Thursday, October 27, 2016

Schenectady Sluggers, Part 3: Joseph "Pep" Cassillo and His Outdoor Boxing Ring in the East Front Street Neighborhood

This post was written by SCHS member Mary Ann Ruscitto. It is a continuation of the Schenectady Sluggers series which focuses on boxers in Schenectady. Here is Part 1 and Part 2.

As you may know or maybe you don’t know I live in my Grandfather Gaetano Ruscitto's house. This house has been in our family about 110 years! Living in this house and in the East Front St. neighborhood for the better part of my life I have heard the stories. I have heard the stories about the ALCO and all the foot traffic that was seen when the whistle blew signaling that the work day was done. I also heard the stories about how there used to be many taverns in the East Front Street area and how the guys from the ALCO would stop for a drink after work. I heard about the “bookie joint” on Jefferson St. and was told never to go into that building when I was a kid. I remember the trains coming down to Front St. and into Sheldon's hay grain and feed store and how there was a turn-about in the back of their property near the John St. Side. I can still hear my Mom saying to me “Don’t talk to the trainmen!!” But, they were so nice and they used to give us kids big pieces of chalk! 

Oh such great memories. What prompted this story is the request from Mike Maloney the Librarian/Archivist from the Schenectady County Historical Society (the hidden gem of Schenectady) I kept mentioning to him that there was an outdoor boxing ring on the eastside of Front St. has he ever seen any information on it. As I started thinking about the rumors of this outdoor ring I started remembering the stories I used to hear my Dad and his friends talk about and never really paid attention to until lately. My father and his friends talk about boxing. I can still remember them all gathering at our house, I believe it was on a Friday night, to watch the boxing matches on this little TV screen. They would have such a great time. Did you know that the first fight that was ever televised was aired here in Schenectady New York in the studios of WRGB!  As the Saratogian Reported on October 10, 1942; three Saratoga fighters win on first televised boxing card in history. They were Henry Johnson, Jimmy Beach, and Ben Dowen. Joseph “Pep” Cassillo arranged the bouts under the sponsorship of AAU and WRGB. “Pep” as he was known in and around boxing was the person who was instrumental in starting the outdoor boxing ring in the East Front St. neighborhood.

The pictures are from the personal scrap book of “Peps” wife Mary Casillo
As I grew older I realized that boxing had an even bigger presence in our neighborhood and in my life. My best friend Daniel Barone’s dad was a boxer! They lived right next door to us on Front St. I would hear the adults telling stories about boxing but really never paid attention. Because in 1947 when Tony Barone was boxing Danny and I were just mere infants! As I asked the questions to prepare for this story I found out that “Pep” was Tony’s trainer until he decided to go pro. 

Tony Barone
As The Kingston Daily Freemen, Kingston NY, Tuesday Evening May 13, 1947 edition reported with
a headline that “ROCKY GRAZIANO TO ATTEND LOCAL BOXING CARD” The newspaper goes on to say that “indications that there will be a capacity crowd at the Tony Barone-Eddie Morton match here Thursday night and among the fans at the ringside in the municipal auditorium will be ROCKY GRAZIANO. The contender for the middleweight championship of the world told a Freemen sports writer that he will attend the local fistic show to take a peek at Tony Barone. It seems that the Schenectady Welterweight’s ability to reach the finals in the national AAU tournament at Boston has been acting as a magnet in drawing the attention of men in the professional field.

The KINGSTON DAILY FREEMEN goes on to report that on Friday Evening May 16, 1947 Rocky Graziano shows up for the Barone-Mortan fracas. He sat quietly through the pre-lims but left during the semi-finals. Had he remained he would have witnessed a contest that for sheer intensity, ferocity and cold-blooded dramatics was without parallel in amateur boxing. Barone chopped the deciding bout in the three with Morton by a split decision. The paper states that when the final records of classic boxing brawls is written you will find the match between Tony Barone and Eddie Morton close to the top of the list. 

Mary, Pep, and Angie
Now this leads me to another person in my life that I have heard stories about and just never paid much attention to. You know that old saying is “if I could just sit down with these people one more time and hear the stories.” Anyway, my Godparents Alfred and Angelina (Maiello) Villano had family that they were very close to. Their names were Joseph “PEP” and Mary (Maiello) Cassillo. I would hear the conversations about boxing but never paid attention.

Mary Cassillo, “Peps” wife and my Godmother Angie were Sisters some people said they looked like twins. They were two short little munchkins that were very attractive and adored their husbands. Pep was a man of strong build and I remember him to be very quiet and attentive to his wife and children. They had four children, Marilyn (Cassillo) Cardinal, and Paul, Donna, and Joe Cassillo. 

This article is from the private collection of Mary Cassillo “Pep Cassillo's
wife it was not noted who wrote this.
Joseph “Pep” Cassillo’s life started in the East Front St. Neighborhood at 320 Front St. His mother lived on Madison St. and “Pep” with his wife Mary when they first got married lived on Front St. Their daughter Marilyn was born on Front St. and as his family grew he moved to Avenue A in Schenectady, NY and then on to Maple Ave. in Glenville NY.

Marilyn Cassillo Cardinal and Joe Cassillo at the Erie Blvd Arena
The way Paul Cassillo (“Peps” youngest son) tells the story to me is that the house at 320 Front St. was a two family house his Uncle and Aunt Andy and Mary Cassillo lived up and his Father and Mother lived downstairs and the property behind this house extended to Erie Blvd. This property is in the area next to the old Coyne Laundry which is now a vacant piece of property. This is where the Erie Boulevard Arena was located. There used to be a bath house at 1311 Erie Blvd that the boxers would use to prepare for their fights. Then they would go from the bath house to the boxing ring.

Articles from Mary Cassillo's Scrapbook.
This outdoor boxing ring would draw large crowds as the Union Star reported; "Johnny Linsey stepped into the ring against Freddy Bala of Amsterdam and stopped the rugged Army private in 36 seconds of the last round in the five-round feature of the Bucci A.C.’s weekly amateur boxing show before the biggest crowd of the year at the packed Erie Boulevard Arena."

Another headline states “a capacity crowd is expected to turn out for the Bucci A.C.’s all star benefit amateur boxing show for Joe Nagorka at the Erie Boulevard arena. The entire proceeds of the card will be given to Nagorka, former popular amateur and pro boxer here who is now recovering from a serious illness. Headliner for this five-rounder was between Schenectady’s Johnny Mazzonable and Allen Huriburt of Westmoreland and Jim Dooley Beats Lem Thomas."

Pep's son Paul told me that they used to sell bags of peanuts for 10 cents and soda for 10 cents. Oh where do I stop so many stories with so many boxers and so much that Joseph “Pep” Cassillo contributed to in boxing and to the City of Schenectady. I can go on and on with pages and pages of info. But, I think I need to close this story. The Erie Blvd. Boxing Ring was closed in 1947 after the owner Mary Cassillo decided to use land for other purposes. Pep Cassillo along with the many positions he held also became the commissioner of boxing. “Pep” and his wife Mary started Ring 26. His wife Mary would work right along side of her husband. I remember Mary sitting at her kitchen table with piles of paper all around her preparing for the next boxing match.

In 1969 the Veterans Boxing Association Ring No. 26 elected Pep to be their President. One of the stories I found was from The Knickerbocker News which reported on Feb. 26, 1968: 

“200 Attend Servo Fete, More than 200 people attended a benefit dinner for Marty Servo last night in Schenectady. The event was sponsored by Ring 26 of the Veterans' Boxing Association and held at the Sons of Italy Hall.  Servo, the Schenectadian who won the w o r l d welterweight crown, is seriously ill in Colorado.  The money will be used to help defray medical expenses.  Phillip Schuyler High principal, Ben Becker, a leading boxing figure, was the main speaker. Ring 26 president Joseph “Pep” Cassillo was program chairman.”

Joseph “Pep” Cassillo was a good man who was passionate about boxing, his City of Schenectady and people in general. He helped many young people thru his boxing experiences and the coaching program that he started at the WMCA. He also was one of the coaches of the 1982 US Olympic boxing team.

For me personally I remember as the years came upon all of them “Pep” his wife Mary and my Godmother Angie (Mary Cassillo’s Sister) they would like to go and play bingo at the Sons of Italy that was located on Liberty Street at the time. First it would be Me, Mary and Angie and then as “Pep” became more frail he would join his wife and all of us to play bingo. I remember that the Alzheimer’s was setting in and he would need help with finding the numbers on his bingo card. So I would sit next to him and help him out. I remember when he would see me walk in he would put a big smile on his face and say “here comes my bingo buddy” come sit by me. Good memories of all them and I consider myself blessed to have had them in my life and “Pep” as my friend.


  1. Great reading, thank you Mary Ann.

  2. My name is Joe Casella and I won 4 Golden Gloves Titles and owe all my boxing success to Pep Cassillo.

  3. Mary, Thanks so much for posting this article. Joey Cassillo and I were best friends in junior high school. I often ate dinner with the Cassillo family when they lived on Avenue A. Pep was a hero to me because of all his sports activities. And Mary was a wonderful cook. More than once, Joey and I snuck into their cold cellar, grabbed a jar of her wonderful pickled pepper and eggplant, sat out in the back yard and ate the whole jar! Is Joey still living? Where is he living?

    1. Hi Bob, Mary wrote this article but didn't post it. I'd be glad to pass this message on to her.

    2. Please let Bob know I am alive and live in Port Orange Florida. Hope he will reach out my email is Thanks Joe Cassillo This article is wonderful!

  4. This is my mother's family. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Great article, my husband is Dan Barone Tony Barone's son and really enjoyed reading this. The one photo of the boxer is Tony Barone not Rocky. Thanks to Mary Ann for sharing all the info

    1. I just realized that the name under that picture was wrong! I didn't put that name there. Sorry

  6. Do we have a current contact for Ring 26. Former member that would like to sign up. Thanks.