Vincenzo (Vince) Siciliano, a popular Amsterdam barber and band singer, turned 100 years old this month in the midst of the pandemic.
Siciliano’s route to Amsterdam from his southern Italian birthplace in Molochio, Reggio Calabria, was complex and included time spent in a German prisoner of war camp.
Siciliano’s father, Paolo, contracted an illness fighting in Africa with the Italian army and died when Siciliano was still a baby.
Siciliano was raised by grandparents and his mother married Vincenzo Filanova.
One of their sons, Carmine Filanova, Siciliano’s half-brother, ended up in Amsterdam too and they worked together many years at the family barbershop.
Filanova turned 95 this year.
Siciliano was drafted into the Italian military when he was 21.
At first the Italians fought the Americans and British during World War II.
But the Italian forces surrendered to the Allies and Italian soldiers then fought the Germans.
Siciliano was captured by the Nazis and taken to a prisoner of war camp in Germany.
When the Allies won the war and safe passage to Italy could not be assured, Siciliano was offered work on an American military base in Augsburg, Germany, where he remained for almost 10 years.
He had learned how to be a barber in Italy as a teenager and provided haircuts for American soldiers. He worked as a tailor also.
He met and married a German woman, Herma Huttner, in 1952.
In 1955 they emigrated to America where Siciliano’s relatives, including his mother, Teresa, had settled in Brooklyn.
Other relatives lived in Amsterdam.
Vincenzo, Herma and their newborn son Paul first lived in Brooklyn but wanted to relocate.
An Amsterdam relative told them that John Fedullo, a well-known barber, wanted to sell his shop on Church Street.
After dinner at Fedullo’s home, Fedullo agreed to a negotiated lower price that the brothers could offer.
Siciliano borrowed the money from relatives and paid it back over time — the beginning of his American dream.
Business was good.
Additional work for almost 20 years as lead vocalist and bass guitarist in the Benny Cannavo and the Accents Band on weekends supported his family well.
Siciliano’s family car became a Cadillac, purchased locally at Hosner’s dealership.
Around 1970, Siciliano and Filanova closed the Church Street shop and relocated individually.
Siciliano went to Joe Mason’s barbershop at Division and Guy streets.
Mason, well-known host of the Italian program Sundays on WCSS radio, was looking to retire. When he did, Siciliano took over that barbershop.
Siciliano purchased a nearby apartment building on Division Street. He and his family moved into the building.
He continued barbering until he was 85.
Siciliano exercised regularly and was proud to be physically fit.
The family moved to one of the more modern homes on Henrietta Heights in Amsterdam.
His wife became a resident of Wilkinson Nursing Home on Route 30 in Amsterdam in 2017. Until a recent setback from an attack of shingles, Siciliano visited every day.
Siciliano’s granddaughter Lauren Siciliano wrote a birthday tribute to him on Facebook, “Part of the immense gratitude I feel is for my own full life, knowing how much of it I owe to my grandfather and the choices he made.
“So, on his birthday, to him, I have to say: ‘Thank you. Thank you for this life you have given our family. Thank you for choosing Grandma. Thank you for raising your son so well; you gave me an incredible father, Paul Siciliano.”
When asked if there is a formula for long life, Vince Siciliano said, “Do the best you can do. Do the best you can. Try hard.”
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