BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
John and Dolores Lodico met as Nyack residents in the 1940s while still in high school.
They fell in love, married in 1951 following his discharge from the Army, and eventually settled in New City, in a home they built themselves on Birch Lane, and where they still reside happily to this day.
To celebrate successfully reaching their 80s, and their 64th wedding anniversary next week (March 25), their three children and large extended family threw a huge celebration recently at a Warwick catering hall, attended by nearly a hundred relatives including children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, cousins, three generations of nieces and nephews and all of their spouses, as well as family friends and neighbors.
The highlight of the event, in addition to watching the guests of honor dance to their wedding song, “Peg O’ My Heart” by a Pat Boone impersonating crooner, was the distribution of a Lodico family memoir book appropriately titled “Always Room for One More.”
The title of the book, chosen by all three children who helped create it, was the obvious choice from the start, daughter Linda Lodico Stambaugh said, because it represents her parents overarching philosophy of life. No matter how dire, crowded or even desperate things appeared at any given time, in their loving family home there was “always room for one more” person, to move in and share the space and the meals and the love and the support of John and Dolores Lodico, a tradition that continues to this day.
Many Rocklanders probably know John from his half-century as a local electrical contractor or for his political endeavors in Clarkstown as well as county, state and national election campaigns. Others may know him through his charitable work, through his clubs, his civic and service organization affiliations, chairing the restoration committee for the Dutch Gardens park in New City, his prescient interest in garbage and recycling or countless other projects he devoted himself to.
He was also a pioneer in the Italian settlement in Rockland County, when they were few and far between and often shunned and discriminated against in the days leading up to World War II. Many Americans in the 1930s and 40s placed Italians in the same category as Germans and Japanese, people who couldn’t be trusted and, under Mussolini, bent on destroying American democracy through alliances with Hitler and Tojo.
John’s parents emigrated to America in the early 1900’s for a better life, his father from a poor Sicilian Italian family and his mother from a middle class English one. They met in 1909 when both escaped New York City tenements to work at a Catholic convent in Ossining, his father as a gardener and maintenance man and his mother as a housemaid.
After four years of courting, they married in 1913 (in an Episcopal church after a local Nyack priest refused to perform the ceremony because the bride-to-be was not a baptized Catholic) and moved across the river to a rented house on Perry Lane in Upper Nyack (later owned by famed screenwriter Ben Hecht). Ironically, the convent they left under less than fond memories, immediately asked them to take in a nun who had become pregnant, allegedly by the same priest. They gladly accepted and housed and cared for her until she delivered, and was then brought back to the convent, minus child).
The Lodico’s then concentrated on having a family of their own. Eventually they had eight, of which John was the-next-to-last, born July 11, 1928. To accommodate this large brood, they eventually bought their own home on Ellen Street, where John grew up and attended the Nyack public schools. Nicolo Lodico was a ship’s carpenter at Pedersen’s Boatyard in Upper Nyack.
After World War I, when work slowed at that facility because of the end of military contracts, Nicolo continued there part-time but also branched out to become a general mason, carpenter, plumber and electrician hiring himself out to families in the Nyack and Upper Nyack area. His mother, Eliza Powell, worked as a domestic for neighboring families, doing housecleaning, laundry, food preparation and childcare. Among their frequent customers was famed actress Helen Hayes, for who both worked on a regular basis, including helping rear her son, actor Jamie McArthur, who later became the star of the TV series “Hawaii 5-0.”
Apprenticing himself to his father and assisting on those home improvement jobs is where John learned the construction trades, and became particularly entranced with electrical work.
He also joined Empire Hook and Ladder Fire Company at age 15 (they lowered the age requirement because most members were drafted to fight in World War II), had several part-time jobs, and began dating fellow Nyack High School student Dolores Tapp of Nanuet. After volunteering and serving in the Army during the Korean War, Lodico was discharged and immediately proposed to Dolores. They married shortly after his return to the U.S. on March 25, 1951.
Dolores was born in 1931 to parents who had both been orphaned as children, and was raised by various relatives when divorce, separation and mysterious illness-related deaths kept taking their toll on their caregivers and they were shifted from household to household. From Virginia and Iowa, her parents eventually settled in Bergen County. They later crossed the border to live in Monsey and Spring Valley, and eventually settled in Nanuet, where Dolores was raised.
Her father was a bus driver and her mother worked for a local pocketbook manufacturer. Since Nanuet had no high school of its own then, students were given the choice of going to Spring Valley, Pearl River or Nyack. Because her older brother, whom she adored, was already attending Nyack she followed suit. It was there she met John, three years her senior, and the rest, as they say, was history.
A natural workaholic like John, Dolores took secretarial courses in high school (saying the only “acceptable” courses for girls on those days were clerical or nursing, but rarely college or higher degrees).
Her first job following graduation was as as a switchboard operator at Consolidated Stamp and she worked her way up to exec secretary to the Vice President of the company secretary in Spring Valley, where she eventually rose to executive secretary of the company.
A decade later she decided to “retire” to be a stay-at-home mom to their three children leaving John as the sole breadwinner. She soon yearned to work again and took a part-time job at Nyack Hospital, from which she was stolen by then-Clarkstown Supervisor George Gerber who hired her as secretary in the town controller’s office. She stayed there for decades too, eventually retiring a few years ago as deputy town controller.
