Utica’s Most Famous-Bob’s Top 5
It was the lyrics from the ole' Frank Sinatra song that got me thinking about all the famous people who got their start here in the Utica area. “If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere”, is the line we all belt out at the end of every Yankee game (even if you're not a Yankee fan). When I started thinking about all the people that got their start here in Utica, I was amazed at how fast the list grew and grew. So I decided to narrow it down to my top 5 famous people from Utica! (Warning: I am a sports fan!)
Dick Clark is easily at the top of this list. He had a profound impact on the radio and television broadcasting industry. Clark got his radio start at WRUN in Rome as an office worker. He was on the air in no time however doing weather, announcing station breaks and doing news. Clark also got his television start in Utica, working at WKTV. From his humble Utica beginnings Clark went on to host American Bandstand, five versions of the tv game show Pyramid, and of course Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve.
Will Smith is so good I almost became a Saints fan! As a long time Miami Dolphin fan maybe I should reconsider. I can't help but root for the Saints when they are on T.V. and it's all because of Utica's very own Will Smith. While Smith was born in Queens, Smith played his high school football at Proctor finishing his senior season with 20 sacks and as a USA Today All-American pick. According to Prep Football Smith was the best defensive line prospect in the entire state of New York. Smith would go on to have a very impressive college career helping the Ohio State Buckeyes win the national championship in 2002 by beating the Miami Hurricanes in the Fiesta Bowl. After his college Smith was drafted in the first round on the 2004 draft by the New Orleans Saints. As a rookie Smith posted 7.5 sacks along with 30 tackles. By 2006 Smith was a Pro Bowl Starter. Smith became a champion again, this time on football's biggest stage, when the New Orleans Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl 44.
Andy Van Slyke was one of the best centerfielders in the league during his years with the Pittsburgh Pirates. This was back in the day when the Pirates were actually a good team. (Yes kids, at one time, the Pirates were a good team. ) Van Slyke was born right here in Utica and makes my list because I remember watching him play a lot of games in a Pirates uniform. As a senior in high school, Van Slyke earned All-American honors. The Cardinals were impressed with him enough to make him their first round draft pick in 1979, the sixth pick overall in the draft. In 1985 he was one of 5 Cardinals to steal at least 30 bases. In 1987 Van Slyke was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates. As a Pirate Van Slyke became a full time outfielder and was frequently among the league leaders in assists for his position. Van Slyke won 5 consecutive gold gloves from 1988 to 1992. In addition to his fielding prowess he also collected 2 Silver Slugger Awards and appeared in 3 All Star Games.
Born and raised in Utica, well raised to the age of four when her family moved to California, Annette Funicello is Utica's gift to television and the silver screen. Disney cast the Utica native as one of the original “Mouseketeers” and starred in several serials on The Mickey Mouse Club. Funicello also had a successful recording career, earning a number of pop hits in the late 50s and early 60s. After Disney, Funicello became a teen idol starring in a number of “Beach Party” movies with Frankie Avalon. Her autobiography, A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes: My Story, was published in 1994. The following year a made-for-TV-movie based on her autobiography was made.
Please keep in mind this is my top 5 list and that I am a sports fan. With that said I had to add Mark Lemke to my list. To me Mark Lemke is as much of the Atlanta Braves glory days as is Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Mark was born and grew up in Utica. Mark graduated from Notre Dame High School and spent four years in the Braves minor league system before making his pro debut in 1988. Lemke's professional career spanned more than 10 years including 62 post season games and 4 World Series. Lemke and the Braves won it all in 1995.