By Amanda Aschettino and Stephany Chung
Ernesto Golfo Reflects on 42 Years at The New School
In December 1968, Ernesto Golfo was playing foosball with friends at a bar on the corner of Beaumont Avenue and Crotona Avenue in South Bronx. He was headed to Roosevelt High School, where he was taking a night class to learn English.
That night, a man named Mario Salza walked into the bar, and announced that he would offer a job to anyone in exchange for ten dollars. Golfo, in need of a job, leaped at the proposal. Salza then drove Golfo in his white Pontiac to 65 Fifth Ave. Salza worked with Madison Cleaner, the company then in charge of maintenance at The New School, and introduced Golfo to Pat Diorio, supervisor of the company. That night, Golfo started as an overnight “porter” and 42 years later, he’s still at The New School.
“I was 19 years old, not thinking about what you’re losing, what you’re getting,” said Golfo, to the Free Press during an interview on May 2, to speak about his long-spent time at the university; it is believed his is the second-longest of any active staff member at the university. “Maybe it’s true that this man has a job for me,” he recalled, thinking back to that night. “I’ll take the opportunity. I’ll take the job. And sure enough, it worked out good.”
About four times each week, Golfo climbs to the roof to observe the gravity tank and inspects the dusty mechanical room in the basement. He removes debris from the roof, keeping the area safe for co-workers. He also checks the water pressure, the pumps for the gravity tank, the pipes, and the sprinkler system.
But Golfo is a custodian of much more than the physical campus. He has become an informal historian of The New School, a repository of its institutional memory. He’s seen the acquisition of buildings, occupations, shifts in faculty and division changes.
In 1968, Golfo was nearly 19 and his brother Anthony was 21 when the two arrived in the U.S. from the Bolognetta province in Palermo, Sicily, where they grew up. But the family, in fact, had roots in the U.S. Golfo’s father, born in 1901, grew up in Little Italy. His father was brought back to Sicily at age seven or eight, and the family stayed there until Graziella, Golfo’s older sister, came to New York with his brother — two weeks ahead of Golfo. He, his two siblings and his sister’s husband rented an apartment together on Crotona Avenue in the Bronx. Two years later, his parents and younger brother Franco followed. “There were a lot of Italians in ’68,” Golfo said. “But now a lot of them [have] disappeared.”
On the night he arrived in New York, Golfo was hired as a jeweler in a store on 45th Street; Golfo’s priest wrote a letter to a relative in New York who knew the owner of the jewelry store. However, after a couple of months, Golfo found another job welding at an elevator door shop in the Bronx and worked there when he met Salza.
Golfo has been in the country for over 40 years, but his Italian accent hasn’t faded. His voice is animated and he uses his hands often when he speaks. Usually people can hear him coming before they see him by the sounds of his walkie talkie and the squeaking of his shoes. He is a polite, short man with wisps of white hair who wears glasses and waves to people in the halls. Golfo is an ever-present fixture on campus.
“I love to do what I’m doing here,” he said. “I work with all my heart.”
After working with Madison Cleaner for one month, he was hired directly by The New School. Then when Golfo became the school’s locksmith in the early 1970s, he installed all the locks that remain in the 11th Street building.
By the mid-1980s, he had risen to his current job, overseeing a team that presently consists of four cleaners, three porters and two handymen.
“I would say he’s stern, but he’s fair,” said Colin Clare, a 42-year-old porter who works with Golfo at the 11th and 12th Street buildings. Clare has worked at the university for seven years, and with Golfo for four. “He actually has a great sense of humor.”
Another porter named Joe, who is also Italian, has worked with Golfo for 12 years. “If you mess up, he’ll tell you,” Joe said. “Everybody makes mistakes, so it’s okay. [Golfo’s] all right.”
Although Golfo has been loyal to The New School for decades and knows the university’s history well, he shies away from telling his stories about the university. But Golfo has seen quite a lot during his tenure.
During 9/11, Golfo remembers how The New School offered shelter to those who had lost loved ones. For about two weeks, he said, more than 100 people stayed overnight in the basement of 65 W. 11th St., on the first floor, second floor, and even in the courtyard. Golfo usually worked eight-hour shifts, but during those weeks, he stayed an extra eight hours each night without pay.
“I [saw] that actually the administration was trying to do something good for the people who lost a lot of loved ones and friends,” he said. “I try not to remember those things… it was not a very nice picture to see someone lose a sister, a brother, a father, or mother, or any good friends for that matter.”
Golfo was on the roof of 66 W. 12th St. when the second plane hit. He heard about the first plane crashing into one of the towers, so he went to see what was happening. “One was already on fire and we thought we saw glass breaking down there, but then I realized that it was people jumping from 80 stories high,” he said. “I stopped watching this altogether, because my heart was falling apart.”
Golfo has not only witnessed the comings and goings of generations of students and faculty; he has also seen changes in the university’s art collection.
A particular favorite is “Ecuadorian Festival,” by Camilo Egas, which is currently in the lobby of 66 W. 12th St.
Egas was commissioned to paint the mural in the early 1930s by Alvin Johnson, then director of The New School for Social Research. Egas painted the mural thinking it would be on the wall facing room 001 in the basement of 66 W. 12th St. At the time, Martha Graham was teaching in the classroom, so he painted it to compliment her technique.
Before 1988, the mural was taken down and placed in storage at 65 Fifth Ave. out of public view, and a wall was built later on to protect it from construction.
“[Facilities services] sort of forgot it was back there. But I knew it was back there,” Golfo said.
In 2010, the mural was put on display in 2 W. 13th St. It was put back in storage, then restored last October and moved to the lobby of 66 W. 12th St.
During his time at The New School, Golfo has outlasted four New School presidents. When former President Jonathan Fanton, who served from 1982 to 1999, held meetings, he would call Golfo to tell the people in the surrounding area to quiet down.
However, Golfo’s relationship with Kerrey was friendlier. “Bob Kerrey was a beautiful person,” he said. “He had no complaints.”
Mark Statman, a professor at Eugene Lang College for 25 years, said he feels like he’s known Golfo forever. Because Statman’s office is connected to the 11th Street building’s heating and cooling system, Golfo often needs access.
“For big jobs, Ernesto is always asking ahead of time what is convenient,” Statman said. “This came up during advising for registration and he made sure that any work that needed to be done specifically did not interfere.”
While Golfo is perusing hallways and bustling around campus, he often interacts with students.
“Ernesto is very friendly and helpful,” said Elana Bulman, a senior at Lang. “I worked with him when I was distributing recycling bins for my job up at the office for sustainability, and he was a fun guy to spend the afternoon going around with.”
“I don’t really use the term jovial, but he kind of seems that way,” said Sarah Gunther, a Lang senior. “I see him really early in the morning and he seems a lot more awake than I am, so it’s kind of nice to be greeted by someone like that.”
Despite his long years at the job, Golfo does not do a lot of sitting. He often walks the halls, checking in with students as he passes, helping his team with classroom set-ups, and assisting professors as much as he can.
After all this time, Golfo still looks forward to coming to work everyday.
“If I had to go look for a job, I would come back here to work for this job,” Golfo said. “Or any type of [job] at The New School. The New School has good people to work with.”
Reporting by Jack Brooks and Cal Stamp