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CLINTON ARENA When evaluating the history of a particular area, we frequently discuss the “building blocks” of that community. While in search of our desired information, we find cultural distinctions that “build” that community’s identity. It is from these discoveries that, I specifically, have come to the realization that we, as Greater Uticans are very fortunate. That is because so many of our coveted landmarks and evidences of historical relevancy are still available to touch. Our landmarks for example, have given preceding generations an opportunity to share something special with the one that follows. It is a connection that “builds” from one age group to the next, enhancing that community’s identity. Different eras bring along different customs, inventions, societal standards and expectations. They bring new fashion, technology, philosophies and a variety of improvements and deteriorations. But the fortunate people, such as ourselves, still have those building blocks from generations past. A grandson can look up at his grandfather and ask, “What was (place) like when you were a kid?”, but at places like the Clinton Arena, the sights and emotions are frozen in time. Routine maintenance, structural improvements and changes in the staff have taken place throughout the years, but the arena’s heart still beats with pride. The heart, of course, being the longstanding community support and the tradition of great organizations that make it such a special place. There is not one Clintonian who is old enough to speak, who does not have a lasting memory of a night in the Clinton Arena. It is a likelihood that not one hockey player from any of our local schools lacks a story or fond memory of competing in the arena. When covering its history, one must first discover why there was a demand for an arena in the first place. How did Clinton become the birthplace of hockey in the Mohawk Valley?
by Brad Velardi
In 1918, Hamilton College physical education teacher and athletic director, Albert I. Prettyman, introduced the game of hockey not only to the school, but the entire region. Prettyman coached the team from its inception until 1946 and was one of the most influential men in the history of collegiate hockey. In fact, he is widely known as, “The Father of College Hockey”, but his incredible life story is one for another time. From 1918 to 1921, Hamilton College’s hockey team played at the college’s outdoor hockey rink. The people of Clinton fell in love with the game instantly and thanks to Prettyman’s efforts in promoting the sport, it became the pride of the village. Before long, Clinton became referred to as, “the biggest little hockey town in the USA”. Hamilton’s team became so successful on the ice and in the hearts of the village patrons, that in 1921, Prettyman was able to convince the school to build the Greater Utica area’s first indoor skating arena, Sage Rink. Today, Sage Rink is the second oldest college ice arena in the United States after Matthews Arena in Boston. As the popularity of the sport increased throughout the 1920s, the Clinton High School ice hockey team was formed in 1926. According to the local legend, when the principal and head basketball coach of the high school arrived at a scheduled practice, not one of his players showed up at the court. As he made his way through town, searching for the kids, he found them playing hockey on a frozen pond. It was obvious from the very beginning what sport properly represented the citizens of Clinton. The school team played at an outdoor rink between Meadow Street and Franklin Avenue with their first victory coming against the Yahnundasis Golf Club. That outdoor rink was the birthplace of another one of Clinton’s most treasured organizations, The Clinton Hockey Club, or more popularly known as the
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“Town Team” until named the Clinton Comets. During one specific Hamilton College contest, a young man by the name of Edward W. Stanley sat in attendance and feasted his eyes on a sport that changed his life. Ed was immediately head-over-heels for the game of hockey and along with Prettyman, became one of its greatest ambassadors within the village. In 1928, Stanley founded the Clinton Hockey Club, a team made up entirely of local amateur players. The team was beloved by the Clintonians, with the talent level of its players continuing to rise through the 1930s and very early 1940s (the team did not play from 1942-1945 due to World War II). Stanley was the team’s business manager from 1928 to 1947, but he was also a very influential business man in the local area who helped make the Clinton Arena possible. The idea for the arena was conceived well before its construction, but plans were put on the shelf due to the start of the war. Stanley, along with a group of other community-oriented men formed the Clinton Rink Association and formulated the plans for a 2,000-seat indoor area. At the time, the idea likely seemed preposterous to people outside of Clinton as the seat capacity was higher than
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the population of the entire village. It was Stanley and Prettyman who traveled to Canada and bought the blueprints, which explains its “backwoods Canadian-style” construction. The construction was funded by the selling of shares to Stanley, fellow board members and citizens from various parts of the area along with several fundraising activities. All-in-all the building cost about $90,000. Ground was broken for the arena on August 28th, 1948 with the construction of piers and foundations. Natural ice was available for public skating on Christmas Day of that year. The ice surface was one of the largest in the country, bigger than Madison Square Garden’s at that time. The Clinton Arena would be the new, state-ofthe-art home of the Clinton Hockey Club, who by way of a name-theteam contest, would become, the Clinton Comets. The first hockey game ever to be played in the Clinton Arena took place on January 4th, 1949. When the first hockey season was over, the arena’s membership voted in favor of the installment of artificial ice, which would allow public skating, figure skating and hockey to take place for five months out of the year. Being one of the only indoor rinks in the entire area, the
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Clinton Arena was a huge draw for folks out of town, and not just because of the Comets. The Clinton Figure Skating Club was founded in 1949 and to this day, showcases some of the top local figure skaters in the area. It is one of the oldest sanctioned clubs in America and one of the largest on the east coast. At one point in time, the club had 400 members. Public skating was a big draw for the arena as well. The November 22nd, 1953 edition of the Syracuse Herald-American states, “Public skating during the last season was enjoyed by as many as 832 skaters from outside Clinton in one day,”. From 1948 to 1953, the arena brought in $83,883.77 in revenue. During this era, the Comets were an incredible team affiliated with the Amateur Hockey Association of the United States (AHAUS). They captured three New York State AHAUS championships during that period under coach and native Clintonian, Bob Williams. The atmosphere was electric in the arena. There was no glass on the boards, only a protective fence at the end zones and fans were up close and personal with the players in action. If a home fan got unruly with an opposing player, it was not exactly out of the question for said player to charge the stands and give him “the business”. Lifelong locals and volunteers at the Clinton Historical Society, John
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Burdick and Dick Williams, recall working the Comets games as kids, selling programs. An adult ticket was $.90, an attendee would get $.10 back from their dollar and purchase one of the programs. The arena was well over its seated capacity during the Saturday night and Sunday afternoon games, with fans standing three-deep on the catwalk overlooking the ice. While the folks of the entire area loved the Comets, the Clinton kids practically lived in that arena. With that in mind, it is no shock why to this day, John, Dick and other people from their generation will never forget the date of September 11th, 1953. It was the first Friday of the scholastic year. A young Dick Williams was approaching the front door to leave for school when his mother told him that she had seen smoke coming from the direction of Kirkland Avenue. He, along with John and almost every kid from the school made their way in that direction. As they followed the source of the smoke, they found
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their beloved arena engulfed in flames and completely destroyed. The citizens watched in devastation as the village’s favorite meeting place, was no longer. How could this be? Just the night before, there was a sold-out professional wrestling event that surely many of these witnesses attended. The excitement brewing for the following season was brought to a screeching halt, but the next morning, a Saturday, those citizens helped galvanize the community. They were at the site of the fire helping pick up the scraps, hoping to clear the way for a new arena to be built. Not only did that wish come true, but plans for a new arena were under way immediately. The same people that volunteered to clean the debris, volun-
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teered in the construction of the new arena. It was to be a 282 by 130-foot concrete building with wood trusses and concrete blocks were brought in from Utica on donated trucks. All grading, unloading, handling of lumber and all other materials were the result of volunteered labor. The total cost of reconstruction was expected to be around $270,000 and by January of 1954, just four months after the fire, the new arena was opened and the Comets were playing on their home ice. The 1955-56 season marked the Comets debut in the Eastern Hockey League (EHL) and they won the regular season title that year. In the 1958-59 season, they won the EHL regular season and playoff titles. They captured the playoff title again in 1963-64 under player/coach Benny Woit, who was well-known for his career with the Detroit Red Wings. Some notable players from these teams that reached the major-league level include: Norm DeFelice, Pete Babando, Ed Giacomin, and Pierre Gange among others. From the 1960-61 season to the 196667 season, the Comets were an affiliate of the Boston Bruins of the NHL. After a trade that brought legendary Comets players, Borden Smith, Ed Babiuk and Pat Kelly (player/coach) to Clinton from New Jersey, the club’s name would be associated with EHL dominance. Their new affiliation with the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL brought them good luck as they won three consecutive EHL playoff titles in a row from 1967-68 to 1969-70, including a 1967-68 team that posted 57 wins, 5 losses and 10 ties. Another player worth mentioning would be Jack Kane, the Comets all-time leading scorer, who was a captain on the club’s roster for 8 out of the 12 years he played in Clinton.
