FOCUS ON HISTORY: If you knew Susie

PHOTOGRAPHER:

Angelo Sardonia was born in 1911 in Poultney, Vermont and moved to Amsterdam as a young boy. His nickname was “Susie.” Unlike Johnny Cash, he apparently enjoyed the name.

Perhaps Sardonia had a crush on a girl named Susie. Sardonia’s daughter Maryann Salm said the nickname could have come after her father formed a band in the 1930s, Susie’s Washboard Band, also known as Susie’s Swingsters. Other band members were Joe Iannotti, Dennis “Junior” Hasenfuss and Jim “Dale” Dallesandro. 

In his book “Past and Present,” Tony Pacelli said the Swingsters dressed as hillbillies and made sweet music the hard way, “The instruments consisted of a guitar, a stovepipe with a kazoo on the end and a washboard with attached novelties such as whistles, horns and a toy trombone with a kazoo attached to it. The group was similar to the Spike Jones Band.”

The Swingsters were a hit at the 1930 Sportsmen’s Show in Amsterdam and at Leggiero’s gas station on the South Side where the band drummed up business Wednesday nights in the Depression.

They played out-of-town gigs, including the Schine Theatre in Ilion. Pacelli said Schine, based in Gloversville, wanted the band to perform at all its upstate theaters but the deal was never finalized. The group disbanded in the 1940s.

Sardonia worked at Chalmers Knitting Mill and its successor Montco, heading the knitting room, the dye house and maintenance.  He also owned a tavern named Susie’s on Bridge Street across from the mill.  He was married to Helen Reichel and they had a son and two daughters.

During World War II, Sardonia edited the South Side Servicemen’s News to keep soldiers far away up to date on local happenings. 

Salm said, “Dad was never drafted. I think The Servicemen’s News was a way he could help.  That little newspaper was quite an undertaking. It took contributions, and social functions to raise money. The Recorder was also a great help to my dad.”

Salm said the newsletters were funny and sad, “It was as though you met someone on the street you knew and stopped to talk.”

The war literally came to Sardonia’s home on Oct. 13, 1943. That night a twin-engine Army transport plane crashed in a rural section of Amsterdam’s South Side as the plane’s four-man crew parachuted to safety. Remarkably, there were no injuries. The plane was on a flight between Rome and Schenectady when its engines went out.

Captain John F. Pope, the last to exit the plane, was found wandering on Dewitt Street. He apparently had landed on the roof of Sardonia’s house or on the nearby porch of Charles Frohlich.

After the war, Sardonia was instrumental in building the Fifth Ward Memorial Park on Bridge Street.

Sardonia served almost 20 years as Fifth Ward Alderman, from 1944 to 1948 then from 1958 to 1973, when he lost an election to Lawrence Morini. 

Sardonia’s nephew Michael Chiara was impressed that his uncle always stood when he spoke at the Common Council, while most members stayed seated during their speeches.  

Longtime friend Bert DeRose recalled that in one campaign, Sardonia organized a Kettle Band, young people banging on tin cans and buckets drumming up votes for Sardonia. 

After 36 years of marriage, Helen Reichel Sardonia died in 1968.  In 1972, Sardonia married Margaret Schultz. Angelo Sardonia died at age 76 on July 3, 1987.

Sardonia’s great granddaughter Theresa Day said, “I can remember the day he died. I was only four or so, hearing on the radio someone talking about it, me unknowing at the time, big news in Amsterdam. I really miss that man.”

Categories: Opinion, Opinion

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