The Abandoned Mailbox of Parkway North

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Sometimes you simply stroll by something in Yonkers and if you are not already hardened and cynical by the City’s underbelly, you can appreciate things for what they are and not really question anything else about your observations.

Case and point, Parkway North, a clean east to west boundary line for Yonkers and the Bronx running from Kimball Ave. to the Thruway, you don’t expect to find something like this in the northern woods of Van Cortlandt Park…

Mailbox3A lone mailbox, sealed shut and who knows how far away from its permanent home.  Moreover, how can the U.S. Postal Service lose track of a mailbox?

Mailbox2I feel bad for this lil guy…

IMG_3514Perhaps he gave it the office and retired some years ago, but I imagine his retirement dreams after a career as a letter carrier were more situated in the Florida sunshine or even somewhere along the Hudson River as a place for seagulls to rest their wings on a sunny day.

Mailbox1Whatever the case, if you find yourself on Parkway North at the corner of Old Jerome Ave, pay a visit to this lonely guy and if any of you have a truck and a saw, feel free to give him a lift to perhaps a more fitting retirement home.  I’m pretty sure once the mailboxes are no longer in use it is not a federal offense to move one…

—Josh

 

Hello Again!

IMG_3464Being the curator of this website, I’ve found in the last 5 years that its taken on the characteristics of a relationship, with highs and lows and even falling outs.  Still though, like any good relationship, I’m still here and so are you!

Just as when I began MyYonkers, I still love this city as if it were a person.

And while I’ve moved around a bit, living in Arizona in 2013 and currently residing 5 blocks south of McLean Ave. in the Woodlawn section of the Bronx, Yonkers will always keep its magic and wonder in my eyes, despite gentrification, segregation, litigation, legislation and any other “tions” I may have missed there.

I look forward to expanding the “Outside of MyYonkers” section of this site in 2015, as well as profiling more individuals in the MyYonkers Conversations Section and as always, covering the ins and outs of the city through my own unique lens.

I missed writing on here in 2014 and also, despite the site being dark for a year, I received dozens of email inquiries about former articles, was asked about the site countless number of times and our social media presence even increased, meaning people were “liking” a facebook page for a website that no longer existed.

So to really fire things back up on here, I will be publishing 12 NEW articles in the month of April!

Please know that I look upon this site as an extension of a great community, past and present and the overwhelming number of memories and comments shared over the years have simply been a testament to how great a City Yonkers truly is.

Thank you for continuing to come back to MyYonkers to read the articles and I hope that my ideas and words can create a positive emotional response in your heart and that you can have continue enjoyment on MyYonkers!

—Josh

 

What is the Reputation of Yonkers?

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A few months ago I read an article that was titled “10 Yonkers Stereotypes That Are Completely Accurate”, by Maria Scinto, a writer on a real estate website OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMovoto.com.

I’m certainly not about to go through all 10 as many of them are fairly ridiculous to say the least, but I thought a few of these so-called stereotypes would make for some interesting debate as to their validity.

Here are a few that I thought were the most interesting observations about the city of Yonkers and her people.

  • Residents never miss a chance at name-dropping whether it’s a Yonkers celebrity or mutual friend

Ok so I changed this one up a bit because I believe it should have been worded as such.  I don’t know about you but I am sure my name has been tossed around like a midget at a bachelorette party as it seems as though everyone in the city is a mere one degree of separation away from everyone else.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Oh you went to Gorton HS…class of 86’….did you know so and so?”  “Oh you used to hang out on Carol Ave.?…Were you friends with such and such?” “Oh you used to use the bathroom at Macy’s before catching the 20 bus to go up to Central Ave…did you ever see blah blah blah?”

It’s actually an endearing quality and one that I longed for when I would live outside of NY and the chances of running into someone who used to know my elementary teacher Mrs. Aglione because she’s their cousin and their daughter went to Gorton HS, the same school I graduated from, only she was a year ahead of me….yea that’s not gonna happen out in Phoenix AZ.

