Setting an Example
The Formichella family story began with a tap-dancing horse.
During her junior year at Ithaca College, Ruth Youngman '47 was the choreographer for the annual campus revue by the thespian group Scampers. She needed someone to be half of the team playing the part of a tap-dancing horse.
One recently discharged U.S. Army Air Corps veteran seemed like a good candidate. "He was a good dancer, he had good rhythm, and you could teach him," says Ruth, reminiscing about how she met James A. Formichella '46, M.S. '48.
"I said I'd do it," James recalls. "That's when it all got started."
Ruth soon learned her future husband was also a good sport. "I was supposed to be in the front, so I could sing my lines," he says. "But the audience couldn't hear my voice through the costume's head. I sang my part from the other end with my voice coming out of the horse's stomach."
What started at that rather odd meeting in 1946 grew into a marriage of 57 years (and counting) that has produced 8 children, 26 grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren. The Formichellas' union also produced two more generations of Ithaca alumni -- their son Steven Formichella '73 and his daughter Anna Formichella '01, M.S. '02. Both, like James, are graduates of the College's physical therapy program.
Perhaps more fateful than the Scampers audition is the simple fact that if World War II hadn't delayed James's graduation from Ithaca College, the couple may not have met at all. A native of Summit, New Jersey, James decided to attend Ithaca at the urging of his cousin, Alfred E. Formichella '42. But during his junior year James was drafted into the Army Air Corps, for which he served in Europe as a navigator on transport planes. Upon being discharged after the war, and with the assistance of the G.I. Bill, he returned to Ithaca to complete his degree in physical education. While he was preparing to graduate James noticed the College was starting a program in physical therapy and decided to become one of the program's first students. "I had thoughts of becoming an athletic trainer, and the physical therapy program sounded pretty good," he says.
Ruth was attracted to Ithaca College because of its small size. "I grew up in a small town," says Ruth, a native of Macedon, New York. "I liked that the College was small enough so that you knew almost everyone."
A physical education major with a dance minor, Ruth had thought of teaching dance after graduation, but the couple married in 1947 and soon began raising a family. They moved to Syracuse, where James began his career as a physical therapist working at a local hospital. Eventually, James went on to a 25-year-career working for the Onondaga County Department of Health and concurrently had his own private therapy practice for more than 20 years. After their five sons and three daughters grew older, Ruth began teaching physical education in local parochial schools.
Although his parents were pleased when he decided to attend Ithaca College, says Steven, they never pressured him. "Once I decided to go into physical therapy, Ithaca was at the top of the list," he says. "Ithaca is one of the best schools -- if not the best -- for physical therapy."
Steven, who works for a home care agency in Syracuse, took the same approach as his parents when his daughter, Anna, expressed a similar interest. "I didn't try to push her that way," he says. "I wanted her to go someplace where she felt it was a good fit for her."
Like her father, Anna says Ithaca became her top choice once she decided to pursue physical therapy as a career. Her interest in the field was apparent when she was quite young. "I used to put Ace bandages on teddy bears," says Anna, who now works at an elder care facility in Lebanon, New Hampshire. "Ever since I was little, I knew I wanted to be involved in a medical field."
Watching how her father conducted his career whetted Anna's appetite to study physical therapy. "It was cool to grow up knowing what that kind of career looked like, to know how someone lives that out every day, and to see the good things he did for people," says Anna.
The flexibility of her father's work schedule was an added bonus. "I don't think he missed any of my sporting events," says Anna, who participated in soccer, volleyball, and track in high school.
The senior Formichellas have maintained their connection with Ithaca College not only through the experiences of Steven and Anna, but also through their own affection for their alma mater. They have marveled, Ruth says, at the transformation of the College since they attended its old campus in downtown Ithaca. By the time Steven was a freshman, the College had moved to South Hill, and the outline of the campus that Anna would attend was starting to take shape.
"The difference between the College we attended and what Steven and Anna experienced is like day and night," Ruth says. "It's remarkable."
"Remarkable" is also how Anna describes her grandparents, one of whom once choreographed the other's tapping in a horse costume. "You should see them together; they're amazing."
-- Gary Frank