A Home at Last
When they were married in 1951 John and Dolores lacked a home of their own and insufficient funds to rent one. To exist until they got on their financial feet, John and Dolores took turns living with both of their parents for several months, and when they could afford it rented small apartments whenever and wherever they became available. Saving their meager earnings, they eventually were able to buy a vacant lot on Birch Lane in New City for $2,500. With help from relatives, they spent the next 14 months hand building their own home there, completed in 1958, where they still live happily today.
The home is not large or fancy, but as both John and Dolores and their children, and they extended families can all attest; whenever a Lodico or a Tapp need a place to stay for whatever reason, there is “Always Room for One More” in that New City ranch home nestled in the woods.
They came by the dozens to the book unveiling party at daughter Linda Lodico’s Warwick condominium project recently, and all waited anxiously until the musician began crooning 1950s and ‘60s hits and then struck the golden notes of “Peg O’ My Heart,” and the couple of honor took to the dance floor.
Everyone was breathless at first, and then broke into wild applause and congratulatory greetings and best wishes before taking to the dance floor themselves in what can only be described as an orgy of bee-bop, swing, hip hop, rock-and-roll and 50 years of popular music compressed into an hour reminiscing with their feet, arms and bodies all at the same time.
When that part was over, family, guests and friends took turns recalling their fondness for John and Dolores, and especially their memories of how the couple would take in stranded relatives whenever the need arose, and for whatever reason, with no questions asked.
All they gave was love, and all they got back was love, several noted, calling the Lodicos one of the most remarkable couples they had ever known, or even heard about.
While Dolores was a clerical worker and administrator and a homemaker most of her life, John was a tradesman, specializing in electrical installations.
He initially learned at the feet of his father, a general contractor, but had specialized in residential and commercial electrical work while still a teenager. He went into business with his wife’s brother, Larry Tapp, and for several years co-led the firm of Lodico and Tapp, which grew to become the largest non-union electrical contractor in Rockland County.
They later separated and both continued under their own names. Fiercely independent and anti-union in a union-dominated field, John eventually founded the Independent Contractors Association of Rockland County, of which he served as its first president.
His other big interest was politics.
John was socially liberal but politically conservative, and grew tired of what he viewed as “platitudes” spewed by Republicans and Democrats every election season, which were discarded as soon as the votes were counted. He was especially enamored with 1964 GOP Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, and grew increasingly annoyed at the New York State GOP’s disdain for the conservatively-oriented Arizona senator’s presidential bid.
To counter this pessimistic situation, Lodico and a group of friends formed the brand new Conservative Party of both Rockland County and New York State, which quickly grew to the third largest political party in the state. He also recruited a group of women, including his own non-political wife Dolores, to become “Goldwater Girls,” dressed in white cowgirl outfits and hats riding around the state in open convertibles trying to drum up grass root support for the beleaguered candidate.
In another stunt, the group leased the vacant Episcopal Church on South Main Street in New City (It had recently moved to a new building on Strawtown Road), painted it solid gold, and labeled it Rockland County’s “Goldwater Headquarters.”
The Rockland delegation also traveled around the county working in state primary campaigns on Goldwater’s behalf in 1963 and 1964, including the all-important New Hampshire primary, where they spent a week in Manchester going door-to-door, leafleting and caravanning on their candidate’s behalf.
Undeterred by Goldwater’s dramatic loss, Lodico turned his attention back home, and successfully ran as a Conservative for a four-year seat on the Clarkstown Town Board, where he served in the early 1970s.
It was at this point that he also became extremely interested in the environment and in conservation of natural resources, and took a particular interest in Clarkstown’s sanitary landfill, then on route 303 in West Nyack.
Lodico became the unofficial watchdog and official supervisor of the landfill both during his term on the council, and for several years thereafter, by appointment of successive town supervisors of both parties who sensed his strong commitment to running both an economically viable and environmentally sensitive operation at the much-maligned facility.
Yet another of Lodico’s commitments was the preservation of historic landmarks in Clarkstown, which were fast disappearing in the last quarter of the 20th century. He aligned himself with forces attempting to save the Huntington Hartford mansion on South Mountain Road in New City, a battle he eventually lost when it was demolished to construct a parking lot at High Tor State Park.
He was far more successful, however, in restoring the beleaguered Dutch Gardens in New City, a replica of a formal colonial Dutch garden built in the 1930’s behind the Rockland County Court House by renounced writer and historian Mary Mowbray Clarke. The gardens had won numerous prestigious national awards for three decades, but by the 1960’s had fallen into isolation and decay.
No one cared for them, the brick walls and structures were crumbling from neglect and vandalism, and the gardens themselves were dead and overgrown. Although owned by Rockland County, no department of government acknowledged responsibility. Instead of spending money on maintenance, upkeep or any form of restoration, the county just sealed it off from public view and use, and everyone quickly forgot it even existed.
Although John is now confined to a wheelchair most of the time because of leg and back problems, he and Dolores still happily reside on Birch Lane in New City, their home for the past six decades. They visit friends and family scattered all over the country from time to time, whenever invited or to escape the frigid local winters.
But as both said at the book party in Warwick, Rockland County is still their lifelong home, and they will always love it here and remain here. Both are now in their mid-‘80s but, echoing the book their family has so lovingly written about them, there is “Always Room for One More.”
Copies of the book are available from the Lodicos or from their children, especially Linda Lodico Stambaugh of Warwick, NY. It was edited by Nancy Shohet West of Massachusetts and published by Concord River Publishing, the family memoir division of Lodico & Company LLC, a marketing consulting company with a memoir service located at 60 McAllister Drive, Carlisle, M A 01741, or at their website: www.lodicoandco.com.