Forks in the Road: Tremiti, to his own self, was true

Ferdinand Tremiti

With a regal name like Ferdinand Tremiti, how can you not succeed? “Ferd,” as his friends called him, was an accomplished attorney, key Kiwanian, loving father and husband, pillar of his church, and political raconteur extraordinaire.  

I first met Ferd and his lovely wife Mary when I was 23, as a young budding politician, seeking election to the County Legislature. I came to know them both well over the ensuing decades and I always valued Ferd’s advice, even if I didn’t abide by some of his admonitions. When I failed to listen, it was more often to my detriment.  I won’t say Ferd was always right but he gave darn good advice.

He came from the old school of padrone- style politics which was practiced by the sons of recent Italian immigrants. His parents emigrated from Casellvecchio-seculo in northeastern Sicily in the early 20th century.

Ferd grew up in the “Lakeshore” neighbored near East 10th and Van Buren Streets, which was populated by many recent Italian emigres. He never forgot the mores and hard working values of the neighborhood from whence he came.

After graduating from the Normal School in 1939 with a teaching degree, he enlisted in the US Army to serve his country in World War II. He served in the Army Civil Division that reclaimed Hitler’s stolen European art treasures and gold bullion, a story chronicled in the George Clooney film “The Monuments Men.” Ferd helped count and authenticate gold bullion bars, which were sent back to Frankfort.

After returning home from the war,  in 1951, he married Mary Spataro, a dazzling lakeshore-area beauty herself. They had three children, Joseph, George and Paula

Joe became an attorney and works and lives in the NYC  area with his wife Lilly. They have two grown children: Paul and Ellen. George became a physician and surgeon who currently lives in the Syracuse area and still works in medicine at Crouse Hospital, after retiring from his surgery practice. He and his wife Barb have two grown children, Michael and Holly. Daughter Paula and her husband Paul had two children, Alexander and Michael. They live in Rochester in close proximity to Ferd’s widow, Mary Spataro Tremiti, who is spry, witty, and still very elegant at the tender age of 97. Ferd passed away in 2001 at the age of 82.

One of my favorite stories about Ferd centers on when he was president of the Oswego Board of Education in the late 1950’s. John Heagerty, longtime Oswego High School social studies teacher, was representing the teachers when he demanded on their behalf a $200 across the board raise at a public meeting.

“The teachers are united and will only accept a $200 across the board raise,” Heagerty told board President Tremiti at the time. “I don’t know about that,” Ferd replied. “Do you think they would take three?”

Ferd was a loyal Democrat through and through. He was from the same school of politics as his fellow attorneys John Chwalek, John Conway, and John McCormack, all of whom still loom as giants  in my political memory banks.

As a young attorney, I remember heeding John Conway’s advice when it came to appearing on behalf of clients in the Worker’s Compensation court. “Just do whatever Ferd tells you to do,” John told me. I did. And I learned a lot. The Worker’s Compensation court has its own language and culture, and could often be mystifying to the newly minted practitioner. Ferd helped me in many ways, which is why I was glad to return the favor in 1978, when an opening occurred on the state worker’s compensation board, when, as county party chair at the time, I had the ability to recommend him for appointment by Gov. Hugh Carey.

Ferd was one of the best qualified candidates ever to ascend to the statewide board. I believe he is still the only Oswego County person ever to have risen to such heights in the worker’s comp world.

Ferd’s community involvement did not stop at politics. He was-leading longtime light in the Kiwanis Club, St. Joseph’s Church, as well as his service on the Board of Education.

Ferd was known to quote Shakespeare to his children when they were young. One of his favorite  quotes (and mine) came from Julius Caesar, Act I, scene II. “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.” I can think of one other Shakespearean quote that sums  up Ferd’s valiant contributions to his family and community: Hamlet, Act I, scene II.

“To thine own self be true.”

Ferd’s life indeed epitomized the value of that admonition.



John T. Sullivan Jr. was mayor of the City of Oswego from 1988-1991 and has held several other state and local positions. He is semi-retired as an attorney. He is the author of the book “Forks in the road,” which is available at river’s end bookstore in Oswego and online. His memoir/autobiography, “Pee not your pants! Memoirs of a small town mayor with big time ideas,” is available online through and Barnes and Noble and in local bookstores.

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