  • Yonkers is full of cops and teachers

Now I’m sure we can debate this one for a while here but when I think of Yonkers, I don’t think to myself, “my gosh…this city has nothing but Law Enforcement and Educators!”  Sure within the 4 Precincts there are hundreds of Law Enforcement personnel and the school district has tens of thousands of students, resulting in over 1500 full-time teachers in the district. But still come on…cops and teachers?

Obviously the city boasts many many other professional opportunities, from Firemen and EMS to local businesses and so on.  As with others on the list, I thought this one was a stretch.

  • People of Yonkers cling to their culinary past

This one I felt was fairly spot on as we do reminisce about places like Landi’s Deli, El Torito, Horn and Hardart, hell even the lunch counter at Woolworth’s was a gem of a place to get a grilled cheese and fries.

You all saw how torn up I got about the loss of Nathan’s on Central Ave. and at least that place does still exist 8195670144_de0a39c3e4_zin one form or another.

Most places around the world take their food very seriously so I don’t necessarily look at it as a point of distinction, rather an endearing quality that makes any city great.

  • The city is super-diverse, but by neighborhoods

IMG_0405Again, a valid point and one that I think the city is finally doing a good job in excepting and embracing.

The St. Patrick’s Day parade Should take place on McLean Ave., South Broadway just wasn’t cutting it anymore.

South Broadway should be lined with Caribbean, Hispanic and South American cuisine because in large measure, that is the population that now inhabits that neighborhood.

When they built the Starbucks on Bronx River Rd. a number of years back, my initial response was “finally!”.  It’s an area of young professionals, college students and um…we’ll call them, seasoned residents; all of whom utilize the place daily and needed a reliable coffee shop to meet their needs.

To read all 10 of the Yonkers stereotypes, click here and lemme know what you think about the one’s I mentioned in the comment section below.

–Josh

Happy Birthday to MyYonkers!

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IMG00986-20120210-1616Back in 2011, I began finding more and more bloggers out there whose passion for people and places and things, stirred something within me to bite the bullet, acknowledge the creativity of others and then go create something of my own.

At the time I had also met about four other Yonkers bloggers out there, the best of which in my opinion far and away were these guys…SoYoSunset. 

This is an amazing “resource” for lack of a better term as these gentlemen have left no stone unturned in their endeavor to not only cover the city from top to bottom, but also to create a forum with millions of postings from people who currently reside in Yonkers, or who used to reside in Yonkers, or those who have never left Yonkers in their minds,  where the city of the 1960’s is still vividly trapped inside their heads each and every day.IMG_0189 copy

Being honest though, the blogger who really inspired the creation of MyYonkers was a guy named Nick Carr, someone I have become friends with and a very talented Film Scout and Writer who after working in NYC for a number of years scouting film locations, decided to write about the places he gets to see day in and day out on ScoutingNY.com.

So I did the best I could to model my site after his and find my own Ins and Outs of Yonkers, the city where I was raised.

I made a great many discoveries about myself and about the people who read this blog in the last three years.  I always knew I could be a writer but there’s being a writer with seven screenplays tucked away in a bottom draw somewhere and then there’s actually putting your work out there and consistently doing so, whether it is your job or simply your passion.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFunny though how perspective in life is everything.

In 3 years time I have published 75 articles on here.  Some may look at that number in admiration while others…myself included, look at it and wish it were much higher.

Many people ask me how I go about choosing the things I write about and the short answer is that I want to always look for a creative and original way to showcase people and places in Yonkers that many residents most likely already know about, but have not perhaps considered the perspective that I’m offering.

My audience when I write each article are always the residents of Yonkers.  If outsiders enjoy the articles, all the better.

We’ve all been to Artuso’s, but I wondered how many residents realized the history behind the bakery and the hard work, the love and the unity it brings to McLean Ave?

The tradition of Yonkers Raceway and the litany of events, thrills and heartaches that have been endured on that exact parcel of land for over a century…

The fact that Bronx River Rd. has Sign Eating Trees and Doorways to No Where….OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Or even simply, using MyYonkers as a platform to share my feelings regarding the ever-changing city and mourn the loss of places like Burger King and Nathan’s, two Alma Maters of my youth and relics that I hope will never be forgotten by a few of us punk kids who haunted those locations day and night.

