Frank Blesso

Francis Blesso was twenty-nine years old when a job called him from New Britain Connecticut to Paterson. That was in 1967 and he make Paterson his home. Blesso came as a civil engineer to help redevelop the city Paterson.

In this interview, Blesso recalls the vision and efforts of Mary Ellen Kramer to preserve the legacy of the city, including the Great Falls. He discusses redevelopment of the downtown Main Street area and the resurrection of the S.U.M. hydroelectric plant in 1985.

He also remembers events at the Great Falls and Hinchliffe Stadium.

 
 
 

Interview Transcript

Interviewer:

Today is Thursday, July 30, 2015. This is Barbara Krasner, oral history intern at the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park. And I am sitting at the park service in Paterson with Francis Blesso. How are you, Frank?

Blesso:

I'm fine.

Interviewer:

So I know we have a lot to talk about today. Thanks for filling out the forms. I did print out your narrative, and I've read that (from the website). That was great background. So let's just start with a general question. Tell me about your connection to Paterson.

Blesso:

Well, my connection to Paterson started in actually 1967. I was working at the New Britain Redevelopment Commission, working for the city's urban renewal program. And I was the engineer planner at Redevelopment Commission. And one day the Director came in and he had a letter addressed to him from a group in Paterson called Forward Paterson. And it was signed by Martin [?] who was the President and perhaps Chairman of the Broadway Bank building and the head of this civic organization called, actually a business organization, called Forward Paterson. And they've been involved with supporting the campaign of the new mayor Lawrence Kramer. Actually he was in office for about a year at the time. And he goes by Pat Kramer who is now very involved with the Advisory Commission for the National Park. And the letter was really a solicitation to the Director whose name was John O'Malley to come and look at the Redevelopment Program in Paterson. I don't know how they got his name, but they got his name. And he actually went for an interview, visited Paterson, and I guess on the second trip I came down also. And we looked around. But they were clearly interested in hiring him to run the Redevelopment Program. And so that by some time I think in November 1967 they hired John, and he came and started working at Britain. And he forwarded my name as his deputy redevelopment director. And when I got the offer of employment, at the same time I had been going with a young woman for some time, and we decided that this would be the point to get married. And so we got married up in northern Maine. I was living at the time in Hartford, Connecticut, but we got married in northern Maine on December 30, 1967. Went on our honeymoon to Jamaica with a stop of Miami at the end and then came back to Paterson. We flew into, we returned to Paterson, and got a room at the Alexander Hamilton Hotel which was still in business and still in fair operating condition. We were satisfied there. And we had a monthly rental. And that's how we got to Paterson. Within a short time we found an apartment after starting work the Redevelopment office. At the time, the Redevelopment Office was a division of the Paterson Housing Authority. They had a separate division of urban renewal, and they were faced with a significant problem with its funding, with the funding with the federal government. The federal government had put a moratorium on the federal funds that were available. There was about $60 million in federal funding that was tied up. It was tied up because the city had decided that before they started executing the redevelopment contracts, they wanted to make sure that there was a developer lined up and that they had a solid deal. And that really was not the way to do urban development and it was not the way that the HUD people required to implement a project that they were going to fund because when you apply for the funding, you have a plan that you're expected to carry out that plan. And so they ended up with a personal interview of John O'Malley. And once they were satisfied that the city had the capable staff to carry out the program, they lifted the moratorium and we started carrying out and buying properties and doing the things that we were supposed to do. At that time, the office was in the third floor of City Hall, and we, of course, got to know the mayor