All posts by Ashley M. Casey

Ashley M. Casey is the assistant editor of The Valley News. Previously, she was the associate editor of Today's CNY Woman magazine. She has also written for The Finger Lakes Vacationer. She graduated from Le Moyne College in 2012 with a degree in communications and Spanish.

FULTON FAMILIES – The good earth: The Vescios’ roots go deep in Fulton

Front page – The Vescios gathered for youngest child June’s baptism in November 1934. This photo appeared with a story about the family in The Post-Standard. Photo courtesy of Sam Vescio
Front page – The Vescios gathered for youngest child June’s baptism in November 1934. This photo appeared with a story about the family in The Post-Standard.
Photo courtesy of Sam Vescio

Editor’s note: This is the seventh 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 dgroom@scotsmanmediagroup.com. 

By Ashley M. Casey

“One of Fulton’s Largest Families: Vescio’s 12 Children Range From 5 Months to 18 Years” reads the 1934 Post-Standard clipping’s headline.

Although the story is 80 years old, it’s not unlike headlines found in The Valley News today. Now, the Vescios’ appearance in the local media has come full circle.

Of the 14 children born to Angelo and Rosina Vescio, only 12 lived to adulthood. Today, four of the original Vescio children are alive in Fulton: Joe, Sam, Ellen and June. Sam Vescio, now 87, and his daughter, Rosemary Vescio Pollard, shared their story of what keeps them in the city that their clan has called home for more than a century. Continue reading

Aldi’s wants to come to Fulton

By Ashley M. Casey

The supermarket chain Aldi Inc. has requested a special use permit from the city of Fulton to begin building a store on the former Nestlé site on the corner of Fay and South Fourth streets.

The Common Council approved a resolution to set a public hearing April 15 for the special use permit.

Mayor Ron Woodward told The Valley News Aldi and the site’s owner, Carbonstead LLC, approached the city about a month ago about the proposed construction. The property falls under the Manufacturing M-1 district and would need to be re-zoned as Commercial C-2.

According to Aldi’s special use permit application, the store will be 17,651 square feet.

Aldi is a German supermarket chain that operates 1,200 stores in the United States and 9,235 stores globally.

The public hearing will be held at the next Common Council meeting — 7 p.m., April 15, in the Common Council Chambers of the Municipal Building, 141 S. First St. Continue reading

Granby boy donates hair to Locks of Love

Marc Barnhart, of Granby, before his hair was cut Saturday at Carla’s Hair Fashions in Fulton. He donated his hair to Locks of Love to be made into wigs and hairpieces for children suffering from medical hair loss. He found out few men and boys donate their hair by watching a segment on the “Today Show.”
Marc Barnhart, of Granby, before his hair was cut Saturday at Carla’s Hair Fashions in Fulton. He donated his hair to Locks of Love to be made into wigs and hairpieces for children suffering from medical hair loss. He found out few men and boys donate their hair by watching a segment on the “Today Show.”

By Ashley M. Casey

Ten-year-old Marc Barnhart of Granby finally has some weight off his shoulders — 11 inches of bright red hair, that is.

Last weekend, Patti Mancino of Carla’s Hair Fashions in Fulton snipped two ponytails’ worth of hair from Marc’s head to send to Locks of Love, a Florida-based charity that provides wigs to children suffering from long-term medical hair loss.

Marc’s hairy journey began in late summer of 2012, when he and his grandmother, Carrie Fellows, saw a “Today Show” segment about men who had lost their hair to cancer.

“I saw it on the news that the men didn’t want to wear (wigs made of) girls’ hair, so they wanted boys to do it,” Marc said.

With his grandmother’s permission, Marc began to grow out his hair. For the last year-and-a-half, Marc has endured teasing, stares and comments from classmates and teachers alike at Kenney Middle School in Hannibal, which he and his four siblings attend.

Marc said his classmates have hurled insults at him such as “you girl,” but his family told him, “Words are words and remember what good you’re doing.”

