Tonawanda News

January 5, 2013

Catching up with old friends

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Don James, who with his vivacious wife, Liz, and their children were our neighbors on Ilion Street in Tonawanda, are the most fun a family could be. Every summer, when they visited Liz’s mom in North Carolina, they would bring back fresh shrimp and then treat the neighbors to a great “Southern Cookout.” Don and Liz owned and operated Sentry South Appliance Service Co. in West Seneca for 32 years before retiring. Don would help customers (and neighbors) “do it yourself” fixing their home appliances. He was an avid traveler and especially enjoyed America’s train systems as well as being an amateur photographer, recording and sharing music and videos. Great neighbors and good friends.

Their son, Jim, emailed that his dad died on Dec. 16 and Jim had seen this column online and sent a great update on the family.

“Time just seems to go by so fast it’s hard to figure. I’m married, it will be 32 years in March. We have two children, our son Thomas (31) is a New York State Trooper stationed outside of Rochester, is married and has a 2-year-old daughter. Our daughter Casey is 20 and she is moving to California (against my better judgment).

“My wife and I moved back from Raleigh N.C. and took over Sentry from my mom and dad so they could retire. We have added eight technicians in the last couple of years and have been fortunate enough to continue growing in a tough economy. If you know of anyone looking for work in this line of business, we are desperate for a good help.”


Kevin O’Connor can bring out a good challenge and memories any day of the week. (His email has been edited for space.)

“There is such a variety of great pizza to be had in our area that I’m rarely left wanting what I can’t have. One outstanding ‘pizza purveyor’ that I do recall from my childhood was La Nova on the S. Niagara St. in Tonawanda. ... My brothers and I would walk take-out home through a spooky-at-the-time, steeply pitched alley that lead to Adam Street. Dining there was untenable as there were eight mouths to feed at home, drinks would have been pricey. The pizza was really good, including that terrific spicy pepperoni that curled into tiny cups of grease. I’m sure that it inspired my road trip towards the statin drugs that I’m on now!

“Another angle that I recall was asking my parents ‘Why do so many people come in and out of the basement of that place?’ I couldn’t help but notice as I was waiting for our pizza. Apparently, I was too observant for my own britches, because I was briskly told to just mind my own beeswax.

“My Dad passed away when I was 10 so I never got an explanation. ... My question to you is this. Was that Tonawanda La Nova Pizza the pre-curser to the Todaro-owned, now famous La Nova in Buffalo? The recent death of Joe Todaro Sr. is making the memories flood back.

“... Only in the last 10 years have I heard stories of how my ancestors got through the tough times of the Depression. Recently-passed great-uncle Bill explained to me that, as an aspiring young attorney, he worked his first job at the Telephone Co. One of his first assignments was to investigate why there were 13 phone lines running into the building at 22 N. Niagara St. It seems that after his insufficiently insured “Frank O’Connor” freighter sank, great grampa “ran book” to make ends meet at his ship chandlery.

“If I’m not mistaken, I recall newspaper accounts of the Todaros being accused of running gambling junkets on a plane. It is pretty hard to raid an in-flight plane. Ingenious!”

Kevin asked the Historical Society of the Tonawandas the same question and Carole Barnard said the city directories, sources of invaluable information, found that yes, the owner of that business (43 S. Niagara St.) was Joseph Todaro.

Indeed Kevin’s hunch was right. Here at the News, we have a large file on Joseph Todaro, mostly stories from the  70s which outline his brushes with the law and noting that he started his La Nova in Tonawanda.

Kevin added a P.S.: “I had the misfortune of taking over the Tonawanda News downtown route from Rick Neuhaus (Squires owner) just as Urban Renewal took my customer base from 90-plus papers down to 40 plus within a single year. I was left to cry in my Zeffrey’s cherry phosphate. I should have ‘ran book’ myself.”


Now for fun trivia from George Soemann whom most of you know from Walker Bros. & Monroe Jewelers.

“Ponder this after Jan. 1,” George wrote. “Your column recently made reference to the idea that few, if any of us, can contemplate how big $16 trillion is. It is indeed difficult to understand such large numbers. I have problems trying to wrap my mind around billions, forget trillions. This little time chart does help: 1 million seconds equals 11 days, and 1 billion seconds equals 32 years.”

Yikes. Happy New Year.

Contact community editor Barbara Tucker at 693-1000, ext. 4110 or email