Triscari Recounts A Life With Good Work Ethic
When Joe Triscari was just eight years old, he started his first job as a shoeshine boy. Although he changed vocations, he continued to work until he was 83, never turning down an opportunity to serve the public.
Triscari was born in WCA Hospital on Dec. 20, 1926. He has fond memories of the old Water Street neighborhood and the friends he made there. His house was number 8, which was situated on the corner of Foote Avenue. The house no longer stands, but the memories of the home he shared with his parents, one brother and two sisters live on.
One special memory that comes to mind are the many games of football Triscari played with the kids from the surrounding neighborhood. Because yards were small in the city and there were far fewer cars moving about the streets in the 1930s and 1940s, the street was a perfect play area for a large group activity. These games were played without use of a football. A can that had held evaporated milk was substituted for the pigskin, but not just any milk can. It was a Pet milk can, the apparent favorite of the mothers on the street.
He played baseball and basketball in school.
Although the 92-year-old is reluctant to talk about his early involvement in crime, he confesses he attended movies in an unconventional way.
“We snuck in,” says the nonagenarian.
He was not willing to blow the whistle on his cohorts, but unnamed ushers are mentioned. Apparently, young Triscari or another movie-goer had connections with more than one usher, as he names Shea’s and Palace Theaters downtown and The Roosevelt at South Main and Harrison Streets.
He started school at School Number 4 on Hazzard Street and then continued his elementary education at the old Rogers School, which was located behind WCA Hospital on Sherman Street, at the site of the building which now houses doctor’s offices. His junior high years took place in the former Jefferson Junior High School located on Camp Street, where the new Rogers School was built. From there, he attended Jamestown High School.
“Barber shops had shoeshine boys. When I was eight-years-old I was shining shoes with a shoeshine box. I went to a barber after a boy quit,” he tells. “I became an apprentice barber at fourteen for John Bellavia on East Second Street and Cherry.”
Somewhere between the ages of 13 and 15, he spent summers working at a factory in Falconer. While he was 14, his parents allowed him to take a bus to Cleveland to attend barber school. He stayed at the YMCA during the six months he was in the Ohio city. Later, when he was about 15, he went into a barber shop at 121 Willard Street and told the barber he had heard he was looking for help. He was told to write his name on a piece of paper and go back in a week and was hired when he returned. The man’s wife ran a beauty shop in the back of the building and their family lived on the second floor.
The newly hired teenaged boy took a liking to one of the couple’s daughter’s, Marianne, who was three years younger than himself.
He enlisted in the United States Army when he was 16 or 17 years old and began exchanging letters with the barber’s young daughter. His years in the Army started with basic training at Fort Dix, N.J. From there he was stationed at Fort Gordon, near Augusta, Ga. He was then sent to the Philippines where he served as a cook.
“You did what they told you to do,” he says of his placement. “Master Sergeants were ahead of the kitchen. They decided what you were to do. I was a terrific mashed potato-maker. I put the right stuff in it.”
He received a driver’s license and became the personal driver for one of the majors. He not only cut the major’s hair, but became the company barber.
“The Japanese bombed our camp. Many lives were lost.”
World War II ended shortly after the soldier arrived in the Philippines. His last stint with the US Army was in South Korea. He returned to the barber shop on Willard Street. Even though he had received a “Dear John” letter from Marianne, they rekindled their relationship after he returned to Jamestown.
“He told me she couldn’t resist him in his uniform,” says his son, Bob Triscari. The couple married on June 4, 1949. Several of the couple’s friends married the same year and so they decided to start a club called The 49ers. The group met for many years and renewed their wedding vows en masse at St. James Roman Catholic Church when they celebrated 50 years of marriage.
The barber was also a member of The Short Snorters, which was made up of a group of friends who had left military service near the same time. They acquired and tore down two homes on Hebner Street that had been built by the US government. The materials from the houses were reassembled on property in Onoville which they used for playing poker, hunting, holding family picnics and other activities.
Triscari eventually purchased the building from his father-in-law. His brother had a tailor shop in the back. The barber shop was open every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., except Sunday and Wednesday.
“Mom never drove. He would have to chauffeur her on her shopping trips on Wednesdays,” says daughter JoAnne Scapelitte. “When he was younger, he would go in earlier if someone needed an early appointment and stay late. If a customer was hospitalized, he would stop on his way home to give them a shave or do whatever was needed.”
“There were many barbers in town so he didn’t want to go on vacation for fear of losing customers, but they would stand in line to wait after he returned,” her brother says. “His prices were less than the others and they liked coming to a man’s place. He brought (Buffalo) Bills and (New York) Yankees tapes for them to watch and they could smoke, even though he didn’t.”
“On Christmas Eve we’d have to wait for him. He would never turn anyone away,” says the daughter.
“If he was cleaning up and someone came in, he would cut their hair,” Bob adds. “He’d work all day long and he’d come home and paint the house.”
Mayor Sam Teresi, his father Tony Teresi and Jim Roselle were some of his customers. Several generations from some of the same families were his customers.
“One day I was cutting hair and guys were walking in telling about how sick they were. I laid my scissors on the counter and they asked me where I was going,” says the elderly man. “I said ‘I was fine and got really sick after you came in.'”
“One day when Russ Vizione was joking, he ran outside all lathered up and stopped the city bus and told the driver that the barber had cut his ear off. The bus driver tooted the horn.”
Throughout the years, for relaxation the older man enjoyed watching the Yankees and the Bills.
“He loved watching St. Bonaventure basketball in the Bob Lanier-era,” says his son.
Marianne’s brother, a podiatrist in California, treated and became friends with Doug Jones, a young member of San Diego State’s football team. When Jones was drafted by the Bills the doctor told him to look up his brother-in-law who was a Bill’s fan in Jamestown. Even though Jones had an apartment in Buffalo, he ended up staying every Monday and Tuesday with the family for the next six years and supplied them with tickets to all of the games.
Over the years, Triscari enjoyed spending time in his woodworking shop and this is where his son got interested in his father’s hobby, later becoming a shop teacher. For recreation, the older man bowled at The Paladium, Fountain Bowl and Ten Pin Lanes and was a classic league bowler with a 191 average. He preferred to stay close to Jamestown and did little traveling.
“Mom traveled to many places, but dad stayed home,” says the son.
Mrs. Triscari passed away in January of 2000. Her husband lived in their home on Falconer’s Almet Avenue for 58 years. He now resides at the Lutheran Retirement Home where his son says, “they’ve been taking real good care of him.”
He likes to play board games with Bob, especially checkers and Connect Four, because they are easier for him to see than some of the other games.
He remains an avid Bills and Yankees fan, watching all televised games, although it is harder for him to see and hear the games. His son either watches the game with his father or calls afterward to discuss it.
The elder man and his brother were presented with diplomas after a niece learned that students who left school during World War II were eligible to receive one.
Two of Mr. Triscari’s three children live in the area with Bob in West Ellicott and JoAnne in Jamestown. Carole Jo Anderson resides in Fort Pierce, Fla. Bob runs Aadvance Driver Training at the Willard Street location, which has been in the family since his grandfather bought it in 1944.