The average person doesn’t remember the score of this year’s Super Bowl game, let alone the score of games over the past 50 years.
Syracuse resident Dan Russo isn’t your average person. If you ask him the score of any Notre Dame football game ever played, he can tell you. According to Russo, he is the biggest Fighting Irish fan in the world and he has scrapbooks to prove it. Russo has created over 60 handmade scrapbooks of Notre Dame and Syracuse sports. “I love to scrapbook,” Russo said. “I’ve sold a lot of my scrapbooks since I’m unable to make them now.”
Russo began the hobby in 1949 when he made his first Notre Dame scrapbook and his first Syracuse
University one came in 1975. “Sports are my big thing,” he said.
Russo, who holds season tickets for Syracuse football and lacrosse, was born in Geneva and attended high school at Onondaga Valley Academy in Syracuse. Shortly after, he went into the service from 1941-1946. “I was in the Pacific during World War II and I’ll never forget that,” Russo said.
Upon his return, Russo began a career as a custodian for the City of Syracuse School District in order to support his wife and two daughters, Cindy and Patricia. “I had worked briefly at a local factory before becoming a custodian, so at first the job was like play,” Russo said.
“Play” is one thing Russo knows best. The sports fanatic has his own history of athletic success. He
participated in sports for over 50 years. “I played baseball when I was in the service,” said Russo, who turned 90 on Easter Sunday. “Those were the good days.”
Gary Shirley, 57, has known Russo since he was 5 years old and is now one of many who picks him up and drives him to sporting events. “We go to Colgate, Cornell, Ithaca—whoever is playing home,”
Shirley said. “Last year we saw West Genesee play Oswego High School in hockey at the new SUNY Oswego ice rink. What a treat that was. It’s one of the most beautiful arenas I’ve ever seen,” Russo said.
Russo has enjoyed many fields, parks and arenas in his lifetime. “Dan used to bend over for 100
yards and paint the fields with a paint brush,” Shirley said. “It’s much easier and faster with a paint sprayer,” Russo said with a laugh.
He was the first coach for the Valley Junior Athletic Association in 1957, he coached adult baseball teams in the Syracuse area from 1946-1972, and he officiated Pop Warner football until he was 80 years old. Still involved—“Dan still goes to Pop Warner meetings and watches the games,” Shirley said. “He’s been involved with so many people who he means a lot to.”
“During the winter I like to go down to the library a lot and look for old sports articles on the film reels to use for my scrapbooks,” Russo said. Interestingly enough, Russo has never driven a car a day in his life. “I used to ride a bike and walk,” Russo said. Shirley joked that Russo is “going on tour” to all the places that are honoring him. A baseball diamond at Meacham Field in Syracuse was named in his honor, and Russo was recently scheduled to attend the dedication ceremony. “I’m flabbergasted. I never dreamed of this,” Russo said.
Alliance Bank Stadium, home to the Syracuse Chiefs minor league baseball team, will also be honoring Russo in the near future. He was also nominated by the Greater Syracuse Chamber of
Commerce for the Urban Sports Hall of Fame. Shirley said through all of this, Russo remains humble. “Lately I haven’t been able to do much because I walk with a cane. I like to be out of the house, but sometimes I can’t get a ride,” Russo said.
His four grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and his black cat, Tinkerbell, keep him company. “I love animals—dogs, cats and horses,” Russo said. “Besides sports, I have two other interests, the Civil War and World War I planes. I have stuff on both things because they’re very important to me.”
In his later years, Russo became a skilled wood worker.
“It just came naturally. When I retired it was one of the things I took up,” Russo said. Some of his craftsmanship includes old style cars, trucks, birdhouses and flowers. For a man of so many talents, one must be wondering, is there anything this man can’t do? The answer is no. “I love to dance. I can dance all night,” Russo said.