Father’s Day Makeover 2013: Son’s letter shows admiration, appreciation for what Hollidaysburg man has done for his family

There was one constant refrain throughout the day: “I don’t feel like I did anything special.”

But to his son, everything that he’s done for his family makes Domenic “Nick” Cecere Jr. something very special.

Nick was chosen as the winner of the Altoona Mirror’s 2013 Father’s Day Makeover, based on a nomination letter from his son, Domenic Cecere III.

Nick, 48, of Hollidaysburg, is the father of three boys: Domenic III, 25; Nathaniel, 22; and Benjamin, 5. According to Domenic’s nomination letter, Nick’s childhood in Gallitzin got tough when his mother died when he was just 14. Domenic wrote: “Still heartbroken and not knowing what to do after graduating from Bishop Carroll High School in 1982, he enlisted in the Air Force.”

Nick spent four years in the Air Force, much of it stationed in Greece. Once he left the service, he came home and started a family with Domenic and Nathaniel’s mother, and he got a job at SCI Cresson. He also began serving in the National Guard (he retired in 2005, after 22 years). When he and the boys’ mother divorced, Nick became a single parent.

According to Domenic, “We lived in a cramped, two-room apartment in Gallitzin, where we would eat, sleep and play on the floor in one area. He always made sure we were happy and had what we needed. He always put family first.”

Nick married his second wife, Heather, in 2003 and they had Ben. But, Domenic wrote, “He never neglected us. Even now, he is there for myself and my two brothers.”

On June 7, Nick was treated to a day of relaxation and a slew of gifts from local businesses as part of his Father’s Day Makeover. Accompanied by Heather and Domenic, Nick showed up at the Mirror that Friday afternoon still hesitant about what was to come.

As Nick and his family settled into a limobus provided by Freedom Excursions, he tried to sum up his emotions.

“I don’t know how to feel,” he said. “Was mine the only entry?”

The first stop was Planet Fitness, where manager Ron Heckel presented Nick with a three-month membership, with personal training sessions and a tanning package.

Nick, already a Planet Fitness member, told Heckel that he hadn’t been able to work out since Easter because of an injury. On Easter weekend, he and Domenic put together a basketball hoop as a surprise gift for Ben. Domenic had to leave for work and Nick finished things up.

“I was moving it behind the shed, to hide it, and when I was moving it, the wheels kicked out,” Nick said. “It fell and it tore my bicep. I had to have surgery to get it fixed. I’m in occupational therapy and then physical therapy.”

After hearing his story, Heckel put a “freeze” on Nick’s account until he was able to work out again. That was good news for Nick.

“I’ve been laying around gaining weight,” he said, with a laugh.

On the way to his second stop, at Razor’s Edge in Greenwood, Nick talked about his job, as a lieutenant at SCI Benner Township in Bellefonte, where he moved when SCI Cresson closed. He has 23 years in as a guard and plans to retire after 25 years.

“I’m looking forward to that,” he said. “The shame is that I had to uproot things and move to [SCI Benner Township]. It’s a big change. It’s been an adjustment.”

His service in the military and his role in law enforcement has a clear root.

“It goes back to the role model that my dad was in World War II, then working the railroad all his life,” he said. “I had a pretty good role model. … I’m fortunate that he’s still with us; he’s 87.”

Nick’s father, Domenic Sr., suffers from dementia and lives at the Hollidaysburg Veterans’ Home. Prior to his makeover day, Nick arranged it so that his day of gifts would end with a family visit with his father.

At Razor’s Edge, Nick sat down with owner Michael DeGennaro and expressed his concern about what could possibly be done with his hair. Shortly before being notified that he won the makeover, he had gotten his hair cut short.

Taking a look at Nick’s graying hair, DeGennaro decided that a little color would be their only option, something Nick quickly agreed to: “It’s the only thing they could’ve done.”

“We’ll blend out the gray,” DeGennaro said. “I’m not gonna get rid of all of it.”

While watching Nick get coloring brushed into his hair, Domenic and Heather said they were excited to see him get treated.

“I took it as, this isn’t just about a makeover,” Domenic said as he watched his father proudly. “It’s a pampered day for all he’s done. He deserves it.”

As he sat waiting for the coloring to set, Nick again expressed his concern that he didn’t deserve the treatment.

“I can’t be any different from anybody else,” he said. “I do appreciate it, though. I couldn’t turn it down. That would be disrespectful to my son, too.”