These were the glory days of the Comets and perhaps the most exciting time to be at the Clinton Arena. These Comets players were heroes in their community. They were approachable and down-to-earth kind of guys that embraced the Clintonians’ genuine love for the sport. After the games, fans would often run into them at the local restaurants and taverns. They gave back to the local schools, hospitals and various organizations. They never said “no” when it came to an autograph and would even come during public skating hours on Saturdays and skate with the kids. To this day, they are always willing to assist in any way they can. One important fact to note, though, was that starting in 1960-61, the club began playing a portion of their home games at the Utica Memorial Auditorium. This became a more frequent occurrence as the years went on until finally the Clinton Arena could not financially support the team with a 2,000-fan capacity. As a result, following the 1972-73 season, Ed Stanley and the Clinton Rink Association sold the Comets to another group of investors. These gentlemen made the Utica Auditorium the team’s permanent home and changed their name to the Mohawk Valley Comets. In 1983, the Clinton Arena shares were sold to the Town of Kirkland. For a number of years, the Clinton Arena has been the home ice of the Clinton High School hockey teams as well. The high school’s hockey history is equally as storied as that of the Comets, fielding a multitude of state and section championship teams that included Division I and even NHL hockey players. The youth system does not start in high school obviously as a variety of peewee hockey teams have called the Clinton Arena their home over the years, and still do today. Some of them have made it to national tournaments, facing some of the best teams in the nation. As is the case with any sport, the foundation of a strong program starts with proper training of young athletes and it shows with Clinton’s hockey history. The Clinton Arena was host to many different types of events. al Society The Harlem Globetrotters played there when Wilt Chamberlain
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Courtesy of the Clinton Historical Society was on the roster and there were also professional wrestling matches. The circus frequently came to town and there were performances by the Flying Wallendas; musical performances by the likes of Johnny Cash, Liberace and Victor Borge; figure skating performances by the likes of Olympic gold medalist, Barbara-Ann Scott. There was always something going on during the weekends whether it was a car show, antique show, dog show or even a cat show. Today, the Clinton Arena still functions with the same pride and enthusiasm. Their great staff, led by Mike Orsino, Building and Grounds/Parks and Rec director, has spent their entire lives around this arena, it’s their home. If Mike is having a bad day out on the road and nothing seems to be going right, he knows when he comes to the arena,
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all the stress dissipates. He has countless memories in that building that date back to his childhood days attending Comets games. Mike’s first job was at the arena, when Ed Stanley hired him 46 years ago, and he has never stopped dedicating himself to the building. It brings him great joy to be able to open the ice for the kids in the area as often as possible and share the tradition with them. As I am sure is the case with so many others, Mike met his wife at the arena years ago, maybe the same will happen for these new kids. As a result of Mike’s efforts as well as so many others over the years, the Clinton Arena was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. Sometimes we fail to understand the value of arenas such as these. They provide such great sentimental value but they also have an incredible residual effect on the local economy. The Clinton Arena is booked just about every weekend during the hockey season with visiting teams coming from as far as Buffalo. These events bring in people from outside the area to shop at our stores and eat at our restaurants. These types of venues give us an identity and therefore are worth so much more than the money they earn in-house. Anything you need to know about the history of the Clinton Arena can been seen and felt by simply going up to the second-floor lobby. It is a museum of trophies, team photos and dedications. Fred Alteri, the late owner of Alteri’s Restaurant in Clinton made a beautiful shrine dedicated to the history of the Comets that helps tell their amazing story. There are also areas designated to the accomplishments of high school and peewee hockey teams as well as the Clinton Figure Skating Club. Upstairs you will find the Kane Room which was named in honor of Jack Kane and his wife, Elaine, who was the director of operations at the arena for a number of years. Inside the Kane Room is Ed Stanley’s chair with his name plate attached and a collage that was gifted to him by a local artist, that is symbolic of everything he did for Clinton. Among the dedications upstairs are a few that hang in honor of members of the Clinton Arena family who are no longer with us. One man who was considered a “hockey dad”, was known for looking out for all the young kids that skated at the arena. He was a symbol of what the arena community stands for. There is also a plaque dedicated to a young man who passed away tragically, but because the arena was his favorite place in the world, his service was held on the ice he skated so many times. The same ice shared by generations of kids before and after him. That is what the Clinton Arena is all about. (Information courtesy of the Clinton Historical Society)
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Without a true captain, a team struggles to find its way. At the forefront of any great community, one will find a leader who contributes to its growth, and positions it for future prosperity. A leader knows their hometown inside and out, knows exactly what qualities make it special and preserves them. Last, but not least, a leader is someone who creates opportunity and is an innovator of improvement. With great certainty, one can attach the label of “leader” to Edward W. Stanley of Clinton. If you read the cover story about the Clinton Arena preceding this editorial, you will know Ed’s significance on the local hockey scene, but few people outside of Clinton know just how significant of a figure he was outside of his accomplishments with the Comets. To this day, decades after his passing, when the name Ed Stanley is mentioned in Clinton, citizens of all ages know of his exploits. Ed was a man whose impact is still strongly felt within many institutions in the village as well as the walls of the Utica Memorial Auditorium. He kept the best interest of his hometown and its people above everything else. His persistence, intelligence and countless hours of hard work have cemented him as one of Greater Utica’s finest “leaders”. Edward Wilkinson Stanley was born on February 25th, 1906 in the Village of Clinton. He was the son of Edward Byron and Louise (Wilkinson) Stanley. Edward Byron was a very successful man who was born in Troy, NY but moved to Clinton during his childhood, where he attended Rev. Dr. Isaac Best’s Grammar School on College Street. He married Louise Wilkinson in 1902 and the two had their first child, George in 1904. Two very important events occurred in
By Brad Velardi
the Stanley family in 1906: not only was their second child, Ed, born, but it also marked the year when Edward B. founded the Clinton Knitting Company. Ed W. attended Clinton High School in his youth before enrolling in Upper Canada College, a prep school in Toronto. He then went to Hamilton College, where he graduated with the class of 1927. As a young man, Ed got his start in the business world when his father gave him a loan of $1,000, which he used to purchase a vehicle. With that vehicle, he provided a taxi service, transporting passengers from the train to the college. While at Hamilton, Ed developed a keen interest in the game of hockey as his brother George played on the school team while Ed acted as timekeeper. The spark of interest developed into a flame that illuminated Clinton’s path through hockey history. Burt Prettyman, son of Albert Prettyman, founder of the Hamilton College hockey team, helped a group of high school boys learn the game on the frozen waters of the Chenango Canal. Although Ed never played in a game himself, he acted as a manager for a few of their contests, which were more like pickup games. On a winter’s night in 1928, Ed received a call from the manager of a Utica team in need of four players for a game in Albany. The next morning, Ed sent Bob Williams, Ed Bates, Ed Ganey and Burt Prettyman, all natives of Clinton. It was that trip to Albany that inspired Ed Stanley to form the Clinton Hockey Club. When the amateur club was first assembled in 1928, there