I know I don’t churn out content as often as other bloggers.  I know I’m not god’s gift to writing nor do I write with the charm and charisma of a seasoned writer and one who has strengthened their writing muscles to a degree where Congress would investigate them for performance enhancing drug use. ( Is that joke still even relevant?)

IMG_0946I suppose just as any writer/blogger/creator of content, we simply do what we do, just cause.  I’ll take quality over quantity any day of the week and I believe New Yorkers, specifically Yonkersites are the same.

I truly appreciate the engagement that has developed on the site.  If you look back, many articles now have dozens of comments left in them, where people have connected with others to share similar memories or sentiments regarding the given topic of discussion.

So as always, thank you so much for reading this blog, those that do regularly or the first timers who stumbled upon it and know that my efforts will continue for the forseeable future in bringing high quality content to the blog.

Happy 3rd Birthday MyYonkers…here’s what I looked like when I was your age…living in Yonkers :)

–Josh

Josh Summertime-1983

The Pioneers of Snowflake Arizona

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If you go back far enough into any city’s history, it usually all begins with just one or two people or families, hell bent on making it on their own, leaving all the IMG_1001familiarity of people and places behind for greener pastures and a fresh start.

Case and point, Snowflake, Arizona, a tiny community that sits about an hour’s drive south of the famed corner in Winslow Arizona.

I’ve often come up here in my 10 years plus of living in Arizona, mainly because the temperature is usually a solid 20 – 30 degrees cooler than the hot desert floor in Phoenix but as the years past by, I stopped merely “passing through” and began exploring around the sleepy town to see what daily life was like and to learn how the hell any place in Arizona got the name “snowflake”?

Turns out, the name of the town is a combination of two family names, Snow and Flake.  Back in 1878, Mormons were on the move all across the western U.S., settling in communities up in Utah, Idaho and even Arizona.

IMG_1002William J. Flake led his and five other families into the area and settled there, describing the place as, “a thing of beauty with clear water and hills covered in green grass”.

At an altitude near 5,000 ft, Snowflake, AZ experiences all four seasons and it certainly would have been a vision to see the untouched landscape 150 years ago.

Meanwhile, Erastus Snow, a Mormon missionary and pioneer, sent out west to grow the church even larger and establish settlements along the Little Colorado River, crossed paths with Flake during this time and together they created “Snowflake” a permanent settlement in the high desert of Arizona.

These men, along with hundreds more had to do everything to ensure the town’s future, from laying out roadways and irrigation systems to establishing churches, schools, law enforcement, fire and so on.

In the end, tens of thousands of descendents of the first 50 or so pioneer families who inhabited the area have these two men to thank, plus the sacrifices of dozens more.

This story of sacrifice, of settlement, and of having a vision for future generations is no different really than any other western town or city, settled by visionaries who sought out a new beginning, serving a greater calling larger than themselves.

The sculpture you saw earlier and below was designed by Justin Fairbanks and depicts in stunning detail, the two men meeting in Winslow, forming a bond and partnership that would forever bear their family name on an Arizona state map.

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Again the detail is just beautiful!

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IMG_1001Having the level of respect and admiration that I do for pioneers, those who choose to be first, to be the leaders and to go forward into uncharted territory, men like Snow and Flake remind me of the courage and sacrifice that we all must endure I suppose to step out of the familiar and into the new.

Snowflake Arizona may have happened either way,  but who knows, in this area of the state, communities are few and far between.

I guess the important message I would like to leave here with is to never take your surroundings for granted, be it in Arizona, Yonkers or wherever.

Instead, ask yourself, what did it take to build that?

How did Central Ave. in Yonkers go from just a dirt road that led north to White Plains to the major commercial district of today?

What did it take to cover up and then uncover the Saw Mill River?

How did areas such as Homefield, Bryn Mawr, Getty Square, Crestwood, Nepera Park, Runyon Heights, Dunwoodie and so on develop into residential and commercial centers?

Our city has just as many tales of pioneering spirit as Snowflake Arizona does and my hope is that those who read this will be a pioneer in their own right and seek out the answers to not only the questions I laid out before, but to their own questions and frontiers in life.

Here’s to Erastus Snow and William Flake and to all the pioneers, past, present and future.