Nick also talked about his relationship with his older sister, Lynne, and the bond they created when his mother died in 1979.

“Our lives changed when my mother passed away. We got real close,” he said. “My sister, she stepped up. She was 17 years old and she had responsibilities. … She had a lot thrown at her. She deserves recognition.”

Stop number three was Dorman’s Jewelers on Pleasant Valley Boulevard in Altoona.

During the short ride there, Nick, Heather and Domenic began discussing his upcoming shopping spree at J.C. Penney. Heather had apparently wanted him to relax and simply wear flip-flops.

“We’ve tried this before, shopping together,” Nick said, with a glance at Heather. “She says, ‘Go pick out an outfit and bring it to me.’ And I’ll go [look] and say, ‘I like this. I like this. This looks pretty cool.’ And I’ll take it to her and she’ll say…”

“That’s not that cool,” Heather finished, as everyone laughed.

At Dorman’s, owner Mike Dorman helped Nick pick out a new dress watch: a solar-powered Citizen Eco-Drive, which is billed to never need a new battery. Upon making his selection, Nick asked Dorman what the watch is worth.

“This one retails for $295,” he replied.

Nick’s jaw literally dropped: “You’ve gotta be kidding me! That is not a work watch. Wow.”

The next stop was at Say It With Sweets to pick up a cookie basket, gift certificate and a half dozen gourmet cupcakes from owner Sharon Ebersole, followed immediately by a visit to the Altoona Curve offices at Peoples Natural Gas Field.

Nick said he and his family go to a few Curve games each year, and he’s thinking about getting season tickets once he retires.

“For around here? It’s great,” he said. “I come here to eat. (laughs) I’m just kidding. I enjoy the games, too.”

Curve general manager Rob Egan came out to meet Nick and his family and presented him with four Diamond Club tickets, which could be redeemed at any time during the summer for seats at field level.

On the way to J.C. Penney, Nick seemed somewhat nervous about the shopping segment of the day, Nick looked at his family and said: “What do you have in mind?”

Heather expressed a desire to get him an outfit for their upcoming beach vacation.

In Penney’s, manager Bill Crouse presented Nick with his gift card and handed him off to sales representative Diane Yeager.

“What would you like to see him in today?” Yeager said to Heather with a smile.

The consensus among the family was that Nick should get into something in the “dress casual” area. And definitely something with a little color.

“I’m drab,” Nick said, with an embarrassed smile.

Yeager took charge, directing the overwhelmed dad around the store, eventually grabbing plaid shorts, some colorful V-neck shirts and – a bit begrudingly from Nick – brown flip-flops.

But Nick was happy with his overall look – even though he didn’t want to shop much more. He went home with just under $200 left on his gift card.

“I like it,” he said. “I wouldn’t buy it by myself. But I’ll be all right with it.”

The next stop was an early dinner at Jethro’s in Altoona where Nick had a chicken and steak combo and a plate of fried zucchini.

He again expressed doubt that he deserved the day’s gifts.

“I’m sure that there’s someone else that could use these gifts I’m being given,” he said. “I was even hesitant to agree with this. I was trying to figure out how to donate some of this.”

When told that everyone had the opportunity to submit their father for the makeover, he shrugged and expressed his gratitude.

After being presented with a $25 gift certificate by Jethro’s server Lindsay Danella, it was off to the day’s final stop at the Veterans Home.

Heather’s mother brought Ben to meet them, and Nathaniel drove over.

At the facility’s Arnold Hall, Nick went in to get Domenic Sr. and brought him out to the limobus, which delighted him.

The WWII veteran was all smiles, joking and laughing with everyone and hugging his family warmly.

He loved sitting in the limobus and was very grateful to see his family.

“I’m so happy about everything,” Domenic Sr. said. “I have one of the most wonderful families in the world, ever. A lot of people are missing things, but I have everything, with my family.”

After a picture with Domenic Sr., Nick and all the boys, the day was done.

“I’m glad we coordinated it to get all these guys here for the picture,” Nick said. “[My father] is the reason for this.”

After an “after” picture at the Mirror office, Nick’s day in the spotlight was over.

“What [Domenic III] did, I’m appreciative,” he said. “Non-deserving. I don’t feel like I did anything extra special. I’m humbled.”

Mirror Staff Writer Keith Frederick is at 946-7466.