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was no funding from sources outside of the team. Some of the players were responsible for providing their own equipment, and those who did not get a ride from Ed Stanley personally, were accountable for their own transportation. Ed paid for team meals and the manufacturing of uniforms out of his own personal finances. Luckily, there were no player salaries as these gentleman played hockey for the love of the game and nothing more. They were, without a doubt, one of the finest amateur teams in the United States. The popularity of both their club as well as Hamilton College’s, made it plausible for the building of the first Clinton Arena in 1948. Ed Stanley was president of the Clinton Rink Association, the group responsible for its construction. In 1949, the Clinton Hockey Club changed their name to the Comets. The team started with local high school stars and
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Hamilton alumni in the 20s and 30s. Ed began bringing in players from the Syracuse area in 40s and eventually attracted prime talent from Canada from the late 40s to the early 70s. It was not only Ed’s love for hockey that aided the success of the Comets over the next couple decades, but his business sense and marketing skills. He often wrote articles in the Utica Observer Dispatch that promoted the games that took place at the arena throughout the week. Ed’s way of describing the Comets and their competition created the kind of excitement that brought in fans from all over the area. He was always sure to have great concessions and spared no expense when it came to providing the best game experience possible for the arena visitors. As many men from Clinton will tell you, there was a healthy amount of job opportunities that Ed offered youngsters in the arena as well. Ed’s accomplishments in the sports stratosphere went beyond the Village of Clinton. He served as an officer of the Amateur Hockey Association of the United States, the Amateur Athletic Union, and spent two terms, including one as chairman, on the U.S. Olympic Committee. As a result of Ed Stanley’s dedication to the team and the sport itself, he was nicknamed, “Mr. Hockey”. Ed was so much more to Clinton than just “Mr. Hockey”, which is why many people now refer to him as “Mr. Clinton”. Following his graduation from Hamilton, he worked as a salesman for the Rochester Germicide Company for one year before joining his father at the Clinton Knitting Mill. He worked as the superintendent of the company until his father’s death in 1932, in which he succeeded him as president. Ed held that position until 1951, when the company was liquidated but Ed already had his hands in a number of other endeavors by that time. In 1941, Ed helped establish the Clinton War Chest, later named the Community Chest, of which he held a number of positions including: chairman, campaign director and board member. In 1942, the village paper, the Clinton Courier, was in danger of going out of business until Ed decided to purchase it and bring it back to life. Ed stated that the Courier was the only connection between Clinton and those serving in World War II and felt it would be a shame to see that link broken. Ed set up a dinner to promote the changing of ownership, in which he invited high-ranking members of the community to discuss their issues and recent activities. The discussion at the dinner was so constructive that it inspired the establishment of the Civic Group. The Civic Group assisted in the creation of many positive efforts including: a summer playground program, a swimming pool fund and a park concert series. In 1946, Ed Stanley was the leader of a group that established the Alexander Hamilton Inn, a remarkably beautiful and historic home that had been used as a small grill at the time. He realized
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that a college community inn such as this would be of great use to the village and so he assembled a group of roughly 25 investors and renovated the house. The business was quite successful for many years. That same year, he married Margaret Timian and the couple lived together at 22 Marvin Street in Clinton until Ed’s death. In 1962, Ed Stanley, along with Phil Munson, founded the Clinton Historical Society, which still functions at 1 Fountain Street. Available for purchase at the Society today, is a book on Clinton history that Ed compiled himself out of his sheer love for the village’s history. Ed’s carriage house was a museum of sorts, filled with historical memorabilia from Clinton. He also is one of the founders and former chairmen of the Clinton Chamber of Commerce, which ironically enough, is housed at the former Alexander Hamilton Inn. For many years, Ed held leadership roles with the Clinton Cemetery Association as well as St. James Episcopal Church. Being a very religious man, Ed gave the majority of his half of the family estate to St. James Church upon his death. When the Comets were sold to a group of Utica businessmen following the 1972-73 season, Ed’s full-time job was managing the Clinton Arena. Mike Orsino, Building and Grounds/Parks and Rec director, now holds what used to be Ed’s position. Mike worked for Ed for a number of years and still remembers those days very well. Back then, Ed drove a big Oldsmobile and every day when he pulled into the parking lot, the staff would hear a loud “bang!”, which was Ed’s bumper hitting the small post that separated his parking spot from the front of the building. When Mike and the other guys heard that noise, they would pick up a broom and look busy as Ed was a “no nonsense” type of boss. Although Ed was known to spend money on the arena’s upkeep, he did not waste a dime of their budget if it was not necessary. Mike recalls how Ed would check the gas and electric meters daily and was not afraid to call Niagara Mohawk if he felt the arena was getting overcharged by as little as 9 cents. Some would say that is ridiculous, but Ed had principles and it showed in everything that he did. If you speak with anyone who knew him, one of the first things they will say is, “He never left the house without a suit and tie on.” According to Mike, without Ed, the Clinton Arena would have never lasted this long. Over the years, Ed received a number of awards including: inductions into the “Volunteer Hall” at the arena and the Greater Utica Sports Hall of Fame. We will never be able to ask Ed himself, as he passed away in 1991, but I am willing to bet he received his most treasured honor in 1986, when the Clinton Arena was renamed the Edward W. Stanley Recreation Center. A wonderful dedication to such an impactful and cherished man. (Information courtesy of the Clinton Historical Society) G
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“It’s time to go
