In the five years that the Fulton Library has been sponsoring its Memoir Project, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about many former and current Fulton residents who’ve gone the extra mile to support our community. As people share memories, some names keep coming up, and based on the number of times Nunzi Fichera has been mentioned, I would say he is one of our city’s most fondly-remembered Fultonians.
Nunzi was the son of Joseph and Angelina Fichera, who had a muck farm just outside the city of Fulton, and he worked on that farm from his youngest days. Among Nunzi’s duties were regular trips to the Syracuse Farmers Market. His sister, Mary Stancampiano, told me that when her brother was in high school, he’d work the Market most weekdays. “Nunzi would get up about three a.m., get ready and head out,” Mary explained. “As soon as he sold everything, he would head directly to school. To make it in time for his first class, I would bring his books to school and meet him in his homeroom.”
Nunzi took the strong work ethic he learned as a youngster and turned it into a successful career as a real estate broker. First working for Quinn’s Real Estate, a Fulton agency, he eventually ended up with his own office on East Broadway. It was while working for Quinn’s that Nunzi began his other “career,” one that never earned him money, but endeared him to so many Fultonians. When Quinn’s Real Estate agreed to sponsor one of our city’s youth basketball teams, Nunzi stepped up to become the team’s coach.
Hundreds of Fultonians have great memories of Nunzi’s supportive style of coaching. Back when longtime Fulton sports supporter Don Smith was a youngster, in the 1940s and ‘50s, the only way to play organized basketball was to be selected for the high school team. But thanks to the dedicated volunteer work of adults like Nunzi, Don was able to participate in an alternative intramural program. Here’s how Don remembered that experience:
“Of all the things I ever accomplished, playing on a successful basketball team was probably my happiest. Ricky Castorina coached us our freshman year and Nunzi was our coach after that. In our junior year, Nunzi’s coaching took our team to a JV tournament. There were seven teams, including the top high school teams and the top intramural team – and we had the top intramural team.”
The pride of being on a successful basketball team was something many of the youth Nunzi coached got to experience, including those involved with the Catholic Basketball League. On Sunday afternoons, parish teams from around Oswego County would compete against each other at Oswego Catholic High’s St. Francis Hall. Those who participated in those games say they can still hear the roar of the crowds that filled the Hall.
Jerry Schremp, who ended up coaching thousands of children through Fulton’s Knee-Hi basketball program, got his start with the sport through Nunzi’s Catholic League coaching. Jerry played for Holy Family as a guard and when he was a sixth grader, he was lucky enough to make Nunzi’s 7th and 8th grade team. “Nunzi would pile 10 or 12 kids in his car to take us to our games,” Jerry remembered. “Afterwards, he would take the whole team down to Foster’s for ice cream. There were a lot of good memories from Nunzi.”
Marty Gillard, another Holy Family basketball player, would agree. “Nunzi got the most out of everybody,” Marty said. “We beat teams all the time that we shouldn’t have, but we did. After I became an adult and started coaching, I used to visit him at his office. He had pictures of his teams up – I can’t tell you how many there were – but Nunzi could name every kid in order.”
Mike Pollock was one of those kids who benefited from Nunzi’s guidance. Mike met him early in life when Nunzi sold the Pollock family a house. The Pollocks were communicants at Holy Family Church and Mike remembers Nunzi helping to run the church’s very popular bazaar: “Everything about Nunzi was community and family. He loved his church and he loved the sports programs for the kids. The time he donated was just unbelievable.”
Mike first got to experience Nunzi’s coaching through our city’s CYO, which had a popular basketball program. Over the many years that Nunzi coached, as Mike noted, “he was like a father to a lot of us. My father died when I was pretty young and Nunzi took me under his wing. I started playing when I was in 6th grade. It was really a 7th and 8th grade league, but Nunzi let me play. There were the Sunday games and then two days a week we practiced at the War Memorial.”
Nunzi devoted his life to our community and youth sports. Even when he was caring for his aging mother on a small farm near Curtis Street, he stayed as involved with sports as he could. After his death, in 1993, people may have thought his passion for helping youth would have ended, but that’s not what happened. Angelo Caltabiano, of the Fulton Kiwanis Club, explains:
“After Nunzi passed, he left money to be used for Fulton youth basketball programs. Each March, in cooperation with The Fulton Savings Bank, who issues the money prizes, a free throw shooting contest is conducted. Any child can participate and Fulton Knee-Hi Basketball coordinates and conducts the preliminary rounds. Because Nunzi was a member of Kiwanis, current Kiwanis members volunteer to help with the final round of this contest.”
How fortunate we are to have had Nunzi Fichera in Fulton. Of all his contributions to our community, this one, told by Mike Pollock, really struck a chord in me: “Nunzi was always good about giving common sense to people. ‘Try to do the right thing’ was his motto. It wasn’t really about basketball; it was about teaching you to do what’s right. That’s what Nunzi always did.”
Photo: Nunzi Fichera, back row, left, who taught basketball and other valuable life lessons to many Fulton youth.