Editor’s note: This is the fifth installment of stories about Fulton Families. The monthly series will tell the stories of families that have either lived in Fulton for ages or perhaps only a short while — but the common bond will be they love the city and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. If you know of a family we should highlight, please email Debbie Groom, Valley News managing editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Ashley M. Casey | Photos courtesy of Dan Farfaglia
Growing up in a large family in Fulton was like a movie for Dan Farfaglia.
“It was the Italian version of ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding,’” Dan recalled.
Since their arrival in the early 20th century, the Farfaglias have been active in the Fulton community. In addition to serving as a county legislator for Fulton and Granby, Dan is active with the Rotary Club.
His cousin, Jim, is an author who writes the “Poetry Corner” in The Valley News and teaches writing classes. And, of course, the family is well known for its participation in the Fulton Wrestling Club.
Although they are a bit more spread out now, the Farfaglia family has deep roots in, and deep pride for, the city of Fulton.
Around 1911, Dan’s great-grandfather Isodore Farfaglia, accompanied his sister, Carmela Farfaglia Marino, from Sicily to settle in Fulton. Young Isodore — who later preferred to go by the Americanized version of his name, “Theodore” — worked on the canal system on the Oswego River and later for the North End Paper Mill..
“Then he went back to Sicily when World War I broke out to fight for the homeland,” Dan said of his great-grandfather’s history. “He lucked out because by the time the United States had entered the war, Italy had switched sides … to the Allied powers, which the United States was fighting with at the time.”
After World War I, Isodore returned to his home village. There, he reconnected with his neighbor, Antonia Torre. They married and journeyed not just to the United States, but to Fulton, where they had four children who lived to adulthood: Carmelo (Dan’s grandfather), Silvio, Virginia and Jean Ann. A fifth child, Concetto, drowned at age 5 in 1929.
The family lived in a neighborhood once known as “The Flats,” located in the present-day Sixth Ward. Many Italian-Americans made their home there.
Jean Ann Farfaglia Wise, who splits her time between Fulton and Florida, remembered the “closeness” of the Italian neighborhood. Growing up, she knew her playmates as “cousins” because the neighbors were like family.
Despite close family and cultural ties, the Farfaglias encouraged their children to blend in American society. Many people in the neighborhood spoke only Italian until they reached school.
“When my grandfather started kindergarten, he sort of freaked out because that was the first time he’d heard English, from the teacher. Up until then, he had no reason for it,” Dan said.
“My parents never taught me Italian,” Jean recalled. “They said as long as we lived in America, we’d speak English.”
Jean said Nestlé’s chocolate was not the only scent in the city air back then: she remembers the smell of Birds Eye brussels sprouts too.
“It smelled terrible all over the city,” she said.
In their youth, Jean and her siblings and friends enjoyed roller skating, going to the movies and dancing. Her sister-in-law, Angie, widow of Silvio Farfaglia, attested to the latter activity.
“Silvio couldn’t join the Navy because he had varicose veins in his legs,” Angie said, but they didn’t stop him from winning dance contests. “We loved to dance, both of us … When we were young, we used to dance at a place called ‘Blue Moon’ on Silk Road. It was a little bar with a dance floor.”
Blue Moon often hosted local saxophone player Ted Safranski. Angie said big bands would play at the pavilion on Lake Neatahwanta as well.
One area in which the Farfaglia family is well known is sports.
Dan’s father, Dick, is a founding member of the Fulton Wrestling Club, which dates back more than 40 years. He has been president of the club for more than 20 years. Recently inducted into the CNY Wrestling Hall of Fame, Dick is planning to write a book about the history of wrestling in Fulton.
“My father was the first one to participate in the 1960s, and everybody else just sort of followed after that,” Dan said. “His brother then joined in, along with his cousins, and then the next generation did as well.”
Dan and his cousins participated in state wrestling championships from 1989 to 1992. His cousin Kevin once traveled to Bogotá, Colombia, for the sport.
Now, Dan’s son, Avery, who turns 7 on Feb. 2, is following the family tradition of wrestling as well.
The Farfaglias have made their mark elsewhere in the community. Dan’s grandfather, Carmelo, a veteran of World War II, was a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Angie recalled her husband Silvio’s many accomplishments. A “very quiet man,” as she described him, Silvio began working for Sealright at age 16. He eventually became an engineer for the company.
“By the time he retired 45 years later, he had 15 patents under his belt,” Angie said.
In addition to his affinity for dancing, Silvio was also a bowler who once scored a perfect 300. Silvio also belonged to the Fulton Athletics Boosters Club and the Italian-American Club.
“He wasn’t just a guy who worked at Sealright,” his wife remembered.
His sister, Jean, served on the Fulton City School District board of education and the BOCES board from the late 1980s until 2010. She served 12 years on each board.
“I got into it and didn’t want to get out,” Jean said. “I had a vested interest in the education, because I had grandchildren in the school system.”
Although there were some rough times during her tenure on the school board — including introducing sex education and putting together the district budget — Jean said she learned a lot and was a liaison for her fellow community members.
“That, they’ll never be able to take away from me,” she said.
There and back again
As for Dan, there was a time when he did not call Fulton home. For 14 years, Dan worked for the State Assembly in Albany.
“I left because I was anxious (for) a career change and a change of scenery. Hoping for new opportunities elsewhere because I knew there was a world outside of where I grew up,” he said.
But Dan felt that something was missing in the state’s capital. Unlike his hometown, people in Albany had “more of a focus on career advancements, instead of (on) family priorities.”
In 2008, Dan moved back to Fulton to work for the State Senate. Three years later, he decided to run for office.
“I wanted to put myself out there instead of being a behind-the-scenes operative. It was strange that year, seeing my own name in the voting booth for the first time,” Dan said.
“I wanted to make a difference and see if I could somehow reverse the negative trend of people leaving and jobs disappearing,” he said. “It would be nice if I had some kind of a role in helping to restore the community to what it was when I was growing up.”
Dan said he sees Fulton as a “hidden gem.”
“I think that if other major companies and industries were to relocate, they would get a very loyal workforce,” he said. “The cost of housing is not as expensive as it is in other places, so if that were to get out more, then that way people can earn a living and not put half of their paycheck towards their homes … There’s plenty of opportunity for families to build homes and stay there permanently.”
Dan is raising his young son, Avery, in Fulton for the small-town atmosphere and the strong bonds with their family. Avery was born in the Albany area.
“(Fulton) gave me a sense of what a community and family really should be all about,” Dan said. “I wanted him to have the same experiences growing up that I did … I’m a full-time custodial single parent, but I have a lot of help from my parents, which is not something I would be having if I was still living out there.”
He said he is proud of being from a large, well-known family.
“I’m glad to be part of something that people hold in high regard. I do my best to keep that positive opinion going,” he said.
“I have an advantage in the fact that my family’s been there for four generations already … So there’s that familiarity that we have with the people,” Dan said. “They all remember when you were born, and everybody’s sad when you pass away.”
Despite the hard times, that familiarity is not something Fulton has lost, according to Dan’s aunts.
“I find that people are very friendly around here,” Angie said. “I am so blessed. I’m in a wheelchair. When I go to Price Chopper and someone’s bringing carts back, they always go back and bring me (a scooter cart).”
Although she doesn’t care for the weather, Angie said she prefers Fulton’s climate to Florida, where her sister-in-law, Jean, lives.
“We went to Florida for four years and I hated it,” she said. “I missed my snow.”
Jean spends half the year in Florida and half the year in Fulton, which she says is still her home.
“I can’t wait to get down there, and I can’t wait to get home because my whole family is up there,” she said. “It’s my place.”