That’s what Rich and Kory Dowe, owners of Pantry 284 in Utica, said to each other after spending half their life in Providence, Rhode Island. They were both born and raised in the Greater Utica area but upon their high school graduations, the couple chased their dream of a life in the world of culinary arts. Although they both held positions at some of the most prestigious establishments in all of New England, nothing could replace the warmth of home in Rich and Kory’s hearts. In 2016, they finally found a way to return to their hometown without sacrificing their career in the field they have always loved. Both Rich and Kory graduated from culinary school at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, but their cooking and baking roots date back much further than their days in college. Rich’s family owned Dowe Market on Columbia Square in Utica, where he first learned the importance of hard work. He was hired at a local restaurant at seventeen where he was able to work in the kitchen for the first time. Rich idolized the cooks and could not wait until he was able to work on “the line” and begin prepping food. When he got that opportunity, he was hooked. After graduating from Johnson & Wales University, Rich was hired as a professional chef at such renown New England venues as Capriccio’s, Cafe Nuovo, Renaissance Providence Hotel and The TPC Boston of the PGA Tour. Kory’s inspiration comes from the baking side of the industry. Growing up, she loved sweets as most kids do, but developed an early talent of sculpting, something she has been able to utilize in her career as a cakemaker. Following her graduation from Johnson & Wales University, she realized that baking and pastry making was where her true passion lied, but needed to find a career that would provide financial security. She went on to hold management positions in food service at Harvard Business School and Rhode Island Hospital. The experience that Rich and Kory gained by working at these locations have helped them understand what it takes to provide a consistent product and service. Located at 284 Genesee Street in Downtown Utica, Pantry 284 gives customers the opportunity to experience “high-end” restaurant quality food without the intimidating atmosphere or menu prices. They specialize in a variety of salads, soups and Artisinal sandwiches that have become a signature of the café in its short history. Rich is able to put his own special twist on the average dish. One perfect example would be the Pantry Salad which comes with mixed greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, radishes, Kalamata olives and crumbled feta (with the option to add chicken). The common steak sandwich is taken to another level at the Pantry with their Sirloin Sandwich, equipped with horse radish cream, melted red onion and local cheddar on crusty bread. The Pantry’s grilled cheese and tomato basil soup combo is a perfect fit for a cold upstate afternoon. The sandwich includes three cheeses (American, Swiss and cheddar) accompanied by a bowl of homemade tomato soup with focaccia croutons and a scoop of pesto. There are a list of other choices including the Pantry’s egg and cheese on a Jumbo English Muffin breakfast sandwich, which is served from open till close. They are always evolving and adding a special sandwich on different days of the week so be on the lookout for their rotation. The Pantry menu would not be complete without a short list of Kory’s assorted sweets including her homemade chocolate chip cookies, muffins, scones and brownies. There are always new options to choose from in the dessert display on a daily basis as well. Rich and Kory even pride themselves on offering a unique drink menu with rare items such as: glass bottled Mexican sodas, infused waters and Original New York Seltzer along with coffee, iced coffee, various teas and Coke products. Pantry 284 is looking to add a dinner menu in the near future and all food currently offered at the café is available for take-out. To place an order, call 315-351-2618, or visit Pantry284.com to see the complete menu.
“We are all about Home Sweet Home”
GREATER UTICA 19
In My Travels Around
Courtesy of the Oneida County Historical Society
Not often does one get to spend a couple of hours in conversation with an elegant, yet quick-witted, classy woman of my generation. When one gets this opportunity, one must believe it is rare and take it all in to the fullest. This is exactly what I did one afternoon in the home of Rachel V. Hamlett, former co-owner of Club George. And to have her daughter, Robbie Dancy, an interesting, lovely lady join us made it more special. From 1946 until 2006, Rachel and her husband George (deceased) operated a fine establishment with the grace possessed of those of southern hospitality and charm. Begun as the Liberty Street Café, (1945) it became the Club George with the acquisition of a liquor license. It was my misfortune to boldly proclaim, as did others before me, Club George was the only African-American nightclub in Utica. As soon as I mentioned this “fact” my gracious hostess politely, but emphatically, informed me that it was more than an exclusive Black establishment. “Why, we had many white customers including some of the college crowd from Hamilton College,” Rachel informed me. Note: there were other “clubs” during the 1950s and 1960s including Birdland on Genesee Street and Minor’s Grill on Liberty Street until the locations were needed for the Bagg’s Square bridge monstrosity.
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by Joseph P. Bottini Oneida County Historian
During our conversation, I became aware of the cultural mix of customers and employees at Club George. One individual gentleman of Italian heritage entered the “Club” one day and intoned the place needed to be more orderly, and he volunteered to be so employed. “Chillibee” - as he was known – (Albert - last name lost over time) became an integral part of the club from then on. He would have the place spotless and ready for business before George and Rachel arrived in the morning. “He had the place cleaned, ready for business and would even be serving customers before we got there,” Rachel said. I sat there thinking how many such arrangements would be possible in this day of cultural mistrust and friction. I let my mind wander as I pictured this little old “Italian” man, who spoke English with a thick accent, being given a key to the establishment of AfricanAmerican transplants from Alabama. Rachel was quick to point out that Club George never had any trouble, shootings or killings. This is quite a testament to the owners having this good record in the nightclub business. In comparison to issues at many current nightlife businesses, this fact becomes more remarkable.
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“My husband was well liked and got along with everyone,” she said. “George was known, from time to time, to help folks down on their luck” Rachel said. Even at an age a few years older than I, it was evident Rachel was a very attractive woman. The photos I was privy to view gave testament to my observation and conclusion. As the conversation moved along, it was evident that this proper woman of another time had some well-placed, good-natured sassiness that made me form a mental picture of a younger Rachel tending bar at Club George. This came through as she told of her decision to stop cooking for the business - informing her husband he had to hire a cook. Every time she told this or that personal tale of her relationship with her husband one could see the slight smile, evidence of being a bit of an independent lady before it was widely encouraged in our society. “George was good to me. He was a good guy and we enjoyed many fine years,” she said. Rachel was a bit proud to tell me that in 1959, George bought her a new Ford Thunderbird. Just the look on her face as she was telling the story one could sense the slightest pride this young, beautiful, well-dressed lady behind the wheel would feel. Of course, this was my feeling gleaned by her demeanor. But when I mentioned my interpretation, she just gave me another slight smile. ”We never let our business interfere with our responsibility to attend Sunday school and Sunday Services.” she said. St. Paul’s Baptist Church, then on Charles Street, now on Leah Street, is the Hamlett family home-place of worship. “You know who gives you the strength to get out of bed in the morning,” she said. Of course, this writer did not let that go by without a few comments that brought a good conversation of the spiritual things of life. Rachel is well aware of the totality of Scripture and the creator God and salvation in Jesus Christ. In fact, she and her daughter Robbie intoned the reason for their business success might be attribut-
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ed to a strong spiritual understanding and living. It is only fitting that Rachel and George met in Sunday school at St. Paul’s. When I asked who pursued who, she was quick to point out George was the initiator of the relationship. With this response, I again noted that slight, impish smile. The Hamletts opened the original café when George decided he wanted to be in business for himself. He worked at Savage Arms and other places, but the lure of being his own boss drew him into a decision to open the Liberty Street Café. The neighborhood, known as the second ward, was known as
Clinton Historical Society 1 Fountain St. Clinton, NY
www.clintonhistory.org We are proud to help Greater Utica Magazine remember "Mr. Hockey", Ed Stanley, who was also co-founder of our society in 1962 and to share our history of the Clinton Arena. We are also looking forward to the historic centennial of Hamilton College and Clinton Hockey in 2018.
