Frank Cunsolo is a man who can’t say no when it comes to helping others.
The successful businessman, civic leader and lifelong resident of Windber has been closely associated with charity work on behalf of Windber Hospice, the Arcadia Theater and the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra to name a few.
Cunsolo and his wife of
55 years, Barbara, owned and operated Cunsolo Furniture for more than four decades.
Upon his retirement, he continued to be a major contributor to the Arcadia by serving as board chairman and program director.
Cunsolo, who has been progressively giving up his responsibilities with most organizations, has informed the Arcadia board of directors that he will be stepping down as program director as soon as the 2013 performance season is in place.
But with all the irons he had in the fire, Cunsolo’s own musical talent has played a major part in his life.
“I not only loved the furniture business, but I was continually working with my band, Touch of Class,” he said.
The talented baritone left Windber after college in the 1950s and went to Atlantic City, N.J., to pursue a vocal career.
Like most performers, Cunsolo paid his dues by performing at nightclubs and corporate functions to hone his vocal skills.
But he could not ignore the request of his father, Frank T. Cunsolo, to return home, settle down and get into a business that he could rely on for a steady income.
“My father was an executive with H.J. Heinz and when he retired, he suggested we get into the retail business,” Cunsolo said.
Their first endeavor was a discount store in Windber at 1008 Graham Ave., where they sold a wide variety of items.
“The things we learned there showed us that selling furniture was our future,” Cunsolo said.
Ironically, Cunsolo's music career benefited his business venture as well.
"In the heyday of Johnstown, our band would play at least four nights a week at the Holiday Inn and other evenings at dances or corporate affairs," he said. "We played a lot of Sunnehanna's (Country Club) parties."
Cunsolo’s father suggested that his son cut down on his nightlife because he was getting home late and had to be up early to be at the store, which had relocated to the much
larger Grambling Building at 1000 Graham Ave.
“It wasn’t until a couple who were about to be married came into the store and asked for me by name that changed my father’s attitude,” Cunsolo said.
“I ended up selling the couple $25,000 worth of furniture, carpeting and window treatments on that day.”
His father was puzzled at how his son knew the people.
“When I told him it was because they were fans of my music when I performed at Sunnehanna, he changed his tune,” Cunsolo quipped.
Many people have benefited from Cunsolo’s musical talent and the contacts he made with legislators and captains of industry during his performing career.
The first “Evening for Hospice” was born following a similar event Cunsolo and his wife attended in Allentown.
On the long drive home, the couple jotted down a list of people who they could entice into attending a charitable affair to benefit Windber Hospice.
“I felt compelled to do something for hospice for the way they cared for my dear friend Nick Barbera,” Cunsolo said.
“By the time we pulled into our driveway, the list included hundreds of names.”
The event, which was
co-sponsored by the Windber Rotary Club, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars during four fundraisers.
Proceeds were used to increase cancer awareness and resulted in an expansion at the facility.
“By the time I leave the Arcadia, I would like to have one more ‘Evening for Hospice,’ ” Cunsolo said.
F. Nicholas Jacobs, retired president of Windber Medical Center and the Windber Research Institute, said Cunsolo’s generosity is unmatched.
“In my lifetime, I have met a great many givers and takers,” he said. “Frank not only gives, he goes above and beyond the call when it comes to helping his community, Windber Hospice or the Arcadia Theater. As he becomes less involved, he leaves a legacy that will last forever.”
In 1993, Cunsolo was one of the original board members of the Eureka Coal Heritage board, which was formed to restore the Arcadia, the Coal Heritage Museum and the Mine 40 Overlook.
After Arcadia Theater’s rescue from the brink of destruction, the refurbished venue had to fill the 700-seat auditorium to survive.
That task of booking shows falls on the shoulders of Cunsolo, along with two other committee members.
The panel decides what acts will appear on stage each season. The key to success is matching the venerable theater with the right shows.
In 1998, the board asked Cunsolo to come up with a show for the grand opening.
He again used his contacts by calling a friend in Atlantic City, and he made arrangements with Donald Trump’s musical director, Stephanie Nielson.
The performance was “The Best of Broadway,” and Cunsolo thought it would be a great show for Arcadia.
He was right. It sold out in four days, so a second show was booked. That’s when the theater found its niche by bringing in a variety of entertainment for its patrons.
For his unselfish efforts, Cunsolo has been recognized with numerous awards for his contributions. They include the WQED-TV’s 2008 Dominion Foundation VITA (Volunteer In the Arts) Award, election to Bottle Work Ethnic Arts Center’s Hall of Fame and the Johnstown Business Hall of Fame. He also received the Cultural Affairs Award by the Greater Johnstown Cambria County Chamber of Commerce.
“These were not my awards, because it was a team effort,” Cunsolo said. “During a capital campaign for Windber Recreational Park we raised $100,000, but because of Maggie Gray’s unrelenting letter writing campaign to Congressman (John P.) Murtha, we received an additional $600,000 grant.”
The Cunsolos have their home on the market in an effort to downsize.
“With our four children spread out across the country, we just wanted to simplify our lives here,” he said.
The couple’s children live in California, Washington, Connecticut and Florida.
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