Sam Nader has that rare gift: When you talk to him, you feel there’s no one other than you he’d rather be talking to.
That, of course, is only one of the secrets of his success – there are many facets to his personality and accomplishment. Part of the rest of the secret is the City of Oneonta itself.
In the years before World War II, it was an exciting vital place, with locomotives streaming in and out of the largest roundhouse in the world, the streets busy, people working, even in the Depression to a great degree – the railroads had to move.
In the Sixth Ward, new arrivals – Italians, Russians, Poles, Lebanese like the Naders – were becoming Americans, celebrating America, adding their strains of culture, and family life, and religion, and food – all of it – to a changing nation.
After Pearl Harbor, virtually every able-bodied young man went to war and they returned – the ordeal behind them – to the city they called home, loved like a home can only be loved. And then, they prospered amid the admiration of their grateful fellow citizens.
For decades, Oneonta was a city of out-sized men, soldiers, citizens and friends, the sons of the war and often their fathers.
Bombardier Sid Levine, businessman, philanthropist and Sam Nader’s partner in the Oneonta Yankees, comes to mind. B-24 pilot Lloyd Baker, the revered OHS athletic director and principal.
The cheerful Tony Mongillo, Navy radio man on an aircraft carrier, who recorded his hometown’s
history in pen for the rest of his life.
Gordie Roberts, another B-24 pilot who returned home to dominate the insurance field; to the end (in 2010) he seemed to be everywhere.
Everyone knew these men, admired them and – even more unusual, liked them. Even loved them.
Time’s taken its toll. Today, two of the titans remain.
Tony Drago, 98, who returned from WWII to become Oneonta’s winningest coach, his OHS basketball team’s 1959-60 undefeated season still to be surpassed.
The other is Sam Nader, Drago’s friend of 85 years, who is turning 100 years old on Monday, July 8.
In everything he did, Sam Nader succeeded. At Bendix (now Amphenol), he was a counselor and mentor to many young Oneontans as he rose through the ranks to director of purchasing.
In love, the son of immigrants wooed a descendant of Oneonta’s first families, and their wedding at Colliscroft, the Greek revival mansion named for Collis Huntington, who from Oneonta became one of California’s Big Four, signaled the jointure of River and Walnut streets.
If not everyone got it, Sam’s elevation to mayor, despite being rebuffed by the then-dominant Republican Party, completed the inclusion of the “Lower Deck” immigrant families into the mainstream of Oneonta life.
Then in his baseball successes – he transformed Damaschke Field into Yankee Stadium North for a quarter-century – Oneonta got to know the National Pastime’s heroes, and the heroes Oneonta – simply cemented a legacy.
Sam Nader will be honored in various ways in the days ahead, with a proclamation from
Mayor Gary Herzig, “Sam Nader Day” in Damaschke Field, beginning at 5 p.m. Saturday,
July 13 – and much more.
When the celebrations pass, Sam Nader’s story will still be a gift to Oneonta and surrounding communities: That despite the current cynicism all around us, Sam Nader’s grit, hard work, humor, love of family and community was rewarded with success.
In Sam Nader’s story, the American Dream lives.