John Moliterno Roast

Friends Roast John Moliterno at Eastwood Event

NILES, Ohio – Pearlette Wigley offered a warning and advice Thursday evening to her former boss.

Clad in a maid’s outfit, as Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” played on a sound system, Wigley came up onto the stage where John Moliterno was seated at the Eastwood Event Center before a roomful of family, friends, and business and political leaders.

“Nervous? You should be,” she teased as she brushed Moliterno with the feather duster she carried to complete her outfit.

Wigley was among those who poked fun at the newly retired CEO of the Western Reserve Port Authority during the John Moliterno Roast and Toast retirement dinner and celebration. The event was co-sponsored by WRPA and which was presented by the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, which Moliterno headed previously.

Proceeds will benefit a new scholarship being established by Moliterno.

The often salty tone of the evening was set early on, when Ryan McNaughton, vice president of government affairs, welcomed those attending “to what most of us are calling a really s—ty Thursday night.” He further advised that what was to come was “all in good fun,” and that anyone taking offense to anything said should reevaluate their life decisions.

“Kind of like I am. I’m stuck doing this garbage,” he joked.     

Roasters ribbed Moliterno on topics ranging from those as benign as his spoiling his grandchildren before returning them to their parents to suggestions of improper – or even illegal – activity. Other targets were his work habits and ethic, and his age.

“I’m no longer a chamber maid,” Wigley, a former Regional Chamber employee when Moliterno headed the organization, said playfully during a rhyme that lasted about eight minutes.

“It didn’t matter if I knew anything, as long as I was willing to compliment you and kiss the ring. But I was always afraid when you and I were in the office alone. Not for my safety, but for your own,” she said.

“Thank goodness you left the chamber before the #metoo movement arrived,” she further rhymed. “Perhaps your career would not have survived.”

She later offered the disclaimer that “only a few things I said are true.”

Longtime friend Gregg Strollo, president and principal at Strollo Architects, joked about Moliterno’s work ethic and age. Wigley, who spoke before him, “worked harder on that talk than John has in 40 years,” he said.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m wondering two things. Number one, why would John retire from really essentially never really working?” he said. “Number two, how will anyone know he’s retired? He really since the ‘80s has had jobs with almost no job description. People have paid him pretty well. I still don’t know what he does, but he’s good at it. He’s actually has people convinced that we have a port. I think I saw the S.S. Minnow on the Mahoning on the way up.”

Strollo also joked that Moliterno was so old that he used No. 1 pencils in school, that when he got to high school they hadn’t begun history yet and that when he started college Old Spice was just Spice. He said a picture projected on the room’s multimedia screens showing Moliterno with one of his grandchildren as a baby was actually Moliterno holding Betty White, who died earlier this year just short of reaching her 100th birthday.    

On a more serous note, Strollo said Moliterno had been an important part of his life for more than 40 years, including serving as his son’s godfather. 

One of John’s siblings, Mike Moliterno, recited events from a diary he purportedly recorded of his brother’s life, including his being completely potty trained and being able to recite the Gettysburg Address at four months old. When then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy visited Girard in October 1960, Mike Moliterno said his older brother, who would have been just shy of age 10, pushed through the crowd and told Kennedy that he planned to follow in his footsteps.

“And he did. John made it to the lofty position of Girard councilman,” he said.

Anthony Cafaro, former president of the Cafaro Co., recalled being contacted to Anthony Trevena, the port authority’s executive director, because Moliterno wanted the retired real estate executive to roast him.    

“I said I don’t want to roast him. He’s the most boring, dull, son of a b—h I’ve ever seen,” he said. “

In his remarks, McNaughton even joked about Moliterno’s efforts to promote regionalism in the Mahoning Valley. It was during his tenure that the Youngstown, Warren and Niles chambers of commerce were merged into the Regional Chamber, as well as the merger of the Better Business Bureaus when he was with BBB.

“John was responsible for much of the regionalization and consolidation that we see today in the Valley,” he remarked. “You might say that John has been responsible for more people losing their livelihoods than the Naples and Strollo families combined.”

Other roasters included longtime friends Joe Naples and Mahoning County Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti, who also presented Moliterno with a gift, a “fake diamond,” she said.

Trumbull County Commissioner Frank Fuda read a proclamation recognizing Moliterno for his efforts on behalf of the Mahoning Valley. “During his years of service, John has maintained excellent relationships with everyone, which has earned him the respect he so rightfully deserves,” Fuda recited.

Between roasts, video tributes – some humorous, others more heartfelt – from current and former colleagues were played on the multimedia screens. Among those featured during the segments were former chamber staffers Jan Strasfeld, Walt Good and Barb Ewing, and current WRPA employees Trevena and Sara Jackson.    

Ewing, who is now CEO of the Youngstown Business Incubator, said Moliterno did her “one of the biggest favors” of her career by moving her into the government affairs’ position at the regional chamber. She subsequently was hired by the office of U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, where she worked for eight years before taking a job at YBI.

“I understand that at the time, it probably wasn’t a favor. You were saving on payroll, and it worked out very well for you,” she said. “But it also worked out very well for me, and I have always been thankful for the trust that you put into me.”

Members of the audience occasionally found themselves targets of barbs. McNaughton joked about the decision by state Rep. Mike O’Brien, who is term limited, to run for Trumbull County commissioner during a time when infighting among board members has dominated headlines.

“How dysfunctional is the state capitol when the best option for future employment is to run for Trumbull County commissioner? Were crash test dummies not accepting applications?” he asked.

He also referenced a recent newspaper article about how Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, who attended the roast, and Warren Mayor Doug Franklin were working to inspire the minority community.

“They said they aspire to show it can be done,” he said. “Anytime now, Mayor. Whenever you’re ready, sir.”

Moliterno offered only brief remarks expressing his appreciation to his family and to the audience, and said that the roasters “could have been a lot worse” worse to him.

He acknowledged that people are curious about what his next step is and said he intends to stay busy.

“Every once in a while, you have to take a step to the side and move in a different direction. I’m ready to do that,” he said. “I have some opportunities to do things. All of it will be here and all of it will be helping this community in some way. But hopefully I’m not done.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.