Back in the day, everybody in Oyster Bay knew Gussy. If you didn’t know him, you were a nobody, says Nick Rossi, 96, one of Gussy’s old friends.
One of eight siblings, Albert “Gussy” Agostinello, 93, has lived and worked in Oyster Bay his entire life. After graduating from Oyster Bay High School, he joined the Army and served for several years during World War II.
Then, returning home at 21, he immediately joined the Oyster Bay Italian-American Citizens Club. “Why? Because I’m Italian,” Agostinello joked.
“Back then, everyone joined,” said his daughter, Karen Foote. “If you didn’t join, you didn’t belong.”
The club, at 48 Summit St., is over 100 years old. It provides ways for families and community members to come together to celebrate holidays, raise money or just enjoy one another's company. It hosts the annual St. Rocco’s feast, golf outings, and Christmas parties. It raises money to donate to charity, and gives scholarships to high school seniors.
As a 70-year member, Agostinello knows more about the club than anyone. He’s always there. Over the years he has helped set up for parties, organized events and tended bar. He has helped remodel the club and, more important, cooked at its functions.
He has spent most of his time there. “Too much time, if my mother was here to tell you,” said Foote.
He would go down there every day, a schedule that changed only this past June, when his wife, Josephine, died. They were married for 68 years.
“Every time I go down there, he’d be there waiting for us,” said Louis Yanucci, a club board member. “He was sort of like the caretaker of the place.”
Agostinello and Rossi grew up together, and strengthened their friendship through the club and the Oyster Bay Knights of Columbus. Rossi said he learned a great deal from Agostinello, including cooking. “He was an excellent chef,” Rossi said. “Knew how to make the best Italian cooking. Should have owned a restaurant.”
Rossi said that Agostinello was also a great clammer and gardener. “We always tried to outdo each other with the biggest tomato,” Rossi recalled. “He would always outdo me.”
Not only did Rossi learn how to clam from Agostinello, but they also shared a special bond from all the times they rowed a boat up to Billy Joel’s dock in Oyster Bay to drop off a sack of shellfish.
Together they spent a lot of time playing bocce, cards and bingo, hosting barbecues, and doing anything else they could think of.
“He didn’t go anywhere without me, and I didn’t go anywhere without him,” Rossi said.
Rich LaMarca, a relatively new member of the club, remembers his father, Anthony, spending time with Agostinello and Rossi when he was growing up. “He’s an icon in Oyster Bay,” LaMarca said of Gussy. “When I think of him, I just think of laughter, I think of him smiling, people having fun around him.”
Although Agostinello and Rossi aren’t as close as they used to be, they have the Oyster Bay Italian-American Citizens Club to thank for the decades of memories they share.