and all the people, the local government. Mayor Kramer, with the direction and help from the business community, had recruited professional people, not only for redevelopment but for the code enforcement position, for the finance position, and for a director of the public safety. And we were part of that group of professionals that came in. And some time, several months later in the same year, the mayor's wife Mary Ellen Kramer who was very active in a lot of the cultural activities for the city, very energetic and enthusiastic person, she came into the redevelopment office with several young graduate students from Columbia University. They were sent over by the Dean (I believe his name was James Marston Fitch) and he said, "Go over and take a look at the architecture, particularly the industrial architecture in Paterson around the falls. And this group came in to study that area, and Mary Ellen brought them to me because we had access to some of the maps and some of the information about the area. And so that's how I first got involved with the group. The group was led by an architect by the name of John Young. And at some time, maybe it was a few, I don't know if it was in existence at the time, but he formed a group called Urban Deadline and this was kind of an advocacy group for urban planning and for urban conditions in general. And this was the same type, the same period where Columbia University had a lot of I guess I'll call them radical movement, ended a lot of social justice concerns. And so he began working on the historic district inventory and the properties and preparing what became his master's thesis of a plan for Paterson for the historic district. In the meantime, of course, I'm working on carrying out the redevelopment work for the downtown. We were hired primarily for the downtown redevelopment. That's where the money was. That's where the HUD funding was. But we began getting involved with the historic district and John Young had done the research and helped in the preparation of a national register nomination to the Department of the Interior. And he prepared this nomination as a district. You could do nominations for a structure for a monument. But this was for I believe it was an eighty-nine acre-district that encompassed the great walls and the buildings around it. And part of the background for the justification for the district was that in Paterson there was a spectrum of industrial architecture that went back many decades that showed different types of industrial construction right up to the twentieth century. And that nomination form got, first of all, there was a question of who would sign the form. And Mary Ellen would not, did not want to be, could not be in the forefront of this application, and so we ended up that it was signed by someone from the library board, D. Stanton Hammond who was a renowned historian of Paterson, public school principal. I signed it as part of the redevelopment program. And the application got processed through the state. The state had to sign off on it as being eligible. And then one year later in 1970, I think it was in April, it got entered on the national register. In the meantime, as part of the redevelopment work, the mayor had signed off on a document that the DOT (New Jersey Department of Transportation) had presented that was called The Planning Map. And that set forth the ramps and the interchanges and how the downtown would be served. How there would be a connection from Interstate Route 80 which was under construction right through Paterson at the time and how that Route 80 would connect to Paterson and swing around. It was called the peripheral highway, and it would go actually right through the historic district and connect up to River Street and Paterson. The idea was this would provide access to the northern suburbs- Glen Rock and Ridgewood and so on Morgan County- and most of the business people were very excited about this and thought that this would be, I guess, I hate to use the word panacea but they thought it would be the panacea to the downtown area. And at the same time, we were being hit by [?] just opened, the [?] had been open for several years and the [?] were in bloom. And this peripheral highway was tied into the downtown redevelopment, what we were working on. And so that was my involvement in terms of my background as a civil engineer, actually licensed in Connecticut and New Jersey as an engineer but doing mostly administrative work in the redevelopment program.

