A young man grows up in Utica.
During his childhood, he is surrounded by friends and family, and the memories he builds make him want to stay forever.
Stories like that are cast in the Mohawk Valley's more prosperous past.
But conversations with three men, all of whom who were raised in the city, found what many already know: it's still happening here.
Thomas Evans, 87, Sam Girmonde, 50, and Jason Ramirez, 27, come from different backgrounds, but despite the area's decline, their love of this place and their optimism about its future has kept them here.
"I have my own family, in the place I grew up where I enjoyed so much, doing things I love to do," Ramirez said. "It's just being around people who are like-
minded and really value family, that kind of stuff."
Each man navigated the Utica of his day, with its opportunities and pitfalls. In their lifetimes, the area has seen cycles of economic expansion and contraction.
The demise of the textile mills, the World War II boom and the rise and fall of the technology-sector jobs of the mid-20th century all profoundly impacted the communities of the Mohawk Valley.
Today, the nanotechnology endeavors in Marcy are offering hope that a new upward cycle is about to begin.
Whatever the economic forces at work, Evans, Girmonde and Ramirez, like thousands of others, stuck with Mohawk Valley, and are glad they did.
They all talk about family and community.
"I think I have been very lucky," Girmonde said. "I grew up around my family, and I have been lucky to work with my family and there are a lot of people in the area I am friends with. It is a close-knit community."
Evans: 'It was good times'
Born in 1926, Evans grew up at the tail end of the textile boom.
The area economy was largely supported by companies such as Utica Knitting, whose mills employed thousands.
Evans' father worked in a rayon mill that remained open as the Great Depression deepened, and he was able to stay there to the end of his working life.
Though Evans is mostly Irish, many of the boys he played street games with in the East Utica neighborhoods he lived in were Italian.
"It was good times," he said, recalling their youthful antics over pecan pie at the North Utica Denny's. "I enjoyed it."
The other boys' fathers also worked in mills or factories — as masons or for the federal Works Progress Administration, he said.
After serving in the Navy in World War II, Evans returned to a place where jobs were easy to come by.
Page 2 of 3 - "You could get a job like this," he said, snapping his fingers.
But after taking time off to care for his ailing grandfather, he found it harder to find a job. That was around 1947, after many of the mills had left but before new companies such as Chicago Pneumatic and General Electric moved in.
Evans finally got a job with the state as a laborer and truck driver