BY TOM LAVIS
The 2013 Artists’ Hall of Fame, sponsored by Bottle Works Ethnic Arts Center, will recognize a children’s author and jazz musician.
The honors go to author Ron Madison of Westmont and jazz musician and Conemaugh Borough native Don Aliquo of Lower Burrell, Westmoreland County.
Madison, who holds a doctorate in civil engineering and is retired from executive posts at Bethlehem Steel Corp. and Pennsylvania Electric Co., composed poems to tell his children years ago.
He rediscovered them for his grandchildren, and their delight in the stories about Ned, the kid with a big head who wasn’t big-headed, led to his decision to write a book, “Ned’s Head.”
Aliquo, an educator and distinguished saxophonist, has shared the stage with prominent entertainers such as Tony Bennett, Lena Horne, Mel Torme and Johnny Mathis, plus performances with Hal Case, Johnnie Long, Woody Herman and as guest soloist with the River City Brass Band.
The Artists’ Hall of Fame recognizes distinguished performing, visual, musical or literary artists who are natives or residents of the region and who have achieved excellence and recognition in their professional fields.
The men will be honored during a reception and dinner at 6 p.m. Nov. 2 at the Holiday Inn, 250 Market St. in downtown Johnstown.
Donation for the event is $50 per person.
Rosemary Pawlowski, executive director of Bottle Works Ethnic Arts Center, 411 Third Ave. in the Cambria City section of Johnstown, said the awards give the community an opportunity to showcase the talented individuals in the area.
Now in its 12th year, Pawlowski is impressed with the list of extraordinary artistic endeavors rooted in the region.
“Every year, we receive and consider nominations for the honorees for this event, and every year, we have to leave candidates with real merit on the table,” Pawlowski said.
“The event is also an opportunity to acquaint our audiences with visual, musical, literary and performance artists with whom they may not be familiar.”
Madison expressed surprise when he first learned of his selection.
“I was thrilled and a little bewildered because I didn’t realize the Bottle Works honored authors,” Madison said.
“I’m quite honored to be recognized by my hometown.”
Madison has written a series of books featuring stories and adventures of Ned, who learns lessons about the importance of loyalty, friendship, family, self-esteem, compassion, safety and how to say “no” to drugs.
His latest book, “Ned and the World’s Religions,” which presents a glimpse of the world’s religions through the eyes of children, won acclaim at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia, in 2009.
Madison discovered the true impact his writing is having while attending a standing-room-only workshop as a guest author.
“A gentleman stood and told the attendees how much he loved my book and stated that of all the good things at the gathering, my book was the best,” Madison said.
He later discovered that the man who praised his work was the secretary general of the Human Rights Commission in India.
Attending the Parliament were more than 8,000 religious leaders, including the Dalai Lama, who autographed the chapter that is based on a story told by the Dalai Lama in Woodstock, N.Y.
Madison was asked by Greater Johnstown School District Superintendent and former state Secretary of Education Gerald Zahorchak to write a book to introduce children to the world’s religions.
Zahorchak said it’s not a book that teaches religion, but teaches lessons of understanding and harmony.
“Ron is a man of perpetual motion who is gifted with a wonderful mind,” Zahorchak said.
“He researched the religion book for two years and visited churches, synagogues and mosques to gain a better understanding.”
His research for the book included many interviews with children of many faiths and their parents and faith leaders. The message is important for adults and for children.
“It’s a book that will inspire a lot of young people,” Zahorchak said.
Aliquo said he was amazed at being selected to his hometown’s hall of fame.
“I love Johnstown and could never forget my roots,” he said.
Aliquo was 11 years old when he started taking clarinet lessons from William Flinn of Kernville.
“He saw that I had ability,” Aliquo said.
“He encouraged me when I was on the verge of quitting and gave me very technical lessons.”
Aliquo eventually came to realize that Flinn provide a solid foundation from which to build on his talent.
“I came to realize that Mr. Flinn was a genius, although I didn’t know it at the time,” Aliquo said.
Mike Bodolosky, executive director of the Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center, was a student at IUP when he first met Aliquo.
“He’s from Johnstown and made his mark on the world,” Bodolosky said.
“When I first met him, he had a phenomenal reputation in the world of jazz and was recognized as a great educator.”
Bodolosky, a well-known drummer in his own right and a member of the hall of fame, has performed with Aliquo on several occasions and couldn’t help but be influenced by his presence.
“He is laid back and never gets irritated,” Bodolosky said.
“You cannot work with a person of his talent and not take a few things from him and use them as your own.”
As a fellow educator, Bodolosky also admired Aliquo’s passion for enlightening young people.
“Don is unsurpassed when it comes to the knowledge, technique and pedagogy,” Bodolosky said.
“Because of him and his generosity of sharing his knowledge, I’m sure there are a lot of people who have benefited from his teaching skills.”
In the late 1940s and early ’50s, Aliquo took advantage of Johnstown’s vibrant musical scene when a musician could play almost every night of the week with a different group, in clubs, in theaters, auditoriums or parks.
Aliquo blossomed when he went to the Army and became a member of the Walter Reed Band in Washington, D.C. The band afforded him the opportunity to perform with great musicians for numerous dignitaries.
Upon discharge, Aliquo enrolled in the music education program at Indiana State Teachers College, where he earned a music education degree.
He taught in the Highlands School District. While teaching, he worked as a freelance musician in Pittsburgh. His venues include the Civic Light Opera, the Pittsburgh Ballet, Heinz Hall, Benedum Center, Syria Mosque and the Civic Arena.
He performed at prestigious clubs and jazz festivals in and around Pittsburgh.
A special assignment for Aliquo was the “Mister Rogers” television shows, where he performed and recorded children’s songs with Johnny Costa and Joe Negri.
He was inducted into the Pittsburgh Jazz Hall of Fame in 2010. In 2011, the Manchester Craftsman’s Guild named him a jazz legend and he received the Walt Harper Award from Pittsburgh Talk magazine.
Past hall of fame honorees are Brad and Laura Gordon, Bodolosky, Glen Brougher, Peter Calaboyias, Carmel C. Coco, Frank Cunsolo, CTC Foundation, Sister Maria Josephine D’Archangelo, Rodney Eatman, Jeanne Gleason, Harriett Goff, Istvan Jaray, Claudia Jones, Carla Prucnal, Jim Richey, Sally Stewart, Winnie and Kathy Voytko, Donna Maria Zapolla and Barbara Zivkovich.
For reservations, call 536-5399.
Checks may be sent to Bottle Works, 411 Third Avenue, Johnstown, Pa. 15906.
Tom Lavis covers Features for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter.com/Tom LavisTD.
What: 12th annual Bottle Works Ethnic Arts Center Artists’ Hall of Fame.
When: 6 p.m. Nov. 2.
Where: Holiday Inn, 250 Market St., downtown Johnstown.
Cost: $50 a person.