The late Tony Pacelli, whose "Past and Present" column once graced these pages, would be 100 years old on this coming Monday, Nov. 11. In memory of her father, and to mark this milestone, Tony's daughter Isabel Czech brought us a copy of the following.
It was published here Dec. 23, 1995, and written by the late George Lazarou, who followed Pacelli on these pages as a columnist with his "A Bit of Reminiscing." We thank Isabel for dropping this off and allowing us all an opportunity to stroll along Memory Lane with her and her family.
(And speaking of her family, Mrs. Czech wants us to mention this piece is her family's way to wish their dad a happy 100th birthday from his children, Isabel, Bill, John, Tony Jr., their families, and Tony Sr.'s three great-great-grandchildren: 10-year-old Dylan, 6-year-old Juliana, and 7-month-old Gavin.)
By GEORGE LAZAROU
A Bit of Reminiscing
In deference to the memory of Amsterdam's Tony Pacelli, my predecessor, I wish to dedicate this week's column to his remarkable efforts as a columnist. I say remarkable because he was a conscientious writer who knew the depth of Amsterdam's rich heritage, and as such had a torrential drive to portray it -- winning the hearts of thousands of loyal readers along the way.
Yet his attributes as a writer were not those that embraced fancy expressions or painted veneers. Nor were they lofty philosophical abstractions; but rather, he had a simple, down-to-earth approach, one that produced a greater affinity with his readers. In fact, in a conducted readership survey taken in March of 1987 by The Recorder, Tony's column was voted the paper's most popular feature. And for this success, Tony gave credit to his faithful readers who provided him with much of the material. It was said that "the readers would then look forward to the Saturday editions of The Recorder to see how Tony used those tidbits of information." It gave the readers a feeling that they were participating in this business of reminiscing.
In addition to all this, many of his readers prompted him to compile his "Past and Present" columns into two books, which also became popular publications, not only in Amsterdam and throughout Montgomery County, but in other areas of the country as well.
Tony, the son of Emmanuel and Isabella Carretta Pacillo, was born in Amsterdam in 1913, this at a time when the city was still in the process of experiencing its industrial growth. He attended the local schools with enthusiasm, but at the age of 14, felt the need to assume his role as a breadwinner, and it didn't take long for him to gain an early understanding of the meaning of hard work. For he found employment with a construction crew in Northville, and after a few years of body-building manual labor, he left to work the Barge Canal as a deck hand, helping to dredge the Mohawk River.
But somehow he also found the time to return to his studies and graduated from the Amsterdam Continuation School in 1930. It was also about this time that he was inspired to write poems on life in general and lyrics to melodies, giving many of his compositions to his finance, Edith Marnell, whom he married in 1933.
Then in 1939, Tony obtained work at the Watervliet Arsenal, where he learned to operate a crane, and later transferred to the Scotia Naval Depot as an established rigger and crane operator, a post he held for 19 years. But it was while working at the depot that he suffered an industrial accident, bringing to an end his heavy-duty work.
In spite of his injury, however, he was commended in 1958 for his volunteer efforts by the New York State Civil Defense Forces.
When the depot moved its operations to Pennsylvania, Tony found himself without a job, but not for long. For he wanted to work, and his adventurous spirit led him to New Jersey where, at age 47, he secured a position at the Ancora Psychiatric Hospital, first as a maintenance man and then as an aide in occupational therapy. Here he worked with diligence and devotion to his responsibilities, prompting his superiors to encourage him to take on an even more responsible role as therapy program assistant. But to qualify, he had to attend the Overbrook-Edgewood Adult School in Lindenwold, N.J., graduating in 1967.
And it didn't take long for his talents and skills to be recognized as viable aids, earning him the right in 1971 to become the recreational director. But again, it was a job that required courses of study, this time at Rutgers State University extension division. Fulfilling this requirement, Tony was then given the monumental task of providing both occupational and recreational therapy in such a way as to meet the needs of all the patients.
Then in 1977, after 17 years of dedicated psychiatric service, Tony retired and was commended highly for his exemplary endeavors by the state Mental Health Association and then-Gov. Brendan Bryne.
But Tony was not one to retire for long. He decided to open a "what-not" shop in southern New Jersey. And this is what he did for two years. It was another challenge, and at his age, he met it well. However, his wife sensed a yearning to return to his native area, and before she died, she urged him to do just that.
Upon his arrival in 1979, he established his home in Fort Hunter and again refused to retire. He immediately went back to work by first operating the flea market at Miller's Corners, and this, in addition to his general repairing and plumbing work.
Yet, it wasn't until 1983, at the age of 70, that Tony's desire to write again was to surface. He was then encouraged to submit stories to the former Roamer columnist, and this made quite an impression on the readers, for Tony had something to say and the people were interested. They also wanted more. It was at this time that his family and friends prompted him to write his own column. And as if a dream come true, on March 7, 1984, Tony was given the opportunity to write his very first column -- hence the popular "Past and Present" offerings.
So here was a man who refused to accept the bitter mandate of retirement, with its implied feeling of being finished productively. And at an age when most people think of relinquishing their working responsibilities, Tony responded to yet another challenge -- that of writing about the community and the people he loved. He regarded this new freedom to write as a "God-given opportunity" to do what he had always wanted to do.
But this was not the full extent of Tony's activities, for he also had the absorbing hobby of writing lyrics for the local song writers, and he carried the fond memory of several being published in the mid-'30s and '60s.
Nor can we forget his weekly meetings with the musical quartet of Steve Lopuch, Tony DelSanto, Joe Iannotti and Joe Alessi, among others, providing him with many hours of relaxation.
Tony had now reached the point in his life where he was at peace with himself and the world, and he thought that better days were ahead. But this was not to be, for he became ill in 1988 and he was diagnosed as having cancer. However, there was hope with surgery and subsequent treatments, and Tony fought the good fight. But the cancer progressed and could not be put into remission, causing the prognosis to become grim. He spent his last days with his family and the caregivers from hospice, dying March 28 of 1989, with his daughter, Isabel, at his bedside.
Thus passing into his eternal rest -- a wonderful human being who needed nothing but a chance to serve. And this he did through his writings -- and what a writer.
Yet while in this somber mood, it was Isabel who spoke of her father as a loving family man, one who would take his family to Galway almost every year and very much enjoy camping with his wife and children.
Nor can she forget those trips to Caroga Lake, where he would absorb the wonders of nature and then joyfully hurry back home to describe what he saw on paper.
Her poignant memories continue, for how can she forget the song that her father wrote for her, which she especially remembers as "My Little Blue Eyes," this to his only daughter.
And when Isabel became ill, requiring a stay of two months at Ellis Hospital, it was her dad, Tony, who made it a point to visit her every single day, cheer her up, and convince her that she would recover.
Such were the attributes of this remarkable man.
Tony was a member of the Fort Hunter Canal Society and an honorary life member of the Amsterdam Musicians Local 133.
He is survived by a daughter, Isabel Czech of Amsterdam; three sons, William Pacelli of Amsterdam, John and Anthony Jr. Pacelli of New Jersey; a sister Antoinette Bartosik of Fort Johnson; three brothers, Nick and Willie Pacillo of Amsterdam and Nunzio Pacillo of Shreveport, La.; and three grandchildren, Donna Reali of Fort Johnson, Richard Flesh of Mystic, Conn., and John Pacelli Jr. of New Jersey. There are also two great-grandchildren, Erica and Jennifer Reali, of Fort Johnson.