“I just ignore it,” he said.

Marc’s siblings have borne some of the unkind words as well.

“Everyone in my grade kept saying, ‘Don’t you have two sisters?’ and I say, ‘No, my brother’s growing his hair for a great cause,’” said Matthew, 11. “It’s really sad that they have to pick on him and get satisfaction from talking to me.”

Matthew said one of their aunts died of cancer, another reason for Marc’s donation.

Cailynn, Marc’s twin sister, said that she and her other brothers tried to grow their hair to donate too, but gave up. Jeffrey, 13, said his effort to grow his hair “did not work out.”

Hairstylist Patti Mancino, of Carla's Hair Fashions, snips the first of two ponytails from Marc Barnhart's hair.
Hairstylist Patti Mancino, of Carla’s Hair Fashions, snips the first of two ponytails from Marc Barnhart’s hair.

Cailynn said other children at school have donated their hair as well.

“It’s not really nice because they’ve done it too, and no one picked on them,” Cailynn said.

The Barnhart children and their grandparents said their former bus driver and teachers have made comments to Marc as well.

Marc’s grandmother Carrie said one teacher said to Marc, “Hey kid, you need a haircut, you look like a girl.”

Marc said the school has held anti-bullying events, but he doesn’t think that makes a difference to students.

Kenney Principal Dee Froio said the school has hosted various anti-bullying events, including Jared Campbell’s “Blue Project” and a “bully-away spray” skit through Merry-Go-Round Playhouse’s “Echoes” program.

Froio added the school has not been notified about a student being bullied for growing their hair, but they would follow up any report of bullying.

Fortunately for Marc, not all the feedback has been negative.

“My art teacher this year did it two times, so she’s proud of me doing it,” Marc said.

Carrie, an adjunct professor at SUNY Oswego, brought Marc to one of her classes and shared his story. The students gave him a standing ovation.

“He made the decision to do it and he’s stuck with it,” said grandfather Jeff Fellows. “He has taken a lot of razzing the last year or so … When you explain to people why he’s doing it, they change their view.”

Marc Barnhart with his new look
Marc Barnhart with his new look

Hairstylist Patti Mancino has cut Marc’s hair since he was a baby. She said he is her only male client who has donated his hair to Locks of Love, but she has had many female clients donate to that organization and to a similar one, Pantene Beautiful Lengths.

“Sometimes I talk somebody into it if they want a new hairstyle. If you have enough, why not donate it?” Mancino said. “For a young man to do it is special because a lot of girls do it.”

After the big chop, Marc opted for a super short style. His brother Jeremy, 11, said he was glad that Marc did it, but “I’ll wake up to a stranger in the morning.”

“I got so used to Marc with long hair,” Matthew said.

As for the man with the mane, he said he plans to grow it out again for Locks of Love in the future, perhaps after the summer.

“Now I don’t have to wear my ponytail for tech,” he said.

To learn more about donating hair, visit
locksoflove.org or pantene.com and click on “Ready, set, grow: pony up!”

Scotsman employee to conduct book signing

Elizabeth Marie Fortune poses with her newly released book, “Shhh, Quiet, Listen: What Do You Hear When You Listen for God?”  Photo by Elizabeth Stassi
Elizabeth Marie Fortune poses with her newly released book, “Shhh, Quiet, Listen: What Do You Hear
When You Listen for God?”
Photo by Elizabeth Stassi

By Ashley M. Casey 

Oswego native Elizabeth Marie Fortune will be signing copies of her first children’s book, “Shhh, Quiet, Listen: What Do You Hear When You Listen for God?” at the Connection Point in Oswego on April 5.

The picture book follows a little girl named Faith and her journey to listen to God in everyday life, whether she is at school with her friends or spending time with her grandparents.

Fortune,  a customer service representative with the Scotsman Media Group’s  commercial printing department, now lives in Camillus with her husband, William, and their 7-year-old daughter, Erin. She published the book through Inspiring Voices, an Indiana-based publishing company that specializes in spiritual literature.