Interviewer:

So how old were you to came to?

Blesso:

I was twenty-nine years old.

Interviewer:

Okay. And how was the downtown area presented to you?

Blesso:

Well, the downtown area was presented as in some sections it was really thriving. There was a section in Lower Main Street which even had its own business organization called The Downtown Merchants Association, kind of like a separate Chamber of Commerce. And that was a pretty active group. They had one of the prime movers in that group was a man by the name of Charlie Jacobs who was also, I think he was the mayor's campaign manager. And his property, however, was right in the alignment of the peripheral highway. So that property was going to be purchased by the highway department, and the redevelopment plan had land that could be designated for new retail construction. There was one block expected to be a potential site for this business was at that time called Jacobs 29.

Interviewer:

Oh, I've heard that. Yeah.

Blesso:

And so the business people were really excited about at this time I was now coming to Paterson, and the state had started, once the planning document was executed by the mayor, the state started buying up the properties.

Interviewer:

So Jacobs 29. Is that Jacobs?

Blesso:

Yes, it was on 29 Main St and that was right at the beginning of Main St close to the Passaic River. So it was clearly in the right of way where the peripheral highway would run along the river there.

Interviewer:

Okay. So…

Blesso:

Got any questions before I sort of keep rambling?

Interviewer:

No, I want you to do that because there's a story to tell there. So what challenges did you face?

Blesso:

We had the challenge in that, I had the challenge in that we were buying property in the redevelopment program which was a good plan. It was not a, at that time, there was a move away from total clearance projects. The downtown land was not a total clearance project. It was a significant clearance in one area of Ward St and other spot sections of the downtown, but it was not an old-fashioned wipe-out, relocate, wipe-out and then hope for a developer. And so that's, there was the trends in redevelopment to preservation or to certainly to rehabilitation. And the downtown plan was a substantial rehabilitation plan for the Main St area. And so that was something that certainly we were in support of.

Interviewer:

Okay. What was the general reaction to what you were doing?

Blesso:

I think in general the reaction in the downtown was positive. They had this money that had been sitting there and without, what HUD felt to be qualified staff to spend the money, and that's something that John O'Malley and I had a good record in terms of executing projects that there were a lot of regulations to follow. And we knew those regulations. We knew the book. We knew how to do things the proper way and so had a good reputation with HUD. And so in general I think we were greeted positively. In some of the other areas, where there was other redevelopment planned where there's always a concern for displacement, particularly if there's residential displacement.

Interviewer:

Eminent domain.

Blesso:

It was something that we were used to dealing with and in those sections we were able to accommodate the plan and move ahead. But most of our focus was in the downtown area at the time.

Interviewer:

And how would you know if you were successful?

Blesso:

Well, I guess the real test of success is being able to attract developers. That had been a challenge that we knew that there was interest from Charles Jacobs in becoming a developer. We knew there was interest in the Broadway Bank building in becoming a developer. And we did on the Ward St area that we cleared, we were able to get a developer for a good chunk of that property. That developer was going to be as many developments was going to be done in stages and so we were able to successfully sell the first phase in which the Broadway Bank became a major tenant in a new fourteen story building and parking garage. And so we had some physical signs of progress.

Interviewer:

So were you involved at all in the conversion of the mills?

Blesso:

At this point, no. At this point we're only working in the downtown area. But what had happened after the national register nomination got approved then the state highway department realized that there were certain triggers that were pulled in terms of doing environmental evaluations and in other studies that had to be performed so they had to stop their acquisition program and regroup. And the stopping of that program, in some cases, pleased people. In other cases, it hurt people. Some business owners had made plans to relocate or to go out of business and the state stopped the negotiations to buy them property so it was a very touchy situation. But the acquisition did stop. The acquisition program was going to, the state was going to buy, from the city, the raceway system. They of course couldn't the falls, but it was coming right through what we call the raceway which is a mile-long, three-level section. There's three separate tiers of a canal system that was developed in the early nineteenth century to power water to the mills. That was really the Hamiltonian vision of using the water from the great falls to power the mills and to become the cradle of industry in Paterson as America's first planned industrial city. Some people may dispute that, but I'll call it the first planned industrial city. That plan was originally conceived by I guess the concept by Alexander Hamilton who brought in [?] and that's pretty well known that he was brought in and had a very ambitious scheme and started to carry that out. And then there were some political problems in terms of cost concerns and so on. And he was dismissed and Peter Colt was brought in and did make some modifications so that the system was developed so that the first mill was able to receive water from the river through a raceway system and start as a cotton mill. So that raceway was going to be completely eliminated. The state had already bought one of the buildings from the city, bought old school two which was no longer in school use. It was used as the health department. And the state had bought that and purchased other properties in the right of way. The purchase because the acquisition program had stopped, the state had agreed to do other evaluations of how this took some time, a couple years, excuse me.

Interviewer:

Part two of Frank Blesso. Okay so we were talking about the raceway system.

