Schenectady

Bill Buell’s Electric City Archives: Remembering ‘Bowling Ambassador’ Frank Cornicelli

Frank Cornicelli, center, gets a hug from PBA Tour legend Pete Weber. At left is Schenectady USBC board member Chet Ciembroniewicz.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Frank Cornicelli, center, gets a hug from PBA Tour legend Pete Weber. At left is Schenectady USBC board member Chet Ciembroniewicz.

To say Frank Cornicelli made friends easily doesn’t do him justice. He probably had more “good friends” than anyone I’ve ever met.

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He was the Capital Region’s “Bowling Ambassador,” and while he wasn’t overly skilled at the game itself, he loved every aspect of it, including the process of certifying 300 games. But while that became a real grind with the explosion of high scores in the late 1980s, his love for the sport and the people in it remained as strong as ever. And that love was certainly returned.

A Schenectady native who turned 98 in November of last year, Cornicelli died earlier this month. A 1941 graduate of Nott Terrace High School, Cornicelli worked in the Large Steam Turbine Department at General Electric for more than three decades before retiring in 1984. It was around that time when he started becoming more involved in the Schenectady Bowling Association as a “lanes certification man.”

He became so immersed in the sport it seemed like whenever I walked into a bowling alley anywhere in Schenectady and the entire Capital Region, Frank would be there as a tournament official or perhaps just a fan. He served twice as president of the SBA, the only person ever to do that, and for his meritorious service to the game he was inducted into the Schenectady Bowling Hall of Fame in 1995 and the New York State Bowling Hall of Fame in 2018. But enough about bowling. Let’s talk history.

When I was working on a story about the McCarthy hearings coming to Albany I was looking for people, former GE employees, who might reminder that occasion from February of 1954. Wisconsin senator Joe McCarthy and his Government Operations Committee were going around the country trying to root out communists from the American union movement, and while some people supported his efforts, other Americans didn’t.

I thought Frank might remember that time and he did. In fact, he remembered it well, and he wasn’t a fan of McCarthy’s.

“These were people I’d see every day, I knew them darn well, and they weren’t any more un-American than I was,” Cornicelli told me. “But communism was a dirty word back then, and McCarthy had us looking under our beds for them. It was a horrible time, and he was the worst thing that ever happened to us.”

In 2013 when I was working on a story about the history of black baseball, Cornicelli was another great source. He vividly remembered watching the exploits of catcher Buck Ewing, an Ohio native who played with the Mohawk Giants and ended up staying in the area.

“He’d throw out guys at second base without getting out of his crouch,” said Cornicelli. “Buck was just fabulous. That whole team was. They were the best team in the area.”

And in 2015, when I was doing a story on how the city was going to build a new train station that would evoke memories of Schenectady’s old Union Station, I called up Frank again for his reaction.

“I thought it was a great place, and I thought it was a darn shame when they knocked it down,” said Cornicelli, referring to the site being demolished in the early 1970s. “There were newsstands and stores in there, and I’d go with friends, get something to eat, sit down on a bench and just spend some time there. It was a real landmark.”

To be clear, Frank wasn’t that bombastic kind of guy who loved the sound of his own voice. He was warm and welcoming, always accommodating, and always willing to help. But he did love telling stories, and I was always ready to listen. Everybody was because we all loved him.

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