August 13, 2009
‘Frog’ given key to Homer village
79-year-old owner of Homer Men and Boys’ Store honored
HOMER — Roland “Frog” Fragnoli now has a key to the village of Homer.
The gold and black key does not open any doors or gates, but it was created as a symbol to show Fragnoli, 79, that the village of Homer is his home.
Mayor Mike McDermott presented the key to Fragnoli, the owner of Homer Men and Boys’ Store, during a 2 p.m. celebration Wednesday at the Homer Town Hall.
The celebration, which came as a surprise to Fragnoli, was held to honor him for the contributions he has made to the community during the 59 years that he has owned the Homer Men and Boys’ Store on Main Street in the village. Fragnoli also owns Roland’s Men and Boys’ Store in Skaneateles.
McDermott proclaimed the day “Roland ‘Frog’ Fragnoli Day” in Homer.
The village’s proclamation states that “his compassion, honesty, smile and sense of humor have made him and icon on Main Street” and “his business ethics have made him a poster boy for American retail.”
Fragnoli was playing golf Wednesday afternoon when his wife told him Deputy Mayor Genevieve Suits wanted them to come to the Town Hall building to discuss parking in the village.
When Fragnoli walked through the doorway of the senior center in the lowest level of the building, he saw many of his friends and family members, and they all began clapping.
McDermott said during a reception following the ceremony that Fragnoli has donated money to school events, athletics and other community events, but that he is modest and does not want anyone to know.
When a family in Homer lost all of its belongings in a fire, Fragnoli gave clothing to each family member, McDermott said.
McDermott said he thought of the idea to hold the celebration and called Fragnoli’s wife a couple of months ago to tell her about it.
“Everyone knew it but me,” Fragnoli said.
Fragnoli said his favorite aspect of owning Homer Men and Boys’ Store is serving the customers, which include people from throughout Cortland County, Ithaca and Binghamton.
“I like people,” Fragnoli said.
Fragnoli was born in Castleforte, Italy, on an olive farm. He immigrated to the U.S. with his mother and two brothers in 1942, after his father traveled to the U.S. searching for a job and found one at the Wickwire factory in Cortland.
In Cortland, people began calling Fragnoli “Frog,” because of the similarity between his name and the animal. He still carries the nickname today.
Fragnoli struggled as a freshman at Cortland High School and eventually dropped out.
“Our school was very tough for me. I couldn’t understand the language, so I figured I’d better move on,” Fragnoli said.
After working at a few local businesses, Fragnoli served in the Army for two years and earned his high school diploma during his service.
Fragnoli then opened Homer Men and Boys’ Store in 1951. He was 20 years old at the time.
Mary Alice Bellardini, a Homer resident who served as village mayor for 14 years, said her sons, Dan and John Bellardini, both worked for Fragnoli at the store as teenagers.
Dan Bellardini was shy at the time, and he used to hide behind stacks of clothing when customers entered the store, Mary Alice Bellardini said. But Fragnoli kept him as an employee and helped him to become comfortable in the job.
“Eventually he did well there,” Mary Alice Bellardini said.
Today, Dan Bellardini works as a salesman for a company that sells ATM machines and vaults to banks, she said.
Fragnoli said he will retire someday, but added, “It’ll be a while yet.”
“You still run around here like a young kid,” Fragnoli’s son-in-law Rob Garrison, said to Fragnoli as they stood in the store after the celebration.
Garrison, who is the store manager, will take over the store eventually, Fragnoli said.
McDermott has only given a key to the village to one other person: a Chinese instructor who came to the United States in an exchange program to teach Chinese in Homer Central School District a couple years ago.
He is not sure if any previous village officials have given out village keys.
Fragnoli said he plans to frame the key and hang it on a wall in the store.
To read this article and more, pick up today's Cortland Standard
Click here to subscribe