One group and nine individuals were recognized for their work by Mayor Ann Thane at a ceremony at Amsterdam City Hall on Thursday evening. Thane presented a plaque and proclamation to each recipient.
“This is really a huge honor for me to recognize people in this community that have done extraordinary work on our behalf and for other people around the world,” said Thane. “I can name 25 people off the top of my head, beyond who I am recognizing today who are deserving of the key to the city, because that’s the kind of community the City of Amsterdam has.”
Thane said each of the recipients embodied the city’s “small city, big heart” motto by showing compassion, love, generosity, and selfless service.
The first award was for Dr. Tom Catena, a Catholic missionary serving at Mother of Mercy Hospital in a war-torn region of the Nuba Mountains in Sudan.
Although Catena had recently returned to Amsterdam, he had since traveled back to Sudan and the award was accepted on his behalf by his parents, Gene and Nancy.
Catena’s father said, “I just wanted you to know that Tom has been humbled by the outpouring of support that he has received…he’s just so thankful and happy for what you all have done for him.”
Next, Thane recognized Dr. Govind Rao. She mentioned his involvement with The Rao Center, home of the Walter Elwood Museum, as well as the Rao Outpatient Pavilion, but also added, “I know of so much that’s going on behind the scenes, that is rather private, it’s just so heartwarming.”
With his wife Jyothi at his side, Rao said, “I came to Amsterdam in 1972 and Amsterdam has been a wonderful community.” He said that his father, a teacher, taught him the value of a good education.
“When I came to this country in 1964, believe me, I only had four dollars in my pocket and I came with two suitcases from India. And the only asset I had was my education,” said Rao.
The next recipient was Gerard DeCusatis. Thane said that because of DeCusatis’ work for the past eight years as Corporation Counsel, the city’s budget realizes $2 million in savings and revenue every year.
Robert DiCaprio was recognized for serving 16 years on the city planning commission, and for his involvement in the Capital Region Land Bank.
Sherri Crouse was recognized for her efforts in organizing the Spring Fling and Farmer’s Market.
Vincent Fiorillo was recognized for nearly 30 years of service on the city zoning board and for his work in raising money for suicide prevention.
Phillip Lyford was recognized for his various volunteer efforts including graffiti cleanup, city-wide trash cleanups, and tutoring neighborhood children.
Barbara Neznek was recognized for her involvement with youth at the Creative Connections arts center, including the community garden project, tutoring, and other events.
Rob von Hasseln was recognized for his work as Community and Economic Development Director and City Historian.
Finally, the Historic Amsterdam League was recognized for their efforts to call attention to the city’s historic structures. The award was accepted by Jerry Synder, president of HAL.
(Photos by Tim Becker)