Veteran public servant planning to step aside

BELLWOOD – When Raymond Amato announced in January he planned to step down as chairman of Antis Township’s Board of Supervisors at year’s end, some took the news with a grain of salt.

The 78-year-old Amato has served more than 32 years as a supervisor, having spent the past 12 years as chairman. He will continue to serve as supervisor through 2015 when his term ends.

Antis Township’s youngest supervisor, 32-year-old Charles “C.J.” Caracciolo II, said he’s known Amato his entire life and can’t picture the board without him at the helm.

“He deserves retirement,” Caracciolo said, “but I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Perhaps some people have such a hard time accepting Amato’s upcoming resignation because he wears other hats, as well.

He’s Blair County Planning Commission secretary, Northern Blair Recreation Center vice president, Blair County park authority vice president, Bellwood-Antis Park and Recreation Authority board president, Dry Hollow Hunting Camp officer, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church finance president and a governor’s advisory board member.

He also volunteers two days a week at a local St. Vincent DePaul food pantry.

After ticking off the exhaustive list using both hands, the 78-year-old Amato looked down at his outstretched fingers.

How did he get involved in so many projects?

“They know I won’t say no,” he said, laughing. “Anybody who asks me to do something, I’ll do it.”

According to Amato, one of his biggest achievements was rehabilitating the Bellwood-Antis park. He said when he started, there was only a caved-in swimming pool and one pavilion.

Working with the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and fundraising within the community, the park soon opened a $500,000 swimming pool and has completed three pavilions. A fourth pavilion is “in the works,” he said.

Caracciolo serves on the township’s Park and Recreation Committee and said by the time he obtained the position, much of the work already was done.

“The park alone … that was all him,” Caracciolo said of Amato.

Sue Johnson, who’s worked with Amato for at least 15 years on the park authority, said he keeps the area running and is the Bellwood-Antis community’s pulse.

“He takes everything to heart. Everything’s personal,” she said.

And if a problem with the park pops up in between meetings, he’s the one who fixes it. “He’s there all the time,” she said.

State Rep. Jerry Stern, R-Martinsburg, said when he began representing northern Blair County in 2002, Amato helped him get to know his new constituents by inviting him to meetings and local events.

“I hit the ground running,” he said, but Amato “made the transition – for me – very seamless.”

The two have worked together over the years on sewer and infrastructure issues, he said, and these accomplishments resonate with people and business leaders who need to travel every day.

Amato pointed specifically to new bridges built across the township as well as road turns that were straightened in Pinecroft along Old Sixth Avenue. Many of these projects came at no cost to Antis residents and didn’t require a tax increase, he said.

Stern, who said he was friends with Amato long before he became his state representative, said Amato’s knowledge and dedication to community service helps them work together to “make good things happen” in the area.

Don Belsey, St. Vincent DePaul Society food pantry director, said it goes against his very nature to compliment people, but it was easy to describe Amato: sincere, determined, aggressive, likeable – but mostly, professional.

And “his truthfulness is furious,” Belsey said, and Amato really knows how to read people.

“His mantra, it’s not ‘me, me, I, I,'” Belsey said. “It’s ‘we.'”

So it’s no surprise that Amato is so busy, Belsey said. If someone asks Amato to do something or he himself has a project in mind, it’ll get done.

One of Amato’s latest achievements is a policy that calls for rotating the chairmanship of the Antis board, which supervisors approved unanimously in March.

He said the job is a rewarding one but is also his most time-consuming. Now younger people need to get involved, he said.

Once Amato steps down, the township manager or another officer will draw up a slate of officers for nomination. The vice chairman would be nominated as chairman, and the senior-most supervisor would take the vice chairman’s place.

The positions would then rotate accordingly to ensure no supervisor serves as chairman more often than every five years.

The policy was Amato’s brainchild. He said all should have a chance to lead, and it might be a way to attract younger people to politics, knowing they won’t be pushed aside.

“I ask the people of Antis township to consider, if they have the time and are interested in the township, to please run for public office,” he said. “We need young people.”

Looking forward to a bit more free time, Amato said he plans to spend a lot of it with his wife of 55 years, Joyce, and his large family.

“They’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” he said.

He’s also going to spend more time four-wheeling, hunting, making wine, playing bocce ball and growing tomatoes, kohlrabi, garlic and peppers in his garden.

“I’m a typical Italian,” he laughs. “I’m going to do a little bit of what I want to do.”

The thought of relinquishing the chairmanship isn’t one he dwells on, he said. And when his term ends in 2015, Amato said he doesn’t plan to seek re-election.

He said he wants to thank all of the people who helped him over the years. Some of his decisions might not have been the most popular, but he said he hopes the taxpayers understand he always had their best interests in mind.

“I just did my very best in this lifetime, with whatever I did.”

Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.