—-Josh

The Crazy Dreams of Samuel Untermyer in Yonkers

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One of my favorite fairy tale quotes comes from the timeless story of Alice in Wonderland, a tale chock-full of wickedly inspiring and clever lines and one in particular that has always given me great strength and pride reads:

Alice: One can’t believe impossible things.

The Queen: …you haven’t had much practice…why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

UntermyerI’d like to think that for Samuel Untermyer, a lawyer from Virginia who acquired his now famous Yonkers property in 1899, he read those words at some point in his life and was inspired to dream big and to allow his own dreams to manifest themselves in more ways than one.

Most people who are lifelong Yonkers residents know of his contribution to the city and the 43 acre park he left for public use in 1948. What he left behind was a masterpiece of civic artistry, with dreams and ambitions to share his acquired wealth, along with his love of horticulture with visitors from around the country as they passed through his gardens on a weekly basis.

30,000 people visited his gardens in one single day back in September of 1939 as the country braced for World War IMG_1415and Untermyer himself of German Jewish decent, advocated for the Zionist Liberation Movement and then became President of the Karen Hayesod Agency.

To me, Untermyer was a born pioneer, a man who advocated for Women’s rights before most men did.  A man who spoke out against Hitler before most men did.  An activist against civil rights, again long before the movement truly gained national attention in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Mr. Untermyer certainly had a vision that was never fully realized even in his day, but should also never be forgotten.

A vision that one day, the rest of his 150 acre property would become a state park to be maintained and preserved for the enjoyment of the public, a vision that in the end, proved very costly and never seemed to materialize.

Presently, the Untermyer Gardens Conservancy as well as the city of Yonkers is hard at work, attempting to fulfill the lofty ambitions of Untermyer years ago and while much work still needs to be done, I thought I would point out some of my favorite spots on the property.

Before Untermyer acquired the acreage, the land belonged to Samuel J. Tilden, a failed presidential hopeful who had previously been Governor of New York State.  He was a man with a strong passion for horticulture as well and built a greenhouse on the property to cultivate rare and exotic plants, laying the foundation for the property’s ultimate future.

One of the finest features of the property has to be “The Vista” or as some might call it, the “Don’t Attempt to Climb These Stairs Without Approval from your Cardiologist Stairway…” or something close to that because there are over 200 stairs that go from the Vista Overlook of the Hudson River to the top where the North Loggia of the Walled Garden’s lower terrace resides.

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And the view up…

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It’s a long way down or up depending on where you begin but both are worth it.  Not only will you work up a sweat and just take in the beauty of the property, but if you are traveling down the stairs, you will make your way to what I believe to be the oldest man-made objects in the entire city of Yonkers.

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Two giant ancient Roman Columns, made from Cipolino Marble, flank the Hudson Overlook and from what I have read, these things go back at least to the year 200 BC.

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They really are a thing of beauty as if you didn’t have enough of it already on the property.

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Even better in some respects are the ghostly outlines of what was once a beautiful fountain area, with its own stairway which led to an area known as the Color Garden, which contained an array of plants each different in color as well as a vegetable garden and rose garden, long since overgrown and laying sadly in ruin.

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Also, the bottom of the property as most Yonkers residents know, is flanked by the OCA Trail and at the entrance there lay in ruins, some of the more beautiful Lion and Horse sculptures I have ever seen.

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The Lion is in better condition of the two by far, with its gorgeous detail and almost sorrowful look, it still stands guard proudly after all these years as joggers and bikers pass by along the Old-Croton Aqueduct Trail.

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Sadly the Horse lay in ruin, decapitated but still just as nice in many ways.

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The structure above the two animals was a former gatehouse and what I suspect was also servants quarters as the property did employ dozens of people at one time. It required 60 individuals alone to care for the main garden area.  Nowadays, the building has succumb to time and is a hollowed out shell of its former self.

Also, this is one of main areas that the so-called “Satanic Cults” used to roam around in and perform god knows what, earning the nickname, the “Devil’s Hole”.  My advice is to peak in and make it brief…

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Of course, there are many many more areas of the park I could point out, but I think it is best to leave them to you to discover, as Untermyer Park is and always will be, the grandest park in Yonkers.