Robbie Dancy & Rachel Hamlett a black business district. Most black folks lived in Washington Courts or Goldbas Apartments and the area was home to many black owned businesses. It was on the corner of Liberty and Seneca Streets that the nightclub with live music and appreciative patrons held the distinction of being the center of the black neighborhood long after other businesses closed or moved away. Some of the biggest names in show business played the Stanley Theater in the 1940s and 1950s. One of the strong, fond recollections of Rachel and Robbie was those greats ended up at the Club George following their Stanley performance and jam with local musicians including J.R. Montrose, a well-known saxophonist. It is almost impossible to fathom show business greats such as Nat King Cole, Count Basie and Duke Ellington playing Club George. Club George became a Jazz music center during those days of great,
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guest musicians. Robbie and Rachel both gave evidence of sadness in their voices when speaking of one of the worst memories of Club George. In 1980, the building collapsed and required a two-month closure while it was being rebuilt. Money to do such a project was not that easy to obtain, although George had a good reputation with the local banks. Upon the death of her husband in 1989, Rachel left her tenure with Utica Community Action, a job she enjoyed for ten years, taking management of the business. In 2000, Rachel’s daughter Robbie Dancy moved back to Utica to help manage the business with two employees. However, the economic downturn of the 1960s and 1970s, and the flight of people from downtown, had written the demise of that neighborhood long before Club George “gave up the ghost.” One might add, for the better, society no longer has just black and just white establishments. Finally, the two cultures have enjoyed coming together in social life as well as in other facets of living. This also added to the demise of black-owned businesses. In addition, a change in the clientele prompted Rachel to close Club George. Along with her daughter Robbie, “Miss” Carrie Jenkins was a valuable employee during this period. However, a 61-year history was to come to a close as taxes, and overhead costs continued to rise. Rachel and Robbie kept the legendary club open while searching for a buyer. Without any interested prospects, the ladies closed the door and turned the key for the last time in August 2006. Recently, a group of investors purchased the property and others in that block, and are engaged in a redevelopment project. This decision, to cease operation of Club George, left Freeman’s Barber Shop (on the NW corner of Liberty and Washington Streets) to continue the legacy of a once proud black neighborhood. Club George, long a fixture as it graced the northeast corner of Liberty and Seneca Streets, faded into the past. Perhaps it is a nostalgically produced experience, but somehow the jazz music sounds might still be heard as one passes that once lively location. Like so many other places important to the successful entertainment scene of Utica during its more vibrant past, Club George is still talked about in many reminiscing conversations. Even with the most recent up-surge in Bagg’s Square development, some find it difficult not to yearn for “the good old days” of the second ward. GU “We are all about Home Sweet Home”
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Oneida County History Center
January 2017 Events **Programs are free and open to the general public** Saturday, January 7 at 1:00 PM— Haunted Old Forge presented by the Ghost Seekers of CNY Take a chilling journey into the paranormal with the Ghost Seekers of Central New York. Paranormal investigators from the group will tell stories and present evidence from their ghost hunts in one of the most haunted towns in America. The group will be available to sign copies of Haunted Old Forge and other ‘Haunted’ histories after the presentation.
Saturday, January 28 from 1:00-2:00 PM— History Show & Tell Join us for an afternoon of history and heritage themed show & tell. Bring an old photograph, personal artifact, or other memorabilia, and tell your story. Share the stage with special guests Frank Tomaino, Janice Reilly, and your host, Joe Kelly. Community members are invited to ‘show & tell’ or just listen. Call or visit our Facebook page for more details.
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GREATER UTICA 23
$40 and a Dream The Story of the Carbone Auto Group
When we witness success in its most developed stages, we often lose sight of the true beauty in its story. Some would argue, for example, that when observing a work of architecture, it is not the completed piece that is admired as much as what it took to create it. The same can be said about the journey of a business and its constant efforts to achieve growth over a long period of time. It starts as just a plain slab of marble or an empty foundation waiting to be filled, but is ultimately transformed with the resources given. Perhaps the most important parallel between an architectural work and a business is that if it is built and maintained properly, it can withstand the test of time. Joe Carbone, founder of the Carbone Auto Group, defied the odds and overcame unthinkable obstacles by building a business model that has been used for almost a century. At age nineteen, during the Great Depression, Joe formed a partnership with his friend, Phil Sacco. C&S Garage was opened in 1929 on Wetmore Street in Utica and even though Joe was only a teenager with $40 to his name, he wound up creating a business that would help support generations of his family. It is rare to find a young man of that age that “gets it,” but Joe had a great way with people and understood the significance of treating customers properly. He also knew that in order to reach the highest possible level of achievement in your field, you must love what you do. When Joe became sole
GREATER UTICA 24
owner of the business, he renamed it Carbone Motor Sales and made the transition into buying and selling used vehicles. After only four years of business, Joe took Carbone Motor Sales to the next level when he accepted his first new car franchise, Graham-Paige. He moved the business to a larger facility on 1216 Bleecker Street and a few years later, accepted his second franchise, Studebaker. For the next twenty plus years, Joe was able to build a strong reputation in the community and the business grew once again in 1957 when he became a Dodge dealer. Joe Carbone started with $40 and a dream, and in less than thirty years, he was one of the most successful car dealers in the Greater Utica area. It would be up to the next generation to continue that progression. “This is a family business. People associate the way we do business with our family name. I want my children to be proud and interested in the business. And I want the way we do business with our customers to be the Carbone way – honest and fair.” – Joe Carbone Joe’s sons, Don and Al, saw first-hand exactly what it took to be a success in the car business. While living in an apartment above the Bleecker Street dealership, they mopped and waxed the showroom floor every morning before school. There was no way Joe was going to just hand the business over to his sons without them earning it, and so they learned how to do everyone’s job in the company. They started off detailing and prepping sold vehicles for delivery, they were trained on how to do mechanical, paint and body work before they were even allowed to sell a car. Another requirement that Joe insisted on, was that the boys receive a quality education. Don went on to graduate from the University of Notre Dame and joined the United States Marine Corps. Younger brother, Al, graduated later from Syracuse University. Both had full intentions
