by 1840 he was a successful candidate for US Congress. He served just one term in Washington before returning to Amsterdam and at last, opening and operating the first ever Sanford-run carpet mill in this city.

5. In 1880, the Amsterdam Common Council decides to authorize the construction of an 18-mile long water delivery system from three reservoirs at the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains in Saratoga County. Total capacity of the three reservoirs is 2.4 billion gallons, enough water to provide safe yield of 10 million gallons per day. The raw water travels through 18 miles of pipe to the City of Amsterdam. Two Amsterdam physicians, Dr. Charles Stover and Dr. William Robb lobbied the Council hard for the new water system, emphasizing that the two creeks from which the community had been drawing its water were unsanitary and harmful to the health of its citizens. It also helped that local industrialists like John Kellogg and Stephen Sanford needed more water for their thriving mills’ power and processes.

7. Lou Gorski decides to move his Gloversville pro baseball team to Amsterdam.  Gorski was the “Charley Finley” of the 1930’s, willing to move his Canadian American League Class C baseball franchise to any New York State community willing to make him a better deal. He had just moved from Watertown to Gloversville in 1937 and then one season later in 1938 he was headed to Amsterdam, where his Gloversville Glovers would be renamed the Amsterdam Rugmakers. What made this such a huge and historic deal for Amsterdam was that during the winter of 1937-38, Gorski had negotiated a deal with the New York Yankees to become an affiliate of the legendary Bronx Bombers.

9. Sidney Grossman decides to bet on Amsterdam. He wasn’t born in Amsterdam and he never actually resided here either but if it wasn’t for this son of a Russian immigrant, our town’s decline as a northeast industrial center would have followed a much steeper and more rapid ride downward than it actually did. Grossman became a familiar figure to Rug City residents in 1955, a year after the Bigelow Sanford carpet mill moved out taking 1,500 jobs with it. The company left behind two million square feet of empty space spread out over 40 different buildings of every shape and size imaginable. While most residents of our community saw those empty buildings as a disaster, all Grossman saw was opportunity. Grossman gained national notoriety when he started salvaging entire communities left in desperate conditions when huge employers abandoned them for better deals elsewhere. Grossman’s efforts here began with a $330,000 winning bid at the public auction for the abandoned Sanford buildings in 1955. Between 1955 and 1962, a parade of prospective industrial tenants uncovered by Grossman were welcomed, pitched, wined and dined by a who’s who of Amsterdam community members and the results were a diversified group of companies with names like Bayshore, Consolidated Novelty, Fiberglass Products, Noteworthy, Esquire, Coleco etc. that gave jobs to many former Sanford workers, filled those vast empty spaces with new machines and materials and kept the gas stations, coffee shops, bars and downtown stores in business for another thirty-to-forty years.

Honorable Mentions: Whitey Murray decides to start a youth football league so his sons can play the game: The old Amsterdam City School Board decides to authorize the formation of a Marching Band: Amsterdam physician, Saphronius French decides to write a letter to Andrew Carnegie, asking the Scottish born steel magnate to donate $25,000 to the city of Amsterdam for the erection of a public library building: Nadia Tuman decides to become the driving force behind a softball league for girls: Thanks to Brian Spagnola, the owner of the Schenectady franchise in the New York State Collegiate Baseball League decides to move the team to Shuttleworth Park and the Amsterdam Mohawks are born. Paul Gavry decides that he will lead the effort to bring free concerts to Amsterdam’s waterfront park.

Frank Derrico shares memories of Ten of his Amsterdam High School Football Teams:

When Mike Cinquanti first approached me about doing a top ten list for his new book he made it clear I could pick whatever topic I wanted to address. I immediately ruled out the ten best players and ten best teams I ever coached. We were always about team play and not individual accomplishments. The whole was always equal to the sum of its parts. As for the ten best teams, I coached for seventeen years and loved them all, regardless of their record or achievements. So I decided on sharing three special memories I have about ten Amsterdam teams I coached and hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed sharing them: (Editor’s note: I’ve shared two of Coach Derrico’s memories below. The complete list of ten will appear in my new book; 50 Top Ten All-Time Amsterdam Lists, which will be released later this year. If you subscribe to my free monthly Amsterdam Top Ten Newsletter, you will receive a special offer that will permit you to order my new book at a special discounted price. You can subscribe to the free newsletter here.

IV. 1986 – Record 10-0; Big Ten League Champions; Faced Saratoga in Super Bowl
1) We went undefeated and beat a 9-0 Saratoga team, 35-0 in the Super Bowl. I knew Saratoga didn’t stand a chance when our band was playing the National Anthem before the game and our boys were crying on the sidelines. Nobody could have beaten us that day.
2) During the week leading up to that Super Bowl, my principal Bert DeRose called me into his office because our game was actually included on an illegal betting sheet along with professional and major college games scheduled for that same weekend. Bert wanted to know what to do about it. I looked at the sheet and saw we were a three point underdog and told him “Take the points!”
3) The eighth game of the season was in downstate New York against a great Monroe Woodbury team. We had to stay in a hotel the night before the game and the next morning, our players had to take the SAT’s. Despite everything, we managed to win the game, remain undefeated and at that time were ranked fourth in New York State.

V. 1991 – Record 11-0; Big Ten Champions; Super Bowl Champions; NY State Section Champions
1) We were on our way to play Roosevelt High School in the Sectional Championship at Marist College and our great running back, Justice Smith could only play offense because he was wearing a shoulder harness. He gave me one of the best and guttiest performances I’ve ever witnessed in a great win over that Roosevelt team to earn Amsterdam that New York State Section Championship.
2) On a critical fourth down situation during a time out late in that close game with Roosevelt, my assistant coach, Jim Garner sent down a play to me. He had noticed Roosevelt’s defense was keying every move Justice made and felt the belly play to our fullback Mike Angelloti would net us the important first down. We ran the play and Mike went 40 yards, untouched into the end zone to seal the victory.
3) We played a tough Catholic Central team in week 8 of that season on our home field. They were playing defensively, using an eight-man front to stop our running game. Our quarterback, Brian Bonanno threw two touchdown passes to counter their defense, one of which was on an audible he called at the line of scrimmage, to give us a close victory.