By Mike Pidanick
A familiar face was back in place at Tuesday's North Tonawanda Common Council meeting.
North Tonawanda Common Council President Phillip "Russ" Rizzo returned after missing the past two meetings due to major health issues. The well-respected president still has a lot of treatments ahead, but he was back in his seat for the bimonthly meeting at City Hall.
"Welcome back, Mr. president, we did miss you," Alderman-at-Large Robert Peccoraro said. "It wasn't the same without you, that's for sure."
The 82-year-old Rizzo was diagnosed with brain cancer after falling ill in early February. He had two surgeries. After a rough month - made a little better by the overwhelming support he received from his community - Rizzo was glad to be back.
"I lost February," Rizzo said. "I don't know where it went. ... How I lost it and where I lost it is a lot of hearsay, but I did hear a lot of hearsay. Thank you to all the people that sent me cards, letters, prayers, phone calls. I even got cards from people that I didn't even think liked me. I'm very grateful to my colleagues, very grateful to all the residents of the First Ward, and I'm very thankful to be living in North Tonawanda with all you nice people."
Alderwoman-at-Large Cathy Schwandt controlled the meetings during Rizzo's absence, but it was clear the public and the board was pleased to see the president back in place.
"Russ Rizzo, it's great to have you back," City Attorney Katherine Alexander said. "Alderwoman Schwandt did a great job filling in, but she's no Russ Rizzo, so we're happy to have you back."
Rizzo got to experience some of North Tonawanda's finest citizens upon his return.
The Common Council recognized two local heroes - North Tonawanda High School juniors Anthony Minardi and Shawn Edim - who acted quickly to help an elderly woman, living alone and using a walker, who had fallen in her garage on a cold Feb. 10 evening and was unable to get up.
"This is one of great things you get to do when you're part of city government and that's to recognize the people in the community that do great things," Mayor Arthur G. Pappas said. "If it wasn't for these young men finding her and calling 911, this could have resulted in a very serious situation with the extreme cold temperature. These young men heard her calling for help and, instead of doing what many people unfortunately do, and just say, 'I don't know what that was,' they didn't walk away. They followed the sound, found what had happened and called for help."