Fortune began writing the book in 2009 while at home with Erin and found that many of the books she read to her daughter lacked a spiritual message.

“I started reading books and I saw there was a need for this type of book,” Fortune said. “As Erin was getting older, that’s when the concept came about because I saw how kids are really busy.”

Fortune said part of the book’s message is to take time from one’s busy day to be thankful.

“I’m also hoping that the book will open up a dialogue with parents and their children to start talking about God and how important it is to think about God each day,” she said. “Hopefully, the book will help children connect with God.”

Fortune said the process of creating the book was “really exciting.”

“When you see it, you just see your manuscript on two pages of paper. It’s so exciting to finally see it come together,” she said. Fortune worked closely with an illustrator from Inspiring Voices to create the finished product.

“Every page on the book is directed by me — every scene, color schemes … That was exciting, to see your vision come to life.”

The hardest part of the process for Fortune was time management, balancing life as a working mother with writing the book. She said her husband and daughter both have been involved in the process.

“He’s been so supportive regarding time management. He’s actually helping me with marketing my book (and) handling the business end of things. So therefore it’s a family endeavor,” Fortune said.

Fortune is looking to expand distribution of “Shhh, Quiet, Listen,” and the book is available on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. “I’m working on plans now, reaching out to different outlets for the book, not just locally, but regionally and nationally,” Fortune said.

She added she plans to write a series of religious children’s books to follow “Shhh, Quiet, Listen.”

Fortune will be signing copies of “Shhh, Quiet, Listen” from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.  Saturday, April 5, at the Connection Point, 198 W. First St., Oswego. The Connection Point will have copies of the book for sale during and after Saturday’s book signing. To learn more about the Connection Point, call 216-6455 or visit theconnectionpt.com and facebook.com/theconnectionpoint.

Fulton school district residents to vote on public library propositions

By Ashley M. Casey

The Fulton City School District board of education voted March 25 to include propositions concerning the Fulton Public Library on the May 20 special election ballot.

Library Director Betty Maute and Board of Trustees President Marian Stanton presented two propositions to the board.

One would make the library a school district library and increase the annual tax amount the district collects for the library to $350,000 (currently, the school collects $170,000 a year on behalf of the library).

The other allows school district voters to elect members of the library’s board of trustees.

“We have to have stable funding,” Stanton said. “When push comes to shove, the library gets shoved.”

Fulton resident Bill Pierce spoke against the library propositions during the evening’s first public forum.

He said he had heard a lot of “misinformation” about which taxpayers would fall under the new levy amount, and he opposed the original 1999 New York state law that allowed libraries to collect taxes through school districts as well.

“It should have nothing to do with the school system,” Pierce said.

Fulton Superintendent Bill Lynch explained that only property owners who live in the Fulton City School District will pay the tax.

“The levying of the library tax will not be related to zip code. It will be on those who live in the Fulton school district,” Lynch said. “The school district will have no responsibility for the library building, staff or budget.”

Stanton also said the library would not “impinge on their (the school district’s) functions.”

Lynch told The Valley News if voters approve these propositions, they will have more control over the library than they do now.

“The registered voters are going to elect the library board,” he said. “The library is saying, ‘You will now have a stake in the governance of the library.’”

Currently, the Common Council approves the mayor’s appointments of library trustees.

Although the school board has approved the propositions for the May election, ultimately, it is up to the school district voters.

Budget waiting for state aid

Superintendent Bill Lynch and Director of Finance Kathy Nichols introduced a second draft of the proposed 2014-15 district budget.

The numbers are the same as in the first draft: The budget is expected to increase by 2.66 percent to $66,992,685 over the 2013-14 total of $65,259,100.

Lynch reiterated the district will increase the local tax levy only by 1 percent over last year’s rate.

“I just don’t think the community is in a spot to be able to handle (more than) that,” he said.

