March 15, 2008
Alderman Jim Partigianoni dies at age 78
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
An umpire for over 50 years, Jim Partigianoni makes a call at first from a fold-out chair during the annual Old Timers Fast Pitch Game at Meldrim Field July 18. Partigianoni died Friday at age 78.
CORTLAND — An avid politician, a family man and baseball nut are some of the terms many people in the Cortland community would use to describe Jim Partigianoni.
Partigianoni, commonly known to everyone as “Parg,” died Friday morning at the age of 78 from a heart attack while he was visiting one of his five daughters in Michigan.
“He was chopping snow off the sidewalk as he was on his way to the library … and had a heart attack,” said Kathy Oliver, one of Parg’s daughters who lives in Tennessee. “He loved to read, he always had to know all the news.”
Born and raised in Cortland, Parg was very active in the community, umpiring baseball and softball games and serving on the city Common Council for six years.
“I often asked him to resign so it wouldn’t wear his heart out, but that’s where his passion was,” Oliver, 50, said of her father’s position on the Common Council. “He wanted to revive Cortland.”
Mayor Tom Gallagher said Parg just loved what he was doing.
“Probably out of all the aldermen, he was the most available and in contact with his constituents,” Gallagher said. “It was his second love after umpiring … he truly was a dedicated public servant.”
Gallagher said the Common Council meeting Tuesday night is canceled out of respect for Partigianoni.
In recent years one of Parg’s pet projects was the East End Community Center, which opened in early 2005.
“He loved the idea of the East End Community Center,” Gallagher said. “He was a big part in getting that started.”
“He really loved his community center there,” Oliver said. “He felt like it gave people a place to go.”
Parg’s wife, Carol, his five daughters — Pam, Kathy, Jamie, Colleen and Kelly — and his 12 grandchildren survive Parg, who had recently been in and out of the hospital for his health.
“I am so proud of him,” Dominick Partigianoni, Parg’s older brother said Friday evening. “He did it all, with his whole heart, and everything he did was conscientious.”
When their father died and his mother worked hard to hold the family together, Dominick remembers the entire clan piling into the back of a panel truck to go pick beans for the Halstead Canning Co. And no one picked beans like Jim Partigianoni.
“For some reason or another, bean picking was a talent for me,” Parg said with a laugh in a 2004 Cortland Standard interview.
He held the record for most beans picked in one day, 617 pounds, and regularly picked 450 pounds a day.
“He was one of the best pickers, bean pickers. He really was,” Dominick said. “That bought our coal for the winter, bought our school clothes and paid our taxes.”
Parg served in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner and tank commander from 1948 to 1954, stationed along the border with the Soviet Union.
“He told me many times about how the Russians harassed him,” Dominick Partigianoni said.
The deafening blasts of the artillery took a toll on Parg’s hearing and his booming voice developed as a result. Whether calling a player out, making a point during a Common Council meeting or talking on the telephone, Parg could always be heard — he was loud.
After the army, Parg worked at Smith Corona as a fabrication supervisor until his retirement in 1994.
Oliver said she talked with her father earlier in the week.
“He sounded great,” she said. “He was excited to go visit my sister. We were talking about his health and the hospital, my sister, and politics … that’s probably why he was going to the library, to get on the Internet and read about the primaries.”
Oliver added that her father was a passionate family man who loved when the entire family was together.
“He was very sacrificial, he gave up a lot to send five kids to college,” she said.
“I just think he’s one of those generous people I know,” added Jamie Brown, Parg’s daughters who lives in Cortland. “He’s always looking out for the underdog.”
Brown recalled a fond memory of one of their family trips when they were going to see her sister Kathy in Wooster, Ohio.
“It was late at night and we were a little disoriented so we stopped for directions,” she said with a little chuckle in her trembling voice. “My dad rolled down the window and meant to say, ‘Which route to Wooster,’ but said, ‘Which woute to Rooster.’ He just had a way with his words.”
Harley Bieber, 72, of Dryden, had been an umpire with Parg for 35 years.
“Jim loved officiating. Of all the things he loved in his life, I think umpiring was close to the top if not at the top. He’s going to be dearly missed in the sports world,” said Bieber, who was recruited to umpire by Parg. “ He got a tremendous amount of respect from everyone. He really stressed professionalism; being fair and just. I think that was his whole life — being fair and just, not just in umpiring.”
Gallagher said the Common Council will appoint another Democrat from the 7th Ward who will serve until someone is elected in the November general election.
“He was a real pillar on the council, he always had the best interest of the city on his mind,” Gallagher added. “Besides that, he was very entertaining.”
Funeral arraignments have not been finalized. Parg would have turned 79 on April 21.
Staff Reporter Evan Geibel contributed to this article
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