on returning home and putting their education to use, eventually helping the company grow to heights that perhaps Joe did not even think were possible. In 1963, the Dodge dealership moved from its Bleecker Street location to a brand-new facility built on Commercial Drive in Yorkville. Carbone Dodge City’s doors were opened that year, and Don joined Joe in the store, one that still offers the Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep franchises. In 1967, Don Carbone acquired the Ford franchise by purchasing Dahl Motors in Downtown Utica. Don would become manager of the store and it would be renamed, Don’s Downtown Ford. In 1968, another exciting expansion took place with the addition of Pontiac. A new building was erected on Commercial Drive to house that franchise and Al Carbone was given the position of manager at the dealership. The growth of the company steadily continued throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In 1971, the Subaru franchise was added to the Carbone lineup, followed by the addition of the Honda and Harley-Davidson franchises in 1973. The offering of rental cars was added to the list of services provided by Carbone in 1975 and another Pontiac dealership in Syracuse was purchased. In 1984, Don-Al Management Company was formed, the Honda facility on Commercial Drive was built in 1986 and the Suzuki franchise was added in 1988. In the late 80s, the third generation of the Carbone family took on critical roles within the company. “Every day we try to live Joe Carbone’s philosophy: Build relationships by being a friend to the customer. Do the right thing…and be the best at it.” – Al Carbone Don’s three kids: Joe, Enessa and Don Jr., along with Al’s son, Alex, joined the group to help their fathers carry on the Carbone legacy. The grandkids started off in the “school of hard knocks” as their fathers did, learning the ins and outs of the business before helping in the acquisition of new franchises and expansion of services. The 1990s marked the acquisition of a number of new brands including: BMW, Buick, Cadillac, Nissan, Acura and Toyota. Carbone Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep of Boonville was opened in 1997 and in 1998, the Carbone Auto Group opened its first store outside of New York State when the Honda-Toyota dealership started in Bennington, VT. The group also began holding weekly wholesale auto auctions and opened a reconditioning center in 1998. The Wholesale Parts Division was created in 1999. Growth continued in the 21st century. A huge development in the business occurred in 2001 with the launching of CarboneCars. com. Customers were now offered sales support functions such as: model and pricing information, inventory search and customer communication, all from the comfort of their homes. Carbone Insurance Agency was formed in 2000, a General Motors dealership was opened in Hornell, NY in 2002, the Hyundai franchise was acquired in 2003 and a brand-new Harley-Davidson facility was built on Commercial Drive. A second Harley-Davidson location would be opened in Gloversville, NY in 2008 and a third in Broadalbin, NY in 2011. The Carbone Auto Group expanded into the Rome market in 2005 with the opening of their Ford-Lincoln-Mercury dealership (later Carbone Select) and the Chevy franchise was finally acquired in 2008. In 2010, the Subaru store in Troy, NY opened and the Hyundai and Ford franchises would eventually open together in Bennington in a brand-new facility in 2011.
Don and Al received numerous awards throughout their tenure. In 2002 and 2012, Don Carbone was named New York State Dealer of the Year by the New York State Automobile Dealers Association, Al received the same honor in 2008. Also in 2002 and 2012, Don was recognized as one of the top five auto dealers in the nation in TIME Magazine’s Quality Dealer of the Year Award Program, Al received he same honor in 2008. “We’re proud of our involvement in our communities and remain devoted to our customers and our neighbors.” – Enessa Carbone The Carbone Auto Group story would not be complete without mentioning their incredible contribution to several community organizations. Among their charitable efforts are their major sponsorship of America’s Greatest Heart Run & Walk, the United Way and the Upstate Cerebral Palsy PROMISE Program at the Joseph A. and Inez E. Carbone Preschool Center. Along with those organizations are 100s more that the Carbone family has supported whenever possible. For years, their family has taken a lot of pride in giving back the same support that the community has shown them for eighty-eight years. In 2016, the Carbone Auto Group joined Lithia Motors Inc., a Fortune 500 company with a roster of 150 stores nationwide. In a recent Carbone Auto Group press release it stated: The Carbone family will continue to operate the Carbone Auto Group as it has since 1929. The Carbone Auto Group will retain its name, and Carbone family members Enessa and Alex Carbone will continue to lead the local company. G
“We are all about Home Sweet Home”
GREATER UTICA 25
The City with heart Marie Russo By Brad Velardi
Of all the obstacles we face in life, two of the most difficult challenges we face, are understanding and forgiving others. By understanding, we grant others the opportunity to feel acceptance, and by forgiving, we grant ourselves the opportunity to achieve inner peace. Quite often, these actions coincide with one another, because to “forgive” is to “understand”. Before we can forgive someone for hurting us, we must first understand who has hurt them. Unless you attempt to understand another person’s pain, how will you ever be able to assist in healing them? And finally, when you feel pain or hurt your fellow man, who will understand and forgive you? The personal struggles we deal with throughout our lives present us with another challenge; appreciating what we have. Our misfortunes sometimes cloud the wonderful things we have been blessed with, and we do not give the proper recognition to the gifts we have been given. We never truly understand the magnitude of our endowments until they have been taken from our possession. It can be quite difficult to find the light beneath the darkness that is sometimes cast over us, but when we do, we allow ourselves to smile and improve the lives of others. By remembering how we found our way through the dark, we can help
another person on their journey. Sometimes we need a helping hand from another person to realize what makes us special. We need someone to look at us and understand. An example of that “someone” from our very community is Dr. Marie A. Russo, a lifelong local woman and former Executive Director of the Neighbor Center on Elizabeth Street in Utica. The story of Marie’s life is one about the struggles of life in the lower-class, the banding together of different cultures within a community and most importantly, the power of forgiveness and understanding. Marie’s story would not have unfolded as it did without the help and belief she had received from so many other people. Marie was born on June 8th, 1929 in Rye, NY, the daughter of Carmen and Vivian Russo. Her family moved to Utica when she was 6 months old, during the economic crash. Carmen was a talented and well-respected car mechanic who owned a shop on the corner of Arthur Street and Brinkerhoff Avenue. He was a proud man and the first American-born child to Italian immigrants. Vivian was a beautiful woman who too, was a first-generation American. Carmen and Vivian had more than
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just their Italian heritage in common, they both had lived very hard lives growing up. When it came to their family of six children, they did the best they could with all they knew. Along with their six children: Eleanor, Marie, Elizabeth, Linda, Carmen Jr. and Salvatore, Carmen and Vivian shared a small apartment in a tenement on the corner of Third Avenue and Mary Street. As was the case with many of the buildings in their neighborhood, the tenement’s living conditions were unsanitary and overcrowded. Rats, cockroaches and bed bugs were not uncommon and no matter how cold the weather was during the night, the heat shut off at 9PM. Before her youngest sister, Linda, was born, Marie would share one bed with her two sisters while her two brothers did the same in the next room. Although Carmen and Vivian loved their children dearly, the harshness of their past upbringings made it difficult at times, to show it. Vivian, or Mama, was mentally ill and a victim of many medical practices that we now consider cruel and inhumane. Carmen, or Papa, was abused as a child and developed a struggle with alcohol that only magnified his emotional distress. From the time she was three years-old, it was Marie’s job to get Papa out of the saloons as late as three o’clock in the morning. She would walk alone from the tenement to Bleecker Street where she always found him and brought him home. Marie’s siblings resented her because it was at this time that Papa chose to discipline them for the trouble they had caused