The town of Clay lost one of its most active citizens last week.
Ernie Casale, who served the town in a number of positions over the last four decades, passed away Tuesday June 3 at his home. Casale, 81, was predeceased by his wife, Virginia; he is survived by two sons, Salvatore (Theresa) Casale of Liverpool and Mark (Diane) Casale of Baldwinsville, and a daughter, Lucia Casale (Robert Klimek) of Washington, D.C.
“He was like the Abraham Lincoln of the town of Clay,” said Trish DiDomenico, widow of former supervisor Pat DiDomenico. “He did so much for this town.”
A veteran of the Second World War, Casale began his career in Clay politics as a deputy town clerk from February of 1963 until 1967. In January of 1968, he joined the town board as a councilman, where he served one two-year term before leaving to act as the town assessor. In 1975, he took over the supervisor’s office, serving in that position until the end of 1982. In 1983 he headed up the Zoning Board of Appeals, then reclaimed the assessor’s office from December of 1983 to July of 1992.
Though his career as an elected official ended there, Casale remained active in politics, participating in the Clay Republican Committee. He also owned Suburban Hardware on Route 57 and Megan McMurphy’s next door, where the Republican Committee holds its regular meetings.
At its last meeting, the committee took the time to remember the man that had helped shape the town in which they live and serve.
“I’ll be talking about Ernie Casale for the rest of my life,” said Naomi Bray, head of the committee and a councilor on the town board. “He was a great Clay citizen. We all have so many wonderful memories of this man.”
Casale was recalled as a “great leader, a great listener and a great man” by board member Robert Edick, and many others echoed his comments.
“He was one of the founders of Clay as it is now,” said Art Fennhahn. “You look around at modern Clay, and Ernie made it what it is.”
A mentor to all
In addition to his own service, Casale encouraged others to help the town of Clay.
“He was wonderful for the town,” said Clarence Rycraft, who has served on the town board since 1977. “He got me into town government.”
Indeed, all of the current board members said Casale had inspired and mentored them.
“He was a grandfatherly mentor to the rest of us,” said board member Damien Ulatowski. “He was to me when I first started. He was a great asset — any question you had, he was the guy you’d go to.”
Casale was certainly a mentor to his successor, Pat DiDomenico, who held the supervisor’s office from December of 1982 until his death in February of 2003.
“He inspired Pat so much,” DiDomenico’s widow Trish recalled. “[Pat] was his best friend, his brother, his son — he was everything. Every time he had questions or doubts, he’d talk to Ernie and he’d be so reassured.”
Indeed, Casale was a wellspring of knowledge.
“He was a walking encyclopedia,” recalled former town clerk Sally Drago. “He just knew everything. Any question you ever had, he could give you an answer, whether it was history or government or whatever.
Though he was seen by many as a teacher or guide, Casale never made anyone feel he thought he was better than them.
“He never talked down to anybody,” said current town clerk Vivian Mason. “He always spoke to everyone like an equal. When I first started with the town, I’d say some absurd things. He’d laugh, but he’d never put me down.”
All of those qualities combined to make Casale a great leader, one current leaders should emulate, committee member Bonnie Nash said.
“The best way to carry on his legacy,” Nash said, “is to be a great community and to lead this community the way he would want us to.”
Current Supervisor James Rowley said he’ll do his best to make Casale proud.
“In my estimation, he was one of the best supervisors the town ever had,” Rowley said. “His are big shoes to fill. If I can be half the supervisor he was, the people of Clay will be very well-served.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.