CLINTON — Mike Orsino, Kirkland town parks and recreation superintendent retired on Tuesday, Dec. 31 after over 50 years of preserving, maintaining and improving the long-standing Clinton Arena, and area parks.
Despite his retirement there will be no armchairs or checkerboards on the front porch watching the traffic go by for Orsino, he said he and his wife have other plans.
“My wife, Teresa, and I talked about joining a gym, just for something to do,” said Orsino, who explained his wife retired on the same day. “I don’t know maybe Planet Fitness or something like that, you have to do something.”
Not surprising when you learn Orsino has always been an active guy, all the way back to when he first set foot inside the Edward W. Stanley Recreation Center, better known as the Clinton Arena, when he was just 15 years. old.
“I had some friends I met while working on a farm in the area,” Orsino said. “My dad was working for this farmer and he would take me with him, my new friends were neighbors of that farmer, and they used to come down here to skate-so I came with them. That was either 1967, or 68.”
Orsino admits he didn’t really know how to skate, but was committed to learn, and after a couple years could foot the blades as well as any of his contemporaries. Little did he know at the time he would end up becoming so important to this arena. He started as what they called a “rink rat.”
“Back in the day, being a rink rat was special,” Orsino said. “It was being a part of a group who were the elite; a proud group. We would help clean up the arena, picking up trash and what-not, and the benefits were everything to those who did it.”
Orsino explained there was no money paid for these services, but that’s not say there wasn’t compensation.
“Those who were rink rats got into Clinton Comet games for free,” Orsino said. “Also, many hours of pubic skating for free, and even events in the summer months. But they didn’t take just anybody, you had to pay your dues, you had to prove you were reliable.”
Orsino proudly volunteered for four years.
In 1971, Orsino went on the payroll for $1.75 an hour, in the then privately owned arena. Owned by Edward W. Stanley, Orsino became Stanley’s “night man” working 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week, all the while working a full-time day job with a local paving company. The two jobs together made for 18-19 hour days with no overtime pay.
In 1983, the town took over ownership of arena.
“Stanley, the arena majority shareholder, bought back the rest of the shares in the arena,” Orsino said. “Which he sold in 1953 to raise the money to re-build the arena, after it was destroyed by fire, and once he reacquired the shares, he sold them to the town for one dollar.”
It was then Orsino came on full-time working as assistant to then building superintendent, Ken Grabeldinger.
“In 1986, ‘Dinger retired and I took the civil service exam,” Orsino said. “I was promoted to building superintendent part-time. Elaine Kane was running the managerial side of things. However, when she retired in 2004, I left my job that I hated making $100,000 a year selling asphalt, to making $27,000 a year to make and maintain ice.”
“Money isn’t everything, “ he said. “Your happiness is worth something.”
In the years that followed Orsino said he was part of so many exciting shows and events he could barely recall them all.
“I think what you have to remember is,” Orsino explained. “Up until the Stanley (Theater) became what it is, the Turning Stone (casino) became what it is- this was the place for shows. There were many country western shows here, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams and Roy Clark with the entire cast of the TV show “Hee-Haw” played in this building. I once ran a spot for the band, Chicago. Also, Patti LaBelle, I ran a spot for her too. That’s what made this place special.”
And music wasn’t all of it.
“The WWF played here,” Orsino added. “I can still see Andre the Giant coming through the back door. The Harlem Globetrotters played here. The original Home Show was here, Ed Stanley started it...now it’s at the Turning Stone.”
Orsino said when he was a kid even, there were shows in the Arena like the Lipizzaner Horses, The Civil Air Patrol and even the historical Flying Wallendas circus-trapeze show.
And through all of that the Clinton Arena was home to Clinton’s favorite pastime and home team, The Eastern League Clinton Comets ice hockey team. Also, started and managed by Stanley.
Clinton resident Archie Burton who played for the Clinton Comets until his retirement in 1958 was and still is a huge supporter of the Clinton Arena and Orsino.
“I’ve known Mike since my playing days,” Burton said. “He’s done a great job, he deserves this retirement.”
Wayne Clipston, Orsino’s assistant for nearly 20 years, will be taking on the superintendents responsibilities beginning Jan 1. Patty Maxam will be in charge of the managerial responsibilities.
“I have nothing but confidence in Wayne,” Orsino said. “He’s going to do a great job. Patty, who was my office assistant before she worked at the town barn (municipal building) will also do a great job.”
Clipston said he felt confident in his new role, but knows it’s going to be different without Orsino.
“It’s going to be some pretty big shoes to fill.” he said. “ He’s got a lot of knowledge.”
Asked , in hindsight, is there anything Orsino would changed if he could go back?”
No, he said.
“I’m not saying I’ve always been right,” he explained. “ But from my standpoint the way I chose to run this place came from a combination of what Elaine and Ed taught me, and what was dictated by finances. And to tell you the truth, I’m still learning to this day, there’s no script or manual for this.”
Orsino said the best thing I’ve learned over the years is let this, pointing to his ear, kick in before this does, pointing to his lips.
Burton said from what he saw over the years the arena benefited a lot from Orison’s tenure as superintendent.
“He provided a lot of stability around here,” Burton said. “Under Mike there was a lot of consistency.”
Burton also said Orsino ran such a tight ship during one of the NHL lockouts, a lot of pro league players including Buffalo Sabres star goalie Dominik Hasek would come to the arena to play...just to keep in shape.
The arena has had some improvements just this year alone with the new lighting over the rink and in the outer hallways and locker rooms. Orsino is humble about how all that got accomplished, but he’s proud of a few things too.
“I didn’t do it alone,” Orsino said. “I’ve always had the backing of the town and the public. But I’m very proud of the 100 years anniversary recognizing Al Prettyman and featuring Stan “The Maven” Fischler, the MSG broadcaster.”
According to oneidacountytourisim.com, Feb. 8-11, 2018, all hockey fans, players, coaches, and referees returned to Clinton to watch both Hamilton College and Clinton hockey games, and attend hockey alumni events at the historic Sage Rink on the Hamilton College campus, and legendary Clinton Arena. The success of the Clinton Hockey Club — later the professional Clinton Comets of the Eastern Hockey League — was recognized. Guest appearances from Guy Hebert, Pat Kelly, and Stan Fischler .
It was Prettyman, college ice hockey coach, known as the “father of college hockey” for 30 years of coaching hockey at Hamilton College and Colgate University, and friend of Ed Stanley, who inspired Stanley to create a hockey rink and team at the local level.
And of course, Orsino was proud of the arena being named Hockeyville by the Kraft Heinz Co. in 2018.
Orsino said the only thing he hopes will get done after he leaves is an addition put on the South side of the building, where the parking lot sits, for new restrooms, locker rooms and concession. But other than that, he’s content.
“It is hard to say goodbye,” Orsino said. “This place was my sanctuary I never had a bad day in here, I’m going to miss it.”
Orsino said, he as he got out of his office chair, heading back into the arena to go back to work,
“Thank you to everyone I’ve known during the course of my career,” he said. “It’s been a great ride.”