Take an afternoon, perhaps this weekend, make the trip down North Broadway just past St. John’s Hospital, leave all electronics behind, grab the kiddos and pack a lunch.

That’s how Mr. Untermyer would have liked it and no matter how much time passes after his death, the sun still shines just as brightly on his beautiful gardens and an afternoon on his hillside in Yonkers can be just as grand and magnificent as it was for him and his family over 100 years ago.

For more information about tours and park hours, click here.

–Josh

 

MyYonkers Conversations with Mr. Fazio

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Ok, first things first, Mr. Fazio does have a first name.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut having met him in the Fall of 1996 at Gorton High School, he was only ever really introduced to me as Mr. Fazio, your Biology teacher and no, you may not go to the bathroom Josh, now sit down and have something to write with.

Much like the famed Mr. Brown of PS 30 legend, Mr. Fazio also meant business and from the moment that bell rang to the moment those sweet chimes could be heard echoing through the P.A. system 58 minutes later, class was in session in a major way, pushing us to our intellectual limits as he unleashed Biology fury in the form of notes, videos, charts, graphs, photos, and more.

Certainly though, I don’t want to paint him as some tyrant of a teacher, far from it.

Mr. Fazio’s passion for teaching, coupled with his compassion for each and every student that walked through his doorway in the 22 years he taught at Gorton High School should be something of a template for how future teachers can be empowered to vibrantly present their curriculum while servicing all the needs of their students.

I’ve kept in contact with him over the years as he watched me live my crazy life and recently, I felt compelled to step back in time with him once more, to get a IMG_1226kind of “behind the scenes” look at my former Biology teacher and if nothing else ask the most simplistic of life’s questions, why?

Why all the notes on the board?  And by board I mean chalkboards plural, all four walls had chalk boards and all four of them would be filled to the brim with notes by the 58th minute of class.  I guess he wasn’t kidding when he told me on the first day to have something to write with.

Still though, despite the rigor of being a student in his class, he churned out bright, capable, engaged and successful students.

I passed, and that’s saying a lot since I failed many many classes in High School, spending three summers down at Museum School on Warburton Ave, looking out onto the sunny Hudson River, feeling the warm breeze, oh and being in school during summer vacation.

It was his intellect, his discipline, his passion for Science and a prayer that got us through those nine months and whether it was Chemistry, Biology, Earth Science or boyfriend issues, Mr. Fazio always and I mean always was present, fun, enthusiastic and in the end, a teacher that you wished you could have again and again.

So let’s find out the why’s and how’s of Rocco Fazio’s teaching career in this edition of MyYonkers Conversations!

MyYonkers:  What did you teach at Gorton HS?

Mr. Fazio: Predominantly Biology, Lab and AP Biology but when I started teaching back in the late 1960’s I was teaching everything you can think of as a Seminarian brother with the Salesian School. Religion, English Grammar, Biology and General Science, five different sections in all and a great deal of lesson planning.

MyYonkers: Where else did you teach before Gorton HS?

Mr. Fazio: I taught my first few years out in the corn fields of Indiana, when I had all those various sections of curriculum, then moved around from New York and Boston but finally settled in at Maria Regina in Hartsdale for seven years which for me was just heaven there.  I taught Chemistry which I loved and the girls I taught were very receptive to my instruction.  I keep in touch with many of them and a few have gone on to become medical doctors, one is even a judge and have all been very successful.  Despite having had such a positive experience there, I felt compelled due to my family situation to go into the Public Education system and that’s when I ended up at Gorton HS.

MyYonkers: What was it like going from Catholic School to Public School?

Mr. Fazio: It was different but not difficult.  I still loved the teaching but I found I also loved the diversity of the student population.  I had a strong foundation for lesson planning and I knew I just had to remain systematic and single-minded regarding my classroom.

MyYonkers: It is well-known that Gorton High School, along with many Schools in Yonkers have experienced increased incidents of violence in the last 5-10 years, why do you think this is so?

