By JOHN PURCELL
Recorder News Staff
Another group of exemplary individuals hailing from the Greater Amsterdam School District will be inducted into their alma mater’s Hall of Fame later this year representing a diverse range of accomplishments.
Five academic nominees will be inducted during the third annual GASD Hall of Fame ceremony to be held Friday, Sept. 22, at the Perthshire banquet facility on Route 30. Inductees will then be honored the following day during the school district’s homecoming parade and football game. The academic inductees include Rep. Paul Tonko, Judge Felix Catena, Joseph Emanuele III, Dr. Peter Diamond and Paul Ochal.
GASD Hall of Fame Committee Chairman Bob Noto, a retired athletic director for the district, said this year’s academic inductees are another “outstanding class” to be inducted.
“I’m really impressed with the careers they’ve had,” Noto said.
Noto said the school district is a diverse community and the Hall of Fame allows students to see what they can accomplish, along with instilling a sense of pride in their school and confidence in their future.
“Anything is possible for them if they set their goals high,” Noto said about students. “I think they’re great examples to our young people in the city and shows them what can be done if you work hard.”
Tonko, who graduated from Wilbur H. Lynch High School in 1967, said he was “flattered” to be nominated and he “cherished the recognition” of being an inductee. He said being selected for induction is a humbling experience, because of the important role the school district played in his development.
“I’m proud of my alma mater and the education package and product that they have produced over the years,” Tonko said. “Amsterdam as a hometown has been a very nurturing place. In my childhood and adolescence it was good to know that you had that kind of nurturing and reinforcement.”
Tonko, a lifelong city resident, said the education he received from the school district prepared him well for Clarkson University where he pursued his bachelor’s degree in mechanical and industrial engineering, which he earned in 1971.
Tonko said his GASD year instilled a sense of civic responsibility within him, which has guided him throughout his life.
“That sense of civic responsibility I think is so much a part of giving back to a nation that has offered us great opportunity and to a community that has enabled me to enjoy a sense of self-discovery to be able to utilize my abilities and passions to give back to a community that has given so much to me and everyone that calls it home,” Tonko said.
His career in public service began in 1976 when he was elected to the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors and at 26 years old he was then the youngest person to serve on the board. He held this position until 1983 when he was elected to the New York State Assembly, where he served for 25 years.
Tonko began serving as president and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority in 2007. The following year, he gravitated back to politics and resigned from NYSERDA to run for the U.S. House of Representatives. Tonko won his initial bid for Congress in 2008 and he has be re-elected during each successive election. He is serving his fifth two-year term.
Over the years, Tonko has received several award from organizations and was awarded a Doctorate of Humane Letters by Maria College.
Catena graduated with honors from Amsterdam High School in 1975 and went on to earn his juris doctor degree from California Western School of Law in San Diego. He was elected in 1999 to the position of Montgomery County Court Judge, which he still holds today.
Catena said he was “shocked” when he learned he would be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“I was so honored, thrilled and excited to have been recognized,” Catena said. “It really was an honor when I head, very surprised, but nonetheless such an honor, especially given the other inductees.”
Catena is being inducted under category of Professional to the Academic Wing. He will join his brother, Dr. Tom Catena, who was inducted as part of the inaugural Hall of Fame class. “Isn’t one Catena enough,” he joked.
His career in law runs in the family, but what drew him to the profession was his desire to help people.
“The opportunity to be in position to help people is really what was the motivator,” Catena said.
From 1990-92, Catena served as assistant district attorney for the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office. He then served as corporation counsel for the City of Amsterdam from 1992-94. He went on to serve as judge for Amsterdam City Court from 1995-99. He also had a private law practice from 1990-99.
Catena serves on the New York State Criminal Jury Instruction Committee, which is responsible for writing all criminal injury instructions for the state. He also serves on the New York State Advisory Committee on Evidence, which is responsible for writing an evidence code for the state.
Emanuele is being inducted under the Service category, but he did shine as an athlete while participating in high school track, basketball and football. He graduated from Amsterdam High School in 1974.
Emanuele said thanked the committee for selecting him and he was proud to share this recognition with his family and friends.
“I’m a proud graduate of Amsterdam High School and always will be,” Emanuele said. “I feel very humbled to be recognized in this way and to be honored alongside so many other outstanding inductees.”
He went on to graduate from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh in 1978 and then began his career in education serving as a math teacher in the Fonda-Fultonville Central School District. He taught at the district for 32 years.
Emanuele was first elected in 1997 to serve as an alderman on the Amsterdam Common Council. He retained his seat as an alderman until being elected mayor of Amsterdam, which he served one four-year term commencing in 2004. He currently serves on the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency Board of Directors.
Paul Ochal, a 1964 graduate of Wilbur H. Lynch High School, will also be inducted into the Hall of Fame under the Service category for his years of dedication to the wrestling program in Amsterdam.
Ochal, who serves as 2nd Ward Alderman on the Amsterdam Common Council, said he “shocked” to learn he had been selected and he was honored to be inducted alongside the fellow inductees.
His hobby of photography introduced him to the wrestling program as he attended home matches and then became the team photographer. He would present pictures of each individual wrestler at the annual banquet.
He also branched out from the school district’s wrestling program and directed Amsterdam Peewee Wrestling, Amsterdam Wrestling Club, Amsterdam Premier Club, Firebirds Wrestling Club. He also directed the Amsterdam JV Wrestling Tournament and organized wrestling banquets.
Dr. Diamond, a 1969 graduate of Lynch High School, will be inducted under the Medicine category, but he was also a three sport athlete during high school. He went on to attend Siena College and then the Philadelphia School of Osteopathic Medicine, where he graduated in 1976.
Diamond returned to his hometown and served as director of Emergency Room Services for St. Mary’s Hospital. Two years later, he opened his own family practice here in Amsterdam and would become the largest private practice in the city. He also served as chief medical officer for GASD and could be seen patrolling the sidelines during football games.
He retired in 2015 and moved to Philadelphia to be closer to his children and grandchildren.