The district still faces a shortfall of $1,280,378. The district is hoping to close that gap through analyzing its revenues and spending, receiving a portion from the BOCES administrative budget, state aid and a possible reduction in the Gap Elimination Adjustment the district must pay.

New York state is expected to complete its budget by April 1.

“We are a high-need, low-wealth school district … We are relying on aid from New York state,” Lynch said. “Foundation aid has essentially been frozen since the 2008-09 school year.”

He explained that for the 2008-09 year, state foundation aid covered 40 percent of total education costs. Now, that aid covers only 35 percent, shifting more of the burden to local taxpayers.

Nichols and Lynch will present a third draft of the budget at the April 8 board meeting. The board is expected to adopt the budget at the April 23 meeting, and district taxpayers will vote on it May 20.

Coming up

Public propositions for the May 20 election are due April 1.

The next regular meeting of the school board will be at 7:30 p.m. April 8 at the Education Center, 167 S. Fourth St.

The public hearing for the proposed school budget will be at 7 p.m. May 7 at the Junior High School, 129 Curtis St.

The vote on the school budget, library propositions and election of school board members will be May 20 at the elementary schools.

Fourth-highest vote getter in May 20 election will fill Occhino-Pilawa’s vacant board seat

By Ashley M. Casey

Rosemary Occhino-Pilawa’s term on the Fulton school board would have expired in 2015.

Now that she has resigned, the remaining board members have two options: appoint someone to take her place, or wait for the May 20 election.

Given that the election is less than two months away, the board is opting to wait.

“When we have the election in May, the person who is the fourth-highest vote-getter will be elected to fulfill Rosemary’s term (ending in 2015),” said Superintendent Bill Lynch.

The seats of David Cordone, Barbara Hubbard and Fred Cavalier are also up for election.

Lynch said the district has given out six sets of petitions to potential board candidates, but the exact number of people running won’t be available until the candidates return their petitions to the school April 30.

Candidates must reside within the Fulton City School District and need 100 signatures on their petitions to run for the school board.

The board will accept election results and swear in new members at the May 27 meeting.

Occhino-Pilawa says goodbye to Fulton

By Ashley M. Casey

School’s out forever for Rosemary Occhino-Pilawa.

After more than 40 years of living in Fulton and working with local schools, the former educator and school board member is bidding the city adieu as she prepares to move to Onondaga County with her new husband, engineer Donald Pilawa.

Occhino-Pilawa has resigned her position on the Fulton City School District board of education, where she has served since 2009.

She announced her resignation in a letter read aloud to her fellow board members at the March 11 school board meeting. She attended her final board meeting March 25, and her last day of service is March 31.

Occhino-Pilawa said her goals for her time on the board have been “to make a positive difference” and “to be transparent.”

“If I had just touched the life of one child (while) serving on the board, it will be positive,” Occhino-Pilawa told The Valley News.

Over her four decades in Fulton, Occhino-Pilawa has touched many lives. She taught at the now-defunct Erie Street and Phillips Street schools, Fairgrieve and Granby. She retired in 2003 after spending 19 years as a first-grade teacher at Granby. Her first husband was an educator as well.

Occhino-Pilawa said she ran for school board after her first husband, longtime teacher and the Hannibal district’s Fairley Elementary School principal Dr. Joseph Occhino, passed away in 2008.

“I needed to give back to the community that welcomed me and my husband and my children with open arms,” she said.

Originally from Gloversville, N.Y., Occhino-Pilawa was a reluctant transplant to Fulton in 1973.

“I was living a charmed life in Vermont, my first love,” she said of the state where she spent her college years. Occhino-Pilawa received her bachelor’s degree from Castleton State College in 1968 and did graduate work at the University of Vermont in Burlington.

The late Dr. Occhino took a job at the Erie Street School in Fulton. The Occhinos agreed to give Fulton a try for three years and planned to return to Vermont.

“When the three years came to closure, he said, ‘We’ll put our house on the market,’ and I said, ‘If you want to leave, you’ll have to leave by yourself!’” Occhino-Pilawa recalled. “Those three years have turned into 41.”

Because New York state did not honor Occhino-Pilawa’s Vermont special education certification, she became a substitute teacher and eventually an elementary school teacher. Her husband built his career as an educator and spent 27 years as principal of Fairley in Hannibal.

Dr. Occhino had been a strong supporter of the Ronald McDonald House, so to honor his memory, Occhino-Pilawa coordinated a recyclable “pop tab” collection to benefit the charity.

“It was so phenomenal,” Occhino-Pilawa said of the student and community response.

That year, the Fulton district collected more than 1,000 pounds of tabs from soda cans and soup cans. The donation was worth more than $600. McDonald’s sent Ronald McDonald to the winning school — Fairgrieve, with more than 500 pounds of pop tabs — to present a program on bullying and safety.

“Helping others is really what life is about,” Occhino-Pilawa said.

The district’s teachers’ association presented Occhino-Pilawa with a community award at its banquet that year.

“It’s very dear to my heart because my late husband endorsed the McDonald foundation,” she said.

The Occhinos raised three sons: Martin, Alan and Jason. Martin now lives in Connecticut, but his two brothers remain in Oswego County.

“This is a great place to raise children,” Occhino-Pilawa said. “If you ask (my sons), ‘Where is home?’ they’ll say it’s Fulton.”

Upon her marriage to Donald Pilawa Nov. 9, 2013, Occhino-Pilawa chose her new last name to reflect her family pride, both old and new.

“I hyphenated the name because of my three sons and I have seven grandchildren who all carry the Occhino name, and I’m very proud of it,” she said.

“I have enormous anxieties about departing,” Occhino-Pilawa said of leaving the city she’s called home since 1970.

At her final board meeting, her colleagues expressed their sadness and well wishes too.

“You are an inspiration,” said Christine Plath, whose daughter worked with Occhino-Pilawa as a student teacher.

“She made her the teacher she is today in Hannibal,” Plath said of Occhino-Pilawa’s guidance.

“You added laughter, candor and a heart of full dedication,” David Carvey said. “You will be sorely missed.”

Valley News sales exec McManus honored

Allyson McManus
Allyson McManus

By Ashley M. Casey

Longtime Valley News sales consultant Allyson McManus will receive the Sales and Marketing Excellence Award (SMEA) at the Central New York Sales and Marketing Executives’ Crystal Ball banquet in April.

McManus, a lifelong Fultonian, has been with The Valley News for 21 years and is the publication’s senior salesperson. She is one of 12 SMEA recipients from across the region.

SMEA awardees are nominated by their respective places of employment and must meet criteria that include understanding the customer and the market, representing a company in a positive light and getting involved in the community. A Central New York Sales and Marketing Executives (CNYSME) committee carefully reviews each nominees’ credentials to ensure that the chosen winners are experts in their field.

“Not only has Allyson exhibited a very high level of professionalism and steadfast tenacity, she has been a true team player,” said Rich Westover, associate publisher of sales for the Scotsman Media Group, which owns The Valley News.

Westover said McManus has been instrumental in training new sales staff members and generating “new ways for The Valley News to better serve its readers.” McManus originated the idea of the newspaper’s monthly Fulton Families series, which highlights prominent families from around the city.

“We’re very proud of Allyson,” Westover added. “Her award underscores the quality of specialists working at The Valley News and Scotsman Media Group.”

McManus will accept her award at the 38th annual Crystal Ball, held April 10 at the Syracuse/Liverpool Holiday Inn.

The banquet will also honor 2014 Crystal Ball recipient Howard Dolgon, who is owner, president, CEO and team governor of the Syracuse Crunch hockey team.

For more information or to purchase tickets to the Crystal Ball, call 876-1868 or email info@cnysme.org.