Mr. Fazio: From about 2006 on until I retired in 2010, there were fights every day at Gorton and I think one of the biggest reasons were due to the increased presence of gangs in the area, having come up from the city and now in Yonkers.  The Police certainly did what they could but due to budget problems, they were pulled from the schools too.  There were problems but we managed.  These students unfortunately had very little support from their homes too, which added to the issues, parents being incarcerated and a number of students were emancipated minors who had jobs after school and were very responsible.

MyYonkers: What were some of the differences in teaching regular Biology versus AP Biology?

Mr. Fazio: Well we definitely got some of the top students in those AP classes and I think one thing that set them apart was that they approached learning differently, they had a system for learning whether it was their study habits or how they absorbed the material. 

MyYonkers: What were some of the highlights of teaching at Gorton HS?

Mr. Fazio: You know there really aren’t “highlights” per say but it’s really a continuous day-to-day regiment of getting students to understand concepts and thought processes and to appreciate the history of science and to demonstrate their knowledge of Science.  In many ways the highlight was me learning how to teach and evolve as an educator. 

MyYonkers: Did you like having to be “observed” as a tenured teacher during formal observations?

Mr. Fazio: I never minded, especially when it was an announced observation versus the unannounced ones.  I know the newer teachers would definitely feel more stress during these observations.  Personally though, while I didn’t mind them, I felt that there were things going on inside the classroom that are not imperative for the administrators know about.  I’m teaching Science and that’s what’s happening inside my classroom, period.  One highlight though did come toward the end of my career I received one of those unannounced observations where the principal walked in.  I was teaching an AP Bio course, I had the computer hooked up to the projector, teaching the lesson, talking to and showing the students what was already in their textbook.  In the end, the Principal said “you are actually teaching what I learned in college!” and I said thank you very much.

MyYonkers: What is one of the hardest parts about being a teacher?

Mr. Fazio: Seeing students underachieve.  Even more so than that, you have to continuously give students opportunities to learn and to achieve.  I saw many students fail out of AP courses and so on but being able to always give them a chance at learning the material and not giving up on them is the challenge.

MyYonkers: What is the best method for students to learn?

Mr. Fazio: I’ve always believed the best way is by multi-sensory, so with technology today especially, students can read it, see it, listen to audio and so on.  Years ago before computers in the classroom, I would always include many many videos in my curriculum, earning me the nickname, “Captain Video”!

MyYonkers: So I have to ask…what was with all the notes we had to take as students?

Mr. Fazio: Again, I think a teacher has to understand which ways work best with the given student population and with your particular class, you guys learned best by having lots of information available to you. In the last few years however I remember making an outline for the students instead and I would simply tell the students to fill it in as I did my lecture.  My students still achieved from Regents to AP students.

MyYonkers: What was your favorite Science?

Mr. Fazio: Chemistry.  Chemistry was the toughest course I ever loved.  I really enjoyed teaching it to the young ladies at Maria Regina and once I got to Yonkers, the position they offered was for Biology so I switched exclusively to that. 

MyYonkers: Who was your favorite Yonkers Schools Superintendent?

Mr. Fazio: My first one, Dominick Batista, I liked him a great deal and he was a gentleman.  What made him great was that for the time, he was a fatherly figure that took care of both the students and the teachers.  He knew what the teachers needed and appreciated their service.

MyYonkers: How well do you feel you connected with your students?

Mr. Fazio: One of the things I learned as a Seminarian before I even got married is that there always has to be a rapport with the students if you are going to teach them.  I made it a point to know of them personally so I could then influence them to achieve academically and to understand their needs.  It was always challenging in the first month of the school year but then you get a feel for them, how they behave, what their attitudes are like, etc.  The Salesian methodology is simple: Reason, Religion and Kindness. I want the students to leave my classroom in a good mood, that was also important to me.

Looks like I’m not the only one who has the utmost respect and fondness for Mr. Fazio.  Recently he was profiled once again, this time by the Senior Gazette, a publication by the Elant Health Care System that services the Hudson Valley and where his wife, Alana Fazio, also a former Gorton High School teacher, resides.

Check out the article here to learn about how even in his retirement, Mr. Fazio gives countless hours of service to the facility as well as doing what he does best, teaching about Science!

I just hope he makes them take less notes than his former students.

—Josh