Blesso:

So there were other activities going on in the district once the property was on the national register. Mary Ellen who had always been working with a group of local citizens got together a group at the same time the community college was going to build a county college actually in Wayne. They had purchased Wayne. And Mary Ellen and others had built an informal committee to try to put Paterson forth as the location for the community college. And I was invited to those committee meetings. And one of the ideas that developed under that committee meeting was to prepare a plan to propose that the college occupy the buildings in the historic district. And so that was one of the first efforts John Young helped in assembling that kind of plan. And at the same time Mary Ellen created the citizens group to assist in evaluating planning and development in this Great Falls district. Now that we have a district recognized nationally and the governing body of the city of Paterson at that time was the Board of Finance. And the Board of Finance designated the group that Mary Ellen was instrumental in creating, The Great Falls Development Corporation, as an advisory group to the city. That same group, again, I can't I guess over-stress the importance of Mary Ellen's influence in the district. The group decided to have a Labor Day festival celebrating the Great Falls. And that Labor Day of 1971 they celebrated an area that Mary Ellen had encouraged a lot of volunteers and actual contractors to clear an area at the top of the falls that had been kind of isolated, fenced in by the Passaic County Water Commission. And that area was cleared and improved and even sod was laid down and all through the efforts of Mary Ellen soliciting donations and assistance from other developers and contractors and to open that up at the first Great Falls Festival was held. And that was a big deal. It was a four-day event. Governor Cahill flew in on a helicopter landing at Hinchliffe Stadium for the opening ceremony. And it became the first of many years of celebrations of Labor Day. And the Labor Day was particularly picked because of a connection with Labor Day and Paterson which other people will talk about or have already talked about.

Interviewer:

Well, no one has talked about that yet, actually.

Blesso:

I'm not versed, but there is substantial evidence that the first Labor Day was created by someone involved in the Paterson Labor Movement.

Interviewer:

Oh, okay. I'll take a look at that. Okay, so there had been plans to do away with the raceway system. What happened then?

Blesso:

Well, those plans roughly stopped. All acquisitions ceased. And so that the city was left with some properties that were acquired and others which were not. It took a few years. I'm jumping ahead a couple of years. But once the acquisition had stopped, the city created a redevelopment area similar to the in terms of its function in that there was a plan and that the plan would specify what properties would be acquired by the city and what would be rehabilitated and so on. So that there was a new redevelopment area created that included a good portion of the historic district. And because it had a redevelopment plan then the state was a position to transfer properties to the city. The city had made an application to the Federal Economic Development Agency under a program called Title IX of the EDA, and it received an $11 million federal grant for the historic district. And a portion of that grant was used to buy back properties that the state had purchased from private owners and to then make those available for development in the new Great Falls redevelopment area. And that resulted in two buildings, one of which was acquired from the city and the other acquired private for artist housing. The developer, The Regan Development Company, developed two separate mill contracts for 144 units of housing. And this housing at the time there was interest in doing something for the artist community and the developer and the city was able to get a special waiver from HUD in that the financing was based on the section 8 rental assistance program which is a rent subsidy. It's not free rent. It's a rent subsidy which the families who pay 30% of their income after certain adjustments. And that program normally is only eligible for families, low income, moderate income families, disabled people or elderly. And we were able to get single individuals who were artists to qualify in terms of eligibility for that program so that was quite an achievement. It had a cap. It was not going to be 100% artists. It was 70% artists and with a review committee set up and so on. And those buildings are still functioning for that purpose. They already had some rehabilitation work, but they're still in very nice condition, very attractive inner courtyards and nice additions to the historic district.

Interviewer:

And which mill units were those?

Blesso:

Those were the Phoenix Mill on Van Houton St and the Essex Mill at the beginning of Mill Street.

Interviewer:

Right, I passed that coming here. Okay. Now all this time you're living in Paterson, right?