earlier in the day. Carmen was a good man. His intentions were to teach his children strong values, as wrong as his approach to discipline may have been. They were only kids, they did not understand the pain in his heart and his tearful attempts at forgiveness always came up short. The children did not like him and whenever Papa came home for lunch or a cup of coffee throughout the day, they made themselves invisible. For Marie, her sanctuary was the neighborhood. In the neighborhood, she was a “big shot” as she describes it, and the leader of her gang. This was not your typical “gang” that you read about in the newspapers, it was just a group of friends who would hustle to fill their little bellies with food. As prideful as their hardworking parents were, these children could not flat-out ask people for something to eat, that would be embarrassing to their families. They had to find other creative, yet mischievous ways to come up with their meals. While Marie and her “gang” were always able to find the food they sought after, they also learned valuable lessons along the way. The neighborhood was filled with immigrants from all cultures which meant that fresh produce was readily available in the neighbors’ gardens. The gang knew if they ever wanted a fresh pear, they could have Marie climb up their bodies until she was high enough to reach a branch on Mr. Restifo’s tree. A valuable lesson was learned one day when Mr. Restifo caught Marie in his tree. In broken English, the Italian man asked her, “Marie, what are you doing in my tree?”, to which Marie replied, “Oh Mr. Restifo, sometimes the neighborhood looks so much more pretty from up here.” But the old man did not buy her story and asked, “What
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would your father think if he knew you stole my pears?”, knowing well that Papa did not tolerate stealing. He continued, “Take the pears and tell your father●that I gave them to you. ” Outpatient Treatment ● Adolescent Tre When the gang was looking for tomatoes, they knew to go to ● Family and Support Groups ●reach Profess Mr. Calella’s backyard whereGrief the metal fence was easy to bend and direct careon and services across forProviding a vegetable. Later insupport life, Marie found outthe that Mr. Calella knew Utica area for individuals with mental health ● Veterans Program ● Medication Assisted theGreater whole time that she was stealing his tomatoes, but he knew she was and substance abuse issues. hungry and never got angry because she “never broke the plant” and ● DWI another tomato Program would grow. ● Integrated Dual Diagnosis Treatment ● Adolescent Treatment ● Every Friday, he would ● Outpatient Mr. Baia was a baker on Bleecker Street. and Grief Support Groups ● Professional ● and her gang, “I fill● Family his windows with broken-shell pies and tellTrack Marie ● Veterans Program ● Medication need your help, I have all of theseAssisted brokenTreatment pies and●I cannot sell them.” He Nicole Siriano, CASAC, Director of Outpa ● DWI give Program ● Integrated Dual Diagnosis would them to the children to eat. Treatment ● Palomina was a woman on welfare who went to the firehouse Nicole Siriano, CASAC, it Director of her Outpatient for surplus and brought back to home. Services She would bake big loaves of bread but before she took one piece for herself, she would dress the bread with honey or peanut butter and feed it to the children of the neighborhood. Red the Boot Black was a mentally handicapped man who shined shoes Downtown. He was rejected by his family and left to fend for himself, living all alone in the apartment downstairs from Marie’s family. One day, he saw Marie sitting on the stoop for hours waiting for her parents to come home and Red said, “Marie, your parents aren’t home?”, and Marie said, “No Red, but they’ll come along pretty soon.” After a couple more hours, Red came outside and said, “I’m going to leave you for a little while but I’m gonna come back.” He went back into the apartment and Marie began to smell fried potatoes. Red came back out and told her he had made her a meal and put it on his kitchen table with a fork, a napkin and some ketchup. He told her he would sit on the stoop outside and wait for her to be done before he came back in. Red understood he was an outcast and that no one would want their child inside a mentally handicapped man’s house, but he knew how Marie felt on that stoop and chose to help her. Mrs. Falvo, among many other neighborhood parents, would have Marie over for dinner often and practice what Marie calls FHB, or, Family Hold Back. This was a simple premise that meant, “if there is spare food to share, it will go to our guest”. Even if a family had five or ten children of their own, they would still share with kids like Marie, who were often invited by their friends without the parents’ permission. These people knew how it felt to be cold, hungry and unaccepted by society. Marie and her friends never told anyone they were hungry but they did not have to. The people of the neighborhood were an inspiration to Marie. They were survivors, they were people who could make due without a thing except natural resources and faith in a higher being. When the rags man came through the neighborhood on a horse-drawn cart, the people would use the manure to grow crops in their small gardens and use scrap wood to build stands to sell their produce. They made something out of nothing. Similar to life at home, life at school was a different story from
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the neighborhood for Marie. Her name was on the blackboard every day, indicating she had lice in her hair. This let the other kids know not to play with her. She spent a lot of time on punishment, in closed closets as she would always be getting into trouble. She would ask her mother for a few cents every day so she could pay off the bullies from beating her up. But the worst thing of all, more hurtful than any of the mistreatment, was that no one expected anything from her. In turn, she never expected anything from herself. The Italian Settlement House was on Elizabeth Street, diagonal to Marie’s tenement. Families would go to the Settlement House for all kinds of reasons including; learning how to speak English and how to get their citizenship papers. The Settlement House taught women how to build double-decker beds so multiple children did not have to share, how to enhance their sewing skills for a better chance of employment, how to adapt to a new culture but most of all, how to be proud of who they were and where they came from. The goal of the Settlement House was not to give a handout, but to give these people a sense of purpose and the ability to contribute to society. Marie was told about the Settlement House by a classmate when she was just six years-old. Her friend told her the Settlement House had free oatmeal cookies and hot chocolate and that was all the convincing that Marie needed to pay them a visit. When she walked through the doors, the first thing she saw was a tall women in the doorway and she was down on her knees. Marie could not figure out why the woman was kneeling on the ground at first, but realized that the woman wanted to greet the children at an eye level. At that moment, Marie felt emotions she had never experienced before. “I believe she was the first person in my life that not only looked at me, but saw me. She was the first person who not only listened to me, but heard me,” says Marie. “and heard what was left unsaid.” As Marie made her way inside, the cookies and hot chocolate she had heard and fanaticized about, were being given out. Instead of taking one, Marie did what came naturally to her at this point and grabbed a fist-full and shoved them in her pocket. Noticing what the little girl was doing, the woman, Ms. Ruth Wright, said to her, “We’ve got so many oatmeal cookies in a great big pan, we’re never going to run short of it. It’ll be ok if you just take one at a time, I will be able to fill the dish every time.” It was the first time Marie had ever experienced a situation where there was more than one of something to go around. She was in love with the Italian Settlement House and never fell out of love. Over the years, the Settlement House did so much for her family and others. They would perform home visits, taught people how to deal with the landlord, how to get insurance, how to detract young people from a life of crime. They helped families like Marie’s deal with alcohol or mental illness situations in the household. They taught her sister Eleanor how to cook so that when Mama was in the mental hospital, she could take care of the family. When Marie was just twelve years-old, the Settlement House gave her a job as a custodian. At fourteen, they made her playground director, where she developed different programs for the
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kids, allowing her to utilize her natural ability to lead. In 1945, the Italian Settlement House became the Neighborhood Center, due to its expanding role within the community. The area was becoming increasingly diverse and the Neighborhood Center became one of the area’s main sources of child care and other services. As much of a blessing as the Neighborhood Center was for Marie, her home and school life continued to be detrimental to her self-esteem. She was seventeen years-old in the eighth grade and was strongly considering dropping out. When the teachers at the Neighborhood Center found out about this, they spoke with Marie and tried to show her the potential she possessed. For the first time in her life, somebody believed in her and believed she was capable of a better life. After much discussion, they convinced her to take a college entry course at Proctor High School. Determined not to let down her Neighborhood Center family, Marie studied harder than she ever had in her life. She refused to fail. Before she knew it, her grades were coming back as 100s and 90s, she was a straight-A student. It was hard for her to fathom as for the first time, she could show Papa her report card. She received an award from the National Honor Society and graduated third in her entire class. She learned just how important it was to have someone who believed in her, she wanted to do the same thing for other people. The teachers at the Neighborhood Center now had the task of convincing her to go to college, but Marie was scared and hesitant. How was she going to live without the Center? Who was going to bring Papa home at night? Well, for the first time, she learned the kind of man Papa truly was, and it was the first time she learned how to understand and forgive him. When Marie told Papa she was going to stay home, he said something to her she will never forget. He grabbed Marie and said, “You have wanted this for years and you will have it. I want you to have your dream and it doesn’t matter what we will think about missing you.” Even Papa believed now, and so, Marie was off to Sioux City, Iowa to study at Morningside College. Her father paid $1,000 for her first year but she worked ten different jobs over the course of her time in school to pay him back. Her family never had to send her a penny. During her time at college, she helped pay for a few of her friends’ education with spare money she earned from working. During the summer, Marie would return home and continue as playground director at the Center and helped develop Family Night Festivals. These festivals would help families from the neighborhood celebrate their talents and share the customs of their culture with other people. Events such as these helped raise money and they eventually were able to blacktop the cement yard in front of the Center. After receiving her bachelor’s degree from Morningside, she received her masters from Columbia University in New York City. They made her Program Director at the Neighborhood Center and she developed a successful program called, Partners in Prevention. Partners in Prevention was inspired by a sudden rise in the number of dropouts and suspended students at some of the public
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schools. She volunteered in the program for the first four years, using her own experiences as a hopeless kid, wishing to be seen and to be heard. Through discussions with the school faculties, Marie was able to compile a group of forty kids who were having serious issues in the classroom, kids that may have been looked upon as “lost causes”. They would meet three times a week in a room with no chairs, sitting in a circle on the floor. Together, they would discuss problems at home and figure out the root causes of their behavior. They would talk about how people viewed them in the outside world and how they can successfully change that image and become the person they aspire to be. The program was a success and Marie was able to integrate it into fifteen different schools in Oneida County by placing a social worker with a master’s degree in each one of them. She helped build successful employment programs at the Center including training in child care skills. As a part of the training, individuals were able to practice their new skills in pre-school centers, many of which were being opened at the time. Upon completion of the program, two-hundred trainees were hired as child care workers and their employment not only provided less fortunate people with steady jobs but it saved the county millions of dollars in welfare payments. It was always important to her to protect the taxpayers’ money and provide results with the programs put in place at the center. When she was able to land $200,000 from the Community Employment Training Association (CETA), she started a program that provided jobs to students fresh out of college and struggling to find employment. Over the course of her career, Marie stockpiled countless awards including: the Social Worker of the Year from the National Association of Social Workers in 1970, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award from the Utica Psychiatric Center, Boss of the Year from the Utica OD in 1996 and Women of Distinction Award from the New York State Senate in 1998. She was a part of dozens of county boards including: Board of Education, Utica Headstart, Oneida County Youth Coalition and the Social Service Advisory Committee. The Neighborhood Center continues to help those in need from Oneida and Herkimer counties, not by way of pity, but by creating a sense of self-worth and helping them become productive. By seeing them and hearing them. Marie eventually became Executive Director of the Neighbor-
hood Center, a position she held for forty-six years. She along with a long list of local businesses and many of her staff members, such as Mary Hightower, helped the Center make tremendous strides. She devoted her entire being to an organization that made her believe in herself. “If I stand for anything, let it be known, that I love the Neighborhood Center with every ounce of my broken body and I am sorry I cannot do more.” she told us. In 1984, Carmen Russo, Marie’s Papa, died. As time went on, she began to understand more about his life and what made him do the things he did, she began to understand the man the community loved. When Carmen died, Marie and her siblings found a black book that he kept. Inside the book, were the names of families in the neighborhood with dollar amounts next to them. The book was a log of all the kerosene he had lent to his friends, to keep their houses warm for their families. Of course, he never asked for a dime in return. At his service, the people were lined up around the block to pay their respects and finally, Carmen’s kids were able to meet the man everyone else knew. In 2015, the Neighborhood Center erected a new building that helped consolidate all their services under one roof. It is called the Dr. Marie A. Russo Neighborhood Center Institute. She is a doctor because she was given an honorary doctorate from Morningside College. The Center dedicated the building to Marie but when she cut the ribbon, she dedicated it to someone else when she uttered the words: “This is for you, Papa.” Speaking with Marie was a special experience for me as an Italian-American. Throughout my life, I have heard so many stories about the struggle our people went through as new members of this country. I was already very appreciative of the life I have been able to enjoy as a result of their sacrifices, but after learning about the life of Marie A. Russo, I am prouder than ever of my ancestors. I also learned the importance of believing in people and giving them an opportunity to succeed by seeing GU and hearing them.
“We are all about Home Sweet Home”
GREATER UTICA 31
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Published on Jan 1, 2017
This issue is about the history of the Clinton Arena and Hockey in the Greater Utica Area. It also features Ed Stanley, of Clinton, NY, Mari...