When Antonio “Tony” Marmino’s day is getting interesting, a good proportion of UR students are just waking up.
Each weekday morning, starting at 7 a.m., Marmino oversees the Fraternity Quad at the University with a keen eye. At 5 feet 8 inches and with just enough white hair left to keep a youthful glare, Marmino plays a role fit for Al Pacino. He leads discussions, advises students, and exercises judgment.
Yet Marmino’s official duties don’t have an administrative bent: For the past decade, he has been the Fraternity Quad building mechanic working within the University’s Facilities Department.
“Tony is the mayor of the Frat Quad,” colleague and building mechanic Craig Atilli said. “He’s a great man and a father to the fraternity boys over here.”
Marmino’s de jure business lies in the routine maintenance of the fraternity houses. When college-aged men live together in a collective unit, the result is often more than a few broken objects.
This is a reality Marmino knows all too well.
“I’ve enjoyed it ever since I got here,” says Marmino with the marked accent of his native Sicily. “I like the atmosphere in the fraternity houses. I have better relations with the students over here. In the dorms you have to be a bit more politically correct.”
Marmino’s daily “work bench” includes correcting light fixtures, bathrooms, and door locks. For a man in his fifties, Marmino’s vocation is labor — but in no way is it heavy labor. In fact, it’s a labor of love.
Over the past decade, the nine fraternity houses on the Quad and the organizations that reside in them have seen a great deal of change. However, behind the brick façades of the buildings, the only constant has been Tony Marmino.
The youngest of four siblings, Marmino was born on Jan. 25, 1960 just outside of Palermo in the town of Campofelice di Roccella on the northern coast of Sicily. He had a distinctly European upbringing in the tight-knit community of 4,000. His mother, Rosaria, raised the children and kept the home while his father, Giancinto, worked the land picking lemons in the many orchards of the region.
In 1978, after graduating high school and working as an apprentice in a furniture store, Marmino moved with his two sisters and parents to the United States, escaping the socio-political turmoil of the period, known in Italy as the “Years of Lead.” His two brothers, already married with families, stayed back in Sicily.
The family’s immigration was made possible through the sponsorship of Marmino’s uncle, Nunzio, who had been in the United States for over a decade working as a maintenance worker at Kodak’s Rochester headquarters.
Starting a new life in Penfield, Marmino experienced an acute culture shock from the get-go.
“August 26, the day after I arrived, I couldn’t wait to walk around,” Marmino said. “I went outside, and I was in shock — a beautiful, sunny day and nobody was outside. Back in Sicily, people would have already been walking around. I ran inside and asked Uncle Nunzio where the people were. I had gone from a noisy place to nothing.”
During his first two months in America, Marmino struggled.
“I was thinking that this country is nuts. I wanted to go back so bad,” Marmino explained. “I didn’t understand the language, the culture was different — Americans were very laid back and relaxed, kind of a little bit cold. I thought they were very unsociable.”
Yet Marmino’s drive to work kept him going. In the late 1970s, he worked days at General Circuits on Buffalo Road and nights at a pizzeria on Lyell Avenue; in the early 1980s, he worked construction.
In January of 1982, his career solidified. He secured employment at Giltspur, a trade show company specializing in building exhibits for conventions. After two years in the warehouse on Lexington Avenue, he completed a four-year apprenticeship in the union shop and became a “journeyman,” which is industry speak for a mechanic. He worked full-time at Giltspur until 1993, when he was laid off as business slowed. Up until 2001, he worked various jobs as a mechanic, coming back to Giltpur intermittently when work opened up.
In 2001, his career as a mechanic was put on hold as he secured a job at UR, where he served as a mail service truck driver. Then in 2003, he saw a posting for building mechanic on the Fraternity Quad.
He jumped at the opportunity.
Within a few months, Marmino had come into his own. He assumed the throne as surrogate father and mentor to the Fraternity Quad men — part Dr. Phil, part General MacArthur.
“Oh absolutely, it fits him totally,” Tony’s wife of 31 years Enza Marmino said. “It fits his character totally. The students keep him young, and he loves interacting with them.”
Junior Scott Levy, a brother of Theta Chi, agreed.
“Tony is always willing to offer insight as to how things work in the house and about life in general,” Levy said. “I’ve talked with him about electrical engineering, traveling in Italy, wine in the Finger Lakes — you can talk with Tony about anything.”
The life of the University and its student body has not been static. Over the past decade, this is something Marmino has seen on a firsthand basis.
“On the University side, there are more rules now,” Marmino said. “There was more freedom before. The University has gotten more involved.”
Marmino not only notes large changes he has seen regarding the way the administration deals with the Fraternity Quad, but qualitative changes in the student body itself.
“The kids used to be more outdoors people, and now they’re more indoors people,” he said. “The culture was more inter-fraternal among the different houses — music was going on at the houses, and sports like t-ball and football were going on outside. The video games changed the culture. Gradually every year, you could see the change.”
With an understanding of this nostalgia, Marmino is largely positive towards the ever-changing nature of the student body.
“The kids now are more respectful and polite,” Marmino remarked. “When I first started, they were more tough and confrontational. They were more rough around the edges.”
His optimism and happiness towards the job is apparent at every turn. Marmino’s presence on campus has not just been a gift to the students of the Quad — the opportunities afforded by the University have been a gift to Marmino himself.
“It was frustrating for him in the beginning,” Enza noted. “We would try to speak English in the home, but he couldn’t express himself the way he wanted to. People outside would judge him. The University has given him a place to improve his English, a place to interact.”
The University has served Marmino in dichotomous fashion: it’s taught him so much about America, while at the same time it has been his haven within America.
“When I first came over, I couldn’t speak a word of English,” Marmino said. “As soon as I opened my mouth, they knew I was a foreigner. People were being rude and weren’t making it easy for me. But at UR, there has been no discrimination. People here are much more understanding of people who are different.”
The University is one of the many blessings Marmino has been afforded in America. Living comfortably with his wife in Irondequoit, he has raised three grown children, referees youth soccer in his spare time, and enjoys side jobs remodeling homes and bathrooms.
With all that he has, Marmino continuously gives back.
Last summer, he returned to Campofelice di Roccella to visit his two brothers and showered gifts on his extended family.
Marmino’s full heart isn’t just reserved for extraordinary occasions — it can be seen each and every day on the Fraternity Quad.
“Tony is a big reason why I’m going to come back and visit,” brother of Sigma Chi and senior Jon Lieb said. “When I met him three years ago, I instantly knew he was a great guy and a quality human being. I think of him as a true friend.”
Marmino is a favorite of the boys of the Quad, and it appears that it will stay that way for years to come.
“I’m looking forward to working here a long time unless another opportunity comes knocking on the door,” Marmino said with a smile.
The fraternity boys will send him off in grand fashion, but to be sure, they in no way hope that Marmino leaves any time soon.
Skupp is a member of
the class of 2013.