Obituary for John M. Cittadino

John M. Cittadino, also known as Coach C and later as Santa John, of Clinton, NY passed away at the Wynn Hospital on January 14, 2024 after a brief illness. Born in Utica, NY on February 2, 1961 to the late Peter and Muriel (Ainsworth) Cittadino. John married Barbara J. Cox on July 25, 1992 (little did we know that Christmas in July would become a significant thing in our lives).

This obituary is in my own words as related to my wife, and then polished by my wordsmithing niece, Morgan Lloyd. Thank you for going down Memory Lane with me. Here are just a few meaningful highlights from my life.

My life-long thirst for knowledge began at 11 years old when I started working at Citty’s Lunchette, the family restaurant. Here, and until the age of 30, I spent countless, invaluable hours listening to World War II veterans recount their experiences, which fostered a lasting love of American History. I graduated from New Hartford High School in 1979 and encouraged my multitude of passions by continuing my education, ultimately receiving an AAS in Criminal Justice from MVCC, a Bachelor’s of Professional Studies in Human Services from SUNY College of Technology in Utica, a Master’s Degree in School Counseling from St. Bonaventure University and SUNY Oneonta, and last, but certainly not least, a Bachelor’s Degree from the International School of Santa Claus as well as a Master’s Degree in Santa Claus-ology (stay tuned, more on this to come). After graduating from college, I began my first long-term career as a school counselor. I started at Poland Central School for a short time before transferring to Holland Patent Middle School and the Holland Patent High School, and finishing my career at Holland Patent Middle School, where I retired in June 2016. During my tenure at Holland Patent, I was a coach for football, outdoor and indoor track, and one very interesting and successful, might I add, season of downhill skiing despite never having skied a day in my life.

Being a coach had an immeasurable influence on me, both personally and professionally. My coaching career started in my early 20s as a junior in college, with my buddy Gary Flanagan, for the New Hartford Minor League Baseball team. Those kids were some of the grittiest bunch of individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with and they rose above each and every expectation we placed upon them. My experience coaching this team awakened yet another passion and I ambitiously sought out coaching opportunities at Holland Patent, which led to some of my favorite (and more challenging) moments. At Holland Patent, I started as an assistant football coach under the exceptional talents of Ken Burt and Bill Brown, to whom I owe an enormous thank you for the mentorship and the skills they so freely shared with me. In 1987, with the hard work and dedication from a very special group of boys, we won the section title.

In the spring of 1987, I became Jim Frucella’s assistant coach for the Holland Patent HS Outdoor Track program and once again won the jackpot in terms of mentorship. Jim helped me further refine the skills I needed in order to bring out the best in our athletes. During the next 14 years, I remained the assistant Outdoor Track coach while also launching the Indoor Track program. In my final 9 years as a coach, I focused solely on being the head coach for the Outdoor Track program. I used all the knowledge and skills I acquired from my talented predecessors and, with the help of my assistant coach Phil Lucason, won 6 league titles and 2 section titles. The relationships that I developed with my students will always be a source of inspiration for me. Some of those students, who are now grown men, are still an important part of my life, and I am forever grateful for the part they allowed me to play in their lives. Looking back, I realize I learned as much, if not more, from them as they learned from me.

After retiring from Holland Patent, I’d get asked the common question all retirees receive: what’s next? Little did they know, I already had a plan. My next, and some might say greatest, adventure, was to go to Santa School. It all began when years earlier, my sister Rosella asked me to “play” Santa for her children at a family Christmas party. Christmas has always held a special place in my heart and I jumped at the chance to share this joy with my family. But “playing” Santa was not enough for me; I wanted more. In the spring of 2010, I attended Santa School and received my Bachelor’s Degree from the International School of Santa Claus. Due to some rather exciting and fortuitous events, Barb ended up accompanying me on this trip and, on the way home, brilliantly suggested the name for my Santa business. Thus, Snowbelt Santa was born and I became an entrepreneur. Over the course of the next few months, I searched for the perfect outfit. Some might think this starts and ends with the suit, but the suit was easy. In true John fashion, it wasn’t enough to put on the red suit. I needed to exude magic. The dressing was what I needed to collect in order to become a Santa worth sharing with the world. I needed to be prepared for any and all questions children would ask as well as continue to surprise and astound them. Some of my favorite dressings were the Naughty & Nice list and a special pocket watch, both of which I received from my sister, Laurie, as well as a set of magical keys I found that lit up for children that didn’t have a chimney.

