By Elisabeth Costanzo Stewart
Peter Vallese Sr. (MT ’49) had no idea that his RSVP to SUNY Broome’s 2022 Alumni Reunion would cause such a stir. It had been a rough couple of years for Vallese. He lost his beloved wife of almost seventy years, Waneta, in March of 2020, and the loneliness that accompanies loss was only intensified by the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic. By the time Peter received his invitation to SUNY Broome’s reunion weekend, he felt that he was ready to have some social interaction again. Sharing in the celebration of the 75th anniversary of his beloved alma mater seemed like the perfect post-pandemic social outing. After securing a date with his daughter and fellow SUNY Broome alumni, Janice Cornell (DH ’73), he completed his online registration form. Seconds after Vallese hit submit, the team at the SUNY Broome Foundation was abuzz with excitement.
“Our RSVP registration responses go to an office wide distribution list. When Peter’s form was submitted, we all read “Peter Vallese Sr. – Class of 1949” at around the same time. All of a sudden you could hear cheers and hoots from everyone’s offices. We were so excited that a member of the class of 1949 wanted to celebrate our 75th anniversary with us and we couldn’t wait to meet Peter and Janice,” beamed Cathy Williams, Executive Director of the SUNY Broome Foundation.
Dressed sharply in SUNY Broome colors, Peter Vallese Sr., a true gentleman, arrived at the Culinary & Event Center and soon became the star of the evening. He addressed the crowd of fellow alumni and softly, but eloquently, spoke about his lifelong appreciation for the education that he received from SUNY Broome three-quarters of a century ago.
Peter Vallese Sr. grew up on a family farm in Vestal, NY. The sixth of eight children, he spent his adolescence taking care of his father’s cows and horses and playing sports. After graduating from Vestal Central High School, Vallese knew that he wanted to do two things – to go to college and to play basketball. Fortunately for him, 1946 was the most pivotal year for higher education in the history of the Southern Tier. Not one, but two colleges were opening their doors to students interested in continuing their education.
Vallese first applied to Harpur College (Binghamton University), but the literature entrance exam served as a deterrent. Then someone told him about the New York State Institute of Applied Arts & Sciences at Binghamton (SUNY Broome), affectionately referred to as “State Tech.” As a mechanically-minded farm boy who wanted to design and craft tools, studying Mechanical Engineering Technology: A.A.S at State Tech seemed like the best fit. Vallese was particularly pleased to learn that State Tech would have a basketball team.
After making it past all of the trial practices, Vallese was cut from the team just moments before the opening tip-off. His dismissal from the team was a deeply crushing blow that left a lingering ache.
“I wanted to contribute to the team so badly. I was a smart player and the best rebounder we had, but I never got to play. I’m still holding out for a spot on the team,” shared Vallese.
The hole in Peter’s schedule that was once hopefully reserved for basketball practices and games was reverted back to farm work. Like so many SUNY Broome students today, Vallese was a working student, balancing his studies with his responsibilities on his family’s farm.
“I didn’t have too much of a social life on campus because I was always coming to and from some project on the farm. But when I was on campus, I tried to make the most of my time,” said Vallese.
Two years later, in 1949, Vallese joined the historical cohort of SUNY Broome’s first graduating class. Like many of his fellow alumni, Peter dove directly into the workforce. He was hired by the Brewer-Titchener Corporation as a sheet metal fabricator. Vallese remained with the company for five years, and was an active member of Brewer-Titchener’s softball and basketball industrial leagues.
Vallese was a college graduate and thriving young professional, so naturally, his next mission was to tackle finding a life partner. A mutual acquaintance from the region’s farming community suggested that Vallese take Waneta Skinner on a blind date. Their matchmaker was spot on with his suggestion, and they married on June 30th, 1951.
“Once a month, a milk tester traveled around to all of the area farms to test samples for quality control. He visited both of our farms and thought that we should meet. I was a farm boy and she was a farm girl, meaning that we both knew how to work. We were a match,” shared Vallese.
Peter’s next career move was to join the team at Link Aviation as a mechanical drafter, reviewing design blueprints. He was responsible for updating and maintaining the documents connected to the DC-8 simulator. Just like with most contract-based technological companies, when a project concludes, layoffs follow. So, in 1960 Vallese had to regroup. Thankfully, he had a skill to fall back on.
“My father had retired from his job at the railroad and wanted to retire from farming as well. He had sold his Vestal farm and was looking to sell the Endicott one too. I spent the next five years as a full time farmer. I enjoyed farming, but the work was just too much and the price of milk was rapidly declining. Waneta and I decided to sell the cows and I went to work for IBM,” explained Vallese.
Vallese had a twenty-year career with IBM. He started as a technician supporting the cards and boards and retired as a senior designer. Though he admits that his gentle nature and hesitancy to speak up for himself may have hindered him professionally in the beginning, he worked hard, took advantage of overtime opportunities, and thrived.
The following thirty-six years of retirement have been filled with a perfect balance of passion projects, service, historical research, and family time. A lover of history and genealogy, Vallese is an active member of the Vestal Historical Society, where he served as the treasurer for over a decade. In addition to researching on behalf of the Historical Society, he has traced his personal family history back to the 1600’s.
Peter is an active member of the Vestal Memorial Park Baptist Church, where he served for many years as the secretary. As a couple, Peter and Waneta worked together to maintain the church’s building and grounds as an act of Christian service.
While Vallese beams when he talks about his three children, Janice, Peter Jr., and Robert, his enthusiasm quadruples when he speaks about his seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He doesn’t hesitate to list off their names, hometowns, and their abundant accomplishments. His devotion to his family is unquestionable, especially so for Waneta, whom he lovingly cared for at home as she battled Alzheimer’s disease during the last two years of her life.
Vallese has an incredible fondness for preserving memories, especially memories from his “State Tech” days. His home office housed perfectly preserved original copies of his acceptance letter and graduation documents. As a first-generation student, they mean a great deal to him.
“I was the only one of my parents’ eight children to earn a college degree. It was solely my idea, though my parents did offer their encouragement. I have always had a deep appreciation for my education and the doors that it opened for me and for my family,” shared Vallese.
There are a lot of differences between the graduates of the class of 1949 and the graduates of 2022, but many of the core desires of these students have remained the same. These classes were and are comprised of people looking to advance their professional and personal lives through an accessible, affordable, and hands-on collegiate education.
When asked to share some advice with SUNY Broome’s newest Hornets, Vallese opted for practical guidance. “Be as fiscally responsible as you can. Learn to save and learn to invest. I had an IRA even before IRA’s were a thing. I always tried to save as much as I could for the future, even during my farming years when it was definitely more difficult to do so. Understanding your finances is a critical, but often overlooked portion of life and I would encourage all recent graduates to make it a priority.”
We can’t help but wish that all SUNY Broome alumni would be like Peter Vallese Sr. We sincerely hope that three-quarters of a century after your semesters at SUNY Broome, that you are able to do as Peter Vallese Sr. has done – to think fondly of your time at SUNY Broome and to remain ever appreciative of the transformative power of a college education.
Looking to reconnect with SUNY Broome? Contact the SUNY Broome Foundation! The Foundation hosts alumni events throughout the year to bring former students together to reminisce about the past and to create new memories.