2012-06-20 / Features

Former Gazette Owner Knew The Territory

BY JOHN TOSCANO, FORMER PUBLISHER OF THE QUEENS GAZETTE


Celestino was aptly honored upon his retirement from the catering business in 1992 by having a tribute to his life’s work recognized by being placed in the Congressional Record by Congressmember Gary Ackerman.Among the events in Buster’s life cited by Ackerman was a yearly party hosted by Buster for handicapped children, and also his donation of the use of his catering hall for other events for the handicapped. Celestino was aptly honored upon his retirement from the catering business in 1992 by having a tribute to his life’s work recognized by being placed in the Congressional Record by Congressmember Gary Ackerman.Among the events in Buster’s life cited by Ackerman was a yearly party hosted by Buster for handicapped children, and also his donation of the use of his catering hall for other events for the handicapped. hen I acquired the Queens Gazette in mid-June 1983 to embark on a new career as a weekly newspaper publisher, I was fortunate to be starting a new venture among so many people whose acquaintances had been made during my previous 33 years at the New York Daily News.

Astoria, Long Island City and Jackson Heights were familiar territory, as were the then-current issues that residents were confronting, among them the ongoing disputes with Con Edison and other power companies, conditions in the community that arose from the nearby Rikers Island Correctional complex and the development of the Kaufman Astoria Studios.

Among the young leaders that had emerged to head these community campaigns were Peter Vallone Sr., who went on to become the historic first Speaker of the City Council, Joan Da Corta; the late Geraldine Ferraro, who vaulted from the Queens D.A.’s office to Congress in a flash; Councilmember (then Congressmember) Thomas Manton, also now deceased, and former state Senator George Onorato.

I had also been drawn into the Astoria community prior to becoming the Gazette publisher by the late George Douris, a journalistic colleague from the Long Island Press.

Douris and two of his closest colleagues, Angelo Petromelis and Archie Mavromatis, created the social services agency called HANAC, which helped (and continues to assist) thousands of residents in this area.

There were so many other prior friends and acquaintances, too many to mention, who helped put the welcome mat out for us when we put out our first issue of the Gazette on June 6, 1983. They continued to support our efforts for the next seven years as the paper grew in size and stature during that period.

Another person worthy of mention relating to my efforts as editor and publisher of the Gazette is Buster Celestino, the former owner of the Kneers Golden Pheasant catering hall in Astoria.

Celestino was a part-owner of the paper when it was decided to end operations in the summer of 1983. But he was still hopeful of finding a new owner and to maintain a news weekly’s presence in the area. He reached out to me to offer the opportunity to purchase it and continue publishing it, which I eventually did.

In the process, he took a minor share in the ownership and it turned out to be a fortuitous move for both of us and of value to the product we were publishing.

Buster didn’t have any direct involvement in the day-to-day operation of news gathering and publishing functions. But over a period of about 30 years, after a three-year hitch in the Navy, he started his business career as owner of a catering house in the heart of a business and commercial hotbed and simultaneously plunged into the community life of the teeming area.

During that period, his activities as businessman and activist in civic and charitable pursuits earned him top level positions as well as membership in scores of organizations.

Buster served as president of the Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens and of the New York State Restaurant and Caterers Association (Queens chapter), he rose to executive director of the Broadway-Astoria Merchants Association, holding the post for three years. He also served as vice president of the Astoria Civic Association, one of the most influential organizations in Queens. He was also a founding member of the Queens County Business Alliance and twice was named a delegate to the White House Conference on Small Business by Ferraro and Manton.

The governing boards that Buster served on included the Queens Overall Economic Development Corporation, the Queens Chamber of Commerce, the St. Vincent Home for Boys and the Bishop’s Lay Committee of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens.

Buster was acknowledged for his effort by receiving the Boy Scouts of America Business Award, the Christian Service Award of the Queens Lutheran School, a Community Leader of America Award and Restaurateur of the Year by the Queens Lighthouse for the Blind.

Celestino was aptly honored upon his retirement from the catering business in 1992 by having a tribute to his life’s work recognized by being placed in the Congressional Record by Congressmember Gary Ackerman.

Among the events in Buster’s life cited by Ackerman was a yearly party hosted by Buster for handicapped children, and also his donation of the use of his catering hall for other events for the handicapped.

In retirement, now at age 78 in Florida, Buster is still helping those in need. At the request of a group of amputees, he taught them how to play the Italian game bocce, and now these wheelchair-bound friends compete against Buster and his friends every other Sunday.

Buster also is very active in his church, the Assumption Church at Lauderdale-by-the- Sea, donning an apron and cooking meals frequently for church socials and other events. He has lived in Florida for the past 14 years but never got too far from Astoria. Among his friends are Sam Bruno, who ran Bruno’s-on-the-Boulevard near LaGuardia Airport, and Danny Russo, who operated Dante Caterers in Jackson Heights.

Buster survived colon cancer and now wears a pacemaker and reports he’s in good health.

Finally, about Tony Barsamian, who succeeded me as owner, publisher and editor: His success in those endeavors speaks for itself.

The Gazette’s quality and the average size of the issue during the past 22 years have improved and it should be obvious to any regular reader. Other improvements are described in the lead story on this page.

I can also make the above assessments of the newspaper from first-hand observations since I continued on the paper’s production staff after selling it to Barsamian.

May I offer my sincerest wishes of continued success and prosperity as this publication looks forward to its next 30 years of informing and entertaining its readers.

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