At long last, my professional visits began in the holiday season of 2011 and would continue year-round until 2019. I started small, attending family Christmas parties, and expanded to contracts with Bass Pro Shops for four years as part of their Santa’s Wonderland, as well as participating with various charitable organizations. A key tenet of embodying Santa is giving back; as Frank Cross says in Scrogged, “[y]ou've just got to want that feeling [of giving back]! And if you like it and you want it, you'll get greedy for it. You'll want it every day of your life.” This could not be more true. I was a member of the Red Suit Society which enabled me to donate a percentage of time as Santa to the Anita’s Stevens Swan Humane Society taking pet photos, Cornell Companions of Oneida County, an animal-assisted therapy group where we visited schools and handed out presents to children with our furry friends, and the Roser Communications’ Stuff-the-Bus Campaign. I would like to especially thank Liz DeSantis for asking me to participate in Stuff-the-Bus, and for doing a wonderful job at facilitating my appearances.

Given the sports fan I am (Go Cowboys!), we cannot forget to mention my involvement with our community teams. One of my favorite bucket list moments was throwing the first pitch at the Syracuse Chiefs (current the Mets) Christmas in July game (twice), thus allowing me to create my famous summer baseball Santa outfit. I had an incredible time picking out the perfect white pants with a red stripe and candy cane baseball socks. I was also honored that the Utica Comets hosted me as Santa, enabling me to bring joy not only to children, but to adults.

Unfortunately, as they say, all good things must come to an end. To my dismay, the pandemic and my health forced me into early retirement in 2019. Words do not begin to describe the emotions that washed over me every time I put on the red suit knowing the cheer I could spread to people of all ages and different species of animals (even turtles!). I lived my life with the ultimate goal of trying to make a difference and I felt closest to achieving this goal as Santa. I didn’t just “play” him. I became him. In this red suit or green suit or kilt, with all my dressing, I could spread goodness to anyone that crossed my path. Santa saved my life in a number of ways by bringing to the forefront all the good in me (some of which I had buried) and allowing for the introductions to so many amazing people that changed my life. I will forever be grateful to “Santa” and to all the people that welcomed me into their homes and shared their Christmas celebrations with me. I hope you all know it was an absolute honor to be part of your Christmas traditions.

As I come to a close, I want to say a profound thank you to a number of individuals that altered my life for the better during my time in this world:

To my high school partners in crime, Eric Bryant, Gary Flanagan, Bill Bashant, and Tom Bashant, I want to thank you for your friendship and the mischief, laughs, and adventures that came along with it.

To Mrs. Willis, my middle school choir director, I want to thank you for giving me the confidence and determination to pursue choir and theater throughout high school. The skills I learned and developed with you became particularly invaluable when I followed my dream to become a professional Santa.

To my Shih Tzu and Therapy Dog partner, Comet, who I had to help across the Rainbow Bridge in May of 2023, I say…see you soon.

To Dr. Shwe Win and Dr. Rajvee Patel, thank you for being the first two doctors that listened to me, making me feel heard and seen. To the nurses, especially Jessie Menzies of the Intermediate Care Unit on 5 East, and the medical staff at Wynn Hospital, thank you for your care and kindness during the last moments in my life. Your jobs are hard, sometimes thankless, and you are greatly appreciated.

To my family, I want to thank you for all your love and support through the good times and the bad. Family is the foundation that continues to shape you throughout the course of your life and you have each shaped me and the person I became in many different ways. For that I am grateful.

Lastly, and quite frankly most importantly, to Barb, my partner and the Mrs. Claus to my Mr. - my life would not be a fraction of what it was if I didn’t have to wake you up that fateful day in our college counselor education class many years ago. I would not have reached the caliber of School Counselor, Coach, Santa, or person I was if you had not been by my side cheering me on along the way. You supported my every dream and endeavor, no matter how farfetched it may have sounded at the time. When I put on my red suit, you put on yours and stood (sometimes crouched) alongside me allowing me to embrace Santa in ways I never imagined. I love you and words do not begin to fully express my gratitude that you kept me by your side in this life and the honor it was being your person.

I am survived by my:
Wife and best friend of 31 years, Barbara J. Cittadino, along with my Shih Tzu Noel.
Sisters Laurie (David) Lloyd and Rosella (Rocco) Pandolfo
Brother Peter (Lorraine) Cittadino
Nieces and nephews: Alyssun (Chris) Scuderi, Evan (Brittany) Lloyd, Andrew Lloyd, Morgan Lloyd, Hayley (Joseph) Storm, Anthony Pandolfo, Louisa Pandolfo, Rocco Pandolfo and Darcey (Pablo) Rodriguez
Great nieces and nephews: Tyler and Emma Scuderi; Gemma and Britton Lloyd; Charlotte and Camryn Lloyd; and Lincoln, Atticus, and soon to be baby girl Storm

In lieu of flowers please consider donating to the Arthritis Association or the Arthritis National Research Foundation to help find a cure. I discovered only recently that my lung deterioration was due to undiagnosed Rheumatoid Arthritis but it was too late, the damage was done.

I am not known for pomp and circumstance so I've asked my family to have a small family memorial in the Calvary Cemetery Chapel at a time that is convenient for them.

All arrangements are being provided by the Eannace Funeral Home, Inc.

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