Blesso:

Yes, I moved from the Alexander Hamilton Hotel into rental property that was owned by the family that had a major bakery in town. It was originally owned by the sister of Joseph Lazzara who not only owned this major bakery but he was a state senator. And so we were renting in this very nice, large home that had been made into a two-family house, and we had a one-year lease. And at the end of that one-year lease, we got an eviction notice, not because we were bad tenants or anything but because his niece was getting married and needed an apartment. And so at that time this was in 1969 and it was another mayor's election. There were, I think, three-year terms at the time. And the elections, I guess, were in November. And so we had decided that we were going to live in Paterson. It wasn't a requirement at the time, but we had made that decision. And Mayor Kramer was being challenged again. "Should we really invest and make a commitment now?" And he said, "Yeah." So we went ahead and we bought a house on the east side of Paterson in May of 1969. And Pat Kramer won the election in November. And so we're still living in that same house which is now in the east side historic district. And so we're very happy with the location and expect to continue there.

Interviewer:

And did you have kids?

Blesso:

And we had three boys, yes.

Interviewer:

And what schools did they go to?

Blesso:

They first went to the local parochial school, St. Theresa's, and then went to Montclair Kimberley in private school in Montclair for high school.

Interviewer:

Okay. And why do you think you stayed in Paterson all this time?

Blesso:

Well, we're happy with our location. It's convenient. Our three sons have moved out of the house. One is in Boston area. One is in Brooklyn, and one is in Hudson River Valley. And it's convenient to get to them. We're happy to be living on the east side.

Interviewer:

How long did you stay with the redevelopment group?

Blesso:

I stayed with the redevelopment until 1993. And what happened, John O'Malley had retired. And I became the redevelopment director. And in 1993 the state of New Jersey offered a statewide retirement incentive program for all public employees, that they would add five years of credit to your time. And I had purchased time that I was eligible to buy back from New Britain, Connecticut. And so I bought five years time and here I could get another five years if I retired. And so I had also just made twenty-five years employment in Paterson and so I was eligible for medical coverage. So it seemed like a good idea to accept that incentive and so that's what I did. I was also while my kids were going to private school and getting ready for college, I had a part-time business at night and on weekends doing home inspections and so I had a tiny engineering practice to develop. And after retirement the city did not through the city but through its non-profit development arm, The Paterson Restoration Corporation, hired me back on a part-time basis to do redevelopment consulting. And I did that for a number of years.

Interviewer:

What would you want today's generation to know about Paterson?

Blesso:

I think I want them to know that it has the potential to be a vibrant area. It still needs a lot of work. It needs to, one thing that Paterson had in 1968 and it still does, it has an image problem. And in fact, I guess this is a story that when we worked in New Britain, we had a consultant from New York City that advised us, the redevelopment program, in terms of marketing development sites and so on. And when and this gentleman when John came to New Britain, he sent a few months later, he sent John a cartoon from New Yorker magazine. And the cartoon shows somebody in a raincoat in front of a pay phone saying, "I want to make an obscene phone call to Paterson, New Jersey." And that was 1969, and those are the kind of images that we still have to deal with. And there's some severe problems. I'm not minimizing them. But there's also some good opportunities here. The city's financial condition is very severe, as many urban areas. The city is a microcosm of what's happened across the country to the middle class. And so that's certainly a drawback. The school system, as you know, has been taken over by the state. The state isn't even putting up the proper funding to do what they claim that they're supposed to be doing. So there are challenges. But when I see the young people that participate in the youth corps, in some of the programs, and listen to them talk, I picked up the program of the poetry and I was really amazed and pleased to see the optimism and the spirit of the young people in Paterson. And that's encouraging to see and so I look forward to better times. It's going to be difficult, and it's going to be dependent a great deal on the future of the economy of this country as to how we deal with building up a middle class that has shrunken economically and is struggling now.

Interviewer:

So let's talk about the events of the Great Falls. I'm assuming you were there?

Blesso:

Yes, and I've been to just about every festival.

Interviewer:

So were you there when Philippe Petit did his thing?

