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Fordham at Work: Victor Birone

Photo by Janet Sassi

Photo by Janet Sassi

Foreman of the Carpentry Shop, Facilities Operations


20 years.

Victor is in charge of a crew of five that does general carpentry, custom building for special events and restoration of the University’s wooden treasures. They are responsible for building the staging for Commencement, Jubilee and other events. The crew also hangs banners, lays carpeting and builds walkways to various event tents.

During the summer, Victor and his crew—Karl Mitchell, Mike Raucci, Jimmy Sanchez, Danny Reilly and Farid Abid—visit every dorm room at Rose Hill to prepare it for the fall semester. “We make sure that when the student comes in, that bedroom is like a hotel room—everything works perfectly.”

Before coming to Fordham, Victor was a carpenter at B. Altman Department Store, where he worked until it closed in 1989. He developed an interest in carpentry while attending high school in Kew Gardens. He got an apprenticeship and eventually went to night school to become a journeyman. At Fordham, Victor started as a carpenter and worked his way up to foreman. This year he received Fordham’s Sursum Corda award for service to the University.

“Today everything has gone high-tech. A lot of work is done with machinery, but I learned my trade as an apprentice to an old German carpenter, working with hand tools. I asked a question once while he was working and he said, ‘I’m not here to answer questions.’ I was 19 but I finally figured out to just watch the guy, and that’s how I learned. I’m glad I learned that way. I even still sharpen all of my own tools myself. And I try to pass on what I know to my crew, otherwise that kind of knowledge is lost.”

“I have put extensions on houses and others think it’s great, but to me, that is camel work. What I love is rebuilding and maintaining old pieces for the University. That’s one great thing about Fordham, it has age and history and there are a lot of things here that can benefit from the art of woodworking, which is not lost here because these very old pieces can’t be serviced high-tech. It’s a great opportunity for a craftsman.”

Victor recommends visiting the Administration Building’s gallery to see the 19th century Honduras mahogany memorial built for Archbishop John Hughes in 1864 by the City of New York. Birone and Karl Mitchell helped restore the piece in 2005 by retooling missing parts and refinishing it. He also recommends seeing the large wooden doors of the University Church, which were restored this year to their original state. He and his crew just finished restoring the reredos behind the altar at the church.

“I love to make furniture. I’ve made a lot of my own furniture in our New Rochelle house. I still have my first chair, a replica of a Queen Anne style, with upholstery and some inlay. It took some time to build and wasn’t perfect, but it came to me that this was what I wanted to do. I tell my kids, too, how important it is to do something you love, so you can enjoy going to work each morning. ”


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