From an Italian farming family, enduring the ravages of World War, to two children who earned college degrees, long time Hawthorne resident Pasqualino DiSisto encompasses the American ideals of improving your life through hard work and embracing the potential of education to open up your world.
His best teacher may have been a colonel in the U.S. Army.
DiSisto, well-known throughout the community, is a member of American Legion Post 112, serving on the post’s honor guard and its Medal of Honor Committee. The post worked to install a monument outside Mt. Pleasant Town Hall, with the names of all Mt. Pleasant Vietnam veterans. (Editor’s Note: The monument was unveiled after our print press time, on November 11th, Veteran’s Day.) DiSisto is also a member of the Kensico Italian American Society and the Knights of Columbus.
His charitable work with these organizations includes giving scholarships to Mt. Pleasant students and making donations to the Pleasantville Ambulance Corps, plus donating food to the poor.
DiSisto was born in 1939 in the Molise region of Italy. The family grew wheat, potatoes, and hay for animals. His father was inducted into the Italian Army in 1941. He fought in North Africa, was captured by the Americans, and brought to the U.S. as a prisoner of war. Even as a war prisoner, his father was dedicated to work, volunteering for manual labor at more than a dozen Army bases.
“When the Germans came through Italy, I was four, five years old,” DiSisto explained. “I had a brother two years younger than me. We had to run away from home when the Germans came through, into the countryside. The Germans weren’t too kind to women and children. The Germans were bombarding and shooting at homes to scare people and give up.”
Concerning their father, “We didn’t know where he was for 18 months,” he said. The Americans “were very kind,” DiSisto explained. They “notified our family that he’s alive.” With the end of the war in 1945, DiSisto’s father got sent back to Italy, but “My Dad got a taste of what America was like,” DiSisto said. In 1955, father and son were admitted into the country. They became citizens in 1960.
“I was almost 17 years old and went to high school, without knowing one word of English, not even a letter of the alphabet,” he pointed out. “I had to do it on my own (learn English),” he said. “I forced myself to speak as much as possible, to read, by trial and error, and to write.”
During high school, he took a job working in a luncheonette. After graduation, DiSisto went to barber school and worked in the Bronx. Then he got drafted into the Army. He didn’t want to go. He had just purchased a Manhattan barber shop. An Army colonel at the Whitehall Street induction center talked with DiSisto.
The colonel gave him a “five-minute lesson to wise me up about the opportunities in the Army and to take advantage of it, to use it (the Army) wisely.”
“The Colonel opened up my mind,” he said. Stationed at Fort Carson near Colorado Springs, he took classes and “learned mechanics, electrical, carpentry. I even went to Colorado State College to study English, French, and math.” His educational work earned him a promotion to Sergeant.
After he was discharged, DiSisto got married and moved to the Bronx. He and his wife, Maria, had two children. He became a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service and took other jobs too.
“I worked as a mail carrier from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. Then I cut hair for four hours and came home. I worked two jobs for 30 years,” he said. He did extra jobs on the weekends, as a house painter and working construction, mixing concrete, for instance. His dedicated work ethic was motivated by building a better life for his daughter and son and moving to a nicer neighborhood. DiSisto and his wife achieved their dream in 1976 and bought a home in Hawthorne. The kids graduated from Westlake High School.
DiSisto’s daughter, Lisa, went to Manhattan College, earning a degree in electrical engineering. She worked for IBM for 20 years. His son, John, earned a degree in accounting from Iona College and his grandson got a computer science degree. Of his children, DiSisto said, “They understand education. I’m glad I helped them in every possible way. They made me proud. America’s a beautiful country–the best in the world.”
Of his own life, he explained. “My road was not always smooth.” Confronting his obstacles, he said, “I managed to go over them or around them.”