Blesso:

Oh I was there. In fact, I have home movies that I took of Philippe Petit and Karl Wallenda and Lemoyne, all of whom had walked across the falls. Philippe Petit was the fussy, young man. And I know that the Kramer family took them around Paterson. They took them to Jacobs. One story that we didn't talk about is that I'm going to switch to Jacobs again. They did buy his property. The redevelopment people, we decided that the block that they wanted to clear for him did not really make sense and in terms of displacement, of costs, and so on. And at the same time, Charlie Jacobs decided that the building right in the heart of downtown which became available would be the perfect location for him. And so the building's called The Stern's Quackenbush building which was a very attractive building built as kind of a bookend to Meyers Brothers. So you had two major department stores in the 40s and 50s opposite each other anchoring the center of Main St. And so he moved into the old Stern's Quackenbush building. And so that solved his location problem. It didn't solve the long-range, urban problem of Paterson in downtown urban areas. He operated for several years and then sold the business and retired.

Interviewer:

So back to the falls.

Blesso:

All right, so back to the falls. On the events of the falls, originally the group started out with a partnership, the first few festivals were three-way partnerships between the Great Falls Development Corporation and the Chamber of Commerce and the City of Paterson. And the Great Falls Development Corporation one of its, one of Mary Ellen's other accomplishments, I'll call it, was that when the highway department built Route 80, or had the plans for building Route 80, the drainage for Route 80 had to be conveyed and channeled to get to the Passaic River. And in order to do that, this had nothing to do, was related to the peripheral highway but not essential to the peripheral highway. That drainage would have to go to the river regardless to accommodate Route 80. And one of the properties purchased for the drainage line was the boiler room for building Rogers Erecting Shop on the corner of Market and Spruce St. And once the state bought the boiler room, the owner was left with a remnant that was unusable to him. And Mary Ellen convinced the owner to donate that building to the Great Falls Development Corporation. And ultimately that tied in with the EDA Title IX funding where a plan was developed so that federal funds could be used to rehabilitate the building. It would be a complicated lease arrangement so that the city could spend the federal money on a city-owned building so that that was worked out. And that building was totally renovated with all new windows which were constructed by a force of city employees who were joined by union workers, by [?] workers in making window through its own window factory and doing other preservation work, installing the piping and heating system and so on. And so that was all paid for by the EDA Title IX funding. I guess another one of Mary Ellen's projects was one day, again this was she had received a solicitation from the National Endowment of the Arts about a grant program that they were offering. And this one was called City Options. And one day she came with John Young and the three of us were trying to come up with an idea of what could we apply for the National Endowment of the Arts. Here's an application sitting in front of us, and I don't remember whose idea it was. It was probably Mary Ellen's. But the hydroelectric plant which had been built by this [?] in 1910, opened in 1914 and had been operating by the [?] and then in 1945 when the [?] transferred its assets, sold them to the City of Paterson, the city ended up leasing the hydroelectric to PSE&G. And PSE&G after some flooding damage, I think in 1969, decided to close the plant. At that time there were involved with designing nuclear plants and that was the big thing. And they decided that it didn't make sense to them to repair the plant, repair the damage, and so they with a little encouragement from Mary Ellen, they didn't need much. They knew [?] the plant had been closed, and they turned back the lease to the city. And so this plant was sitting there and we came up with the idea, let's apply for funds to do a study to reactivate this plant. And so we put in an application and got funded and then hired an engineer who came up with a favorable concept to renovate the plant if you could get additional funding. And we then took that favorable study and turned it over to the city. The city then received some money from the, I'm trying to think of which [?], a federal grant from the Department of Energy for a million and a half dollars to do the construction plans to get the plant back in operation. And so that's a long way around how this plant eventually did get back. And the city created a municipal utility authority to develop these plans. The municipal utility authority attempted to sell revenue bonds for the development of that plant, and because the bonds at this time there was a new mayor by the name of Frank Grays who was actually an old mayor. He was mayor before Pat Kramer was mayor, and he came back in after Pat had helped his entry back into politics by putting him on the public works commission. And then he ran for city council and then became mayor again. And he I think properly did not let the city's faith and credit stand behind these bonds. They had to be strictly revenue bonds and the MUA could not sell the bonds. The bond was eleven or twelve million dollars and they can only get offers on nine or ten million. And so they regrouped, and they decided, well, if we can't sell the bonds, let's see if we can find a private developer who will take the bids to see who can get a developer to release the plant. We've done the heavy lifting. We have the [?] federal energy commission license to operate the plant. That's the hard part that the city had achieved. So they went out and they solicited proposals and bids for an operator to run the plant. And they were successful. They found a developer who put up fifteen or sixteen million dollars and did the renovation and got the plant back in operation. So it opened up in 1985. And that design was a modification of the interior equipment. Originally there were four turbines, and they came up with a design that with new technology, using new equipment with only three turbines, they increased the capacity of the plant by I think it's 140%.

Interviewer:

Wow. Now you said the MUA? Who are they?

Blesso:

Yeah, that's the Paterson Municipal Utilities Authority.

Interviewer:

Okay. Now you mentioned that Governor Cahill flew in on a helicopter to Hinchliffe. Did you get to Hinchliffe for other events? Did you go to the car races?

Blesso:

Did I go? I went to the I think was in 1971 they Mary Ellen's group had a major musical spectacular in that they had the Tommy Dorsey band, Duke Ellington, Tito Puente, and oh, Vaughn Monroe sang there. And it was really a magnificent crowd that showed up to hear all these great, big bands and singers performing there. I've been to a couple of auto shows where they said the thrill sometimes as part of the festival, sometimes independently but thrill racers, thrill drivers and so on. I went to, I'm a basketball player actually, I still play with a bunch of old guys. And I went to see the Harlem Magicians which was a group that Marcus Haynes who was one of the original Harlem Globetrotters, he formed his own group called the Harlem Magicians and they played an exhibition at Hinchliffe Stadium as part of the festival. The festival inside the stadium there would be a one-day antique auto show and around the track of the stadium would be a flea market so it was a combination auto show/flea market. And after the first couple years, I became like the co- with Charlie Parmelli who was a close friend of the mayor. He organized this auto show, and I assisted him in several subsequent shows. And that was a big part of the festival.

Interviewer:

Were there other organizations that you were a part of?

Blesso:

Well, I ended up after the Municipal Utility Authority when they implementing the plan with the developer, they hired a project manager. And that project manager worked for them for several years and then passed away. And when he passed away, they advertised for a project manager and at the time I had taken my retirement I was doing consulting and so I applied for that position in 1995 took over as the project manager.

Interviewer:

Okay.

Blesso:

In terms of other civic, I've been involved with Paterson YMCA on the Board of Directors. I'm presently the Vice President of the Y board, but I've been involved with them for many years.

Interviewer:

Did you play basketball there?

Blesso:

Yeah. Yeah, in fact we had a team in the over-50 ring.

Interviewer:

What else do you want people to know about your involvement in Paterson, your life in Paterson?

Blesso:

I think that it was a great decision that I made to join John O'Malley and move to Paterson and raise our family here. And I'm very happy about it. I've been very pleased to see this national park is something that I spent over forty-five years trying to work on in different ways. I can remember going to Mary Ellen and others to Trenton trying to talk about a state park. I remember even a trip to Washington where we tried to get unannounced into the park service, trying to get to talk about a national park in Paterson. Mary Ellen always had a little trepidation about the national park in terms of a concern as to how it would be controlled. She had very good ideas in terms of preservation. She was really ahead of her time, ahead of her husband in terms of recognizing the value of preservation. And she would be pleased with the park service. Her concerns would have evaporated completely. She'd be very pleased with what's going on.

Interviewer:

So I'll close out.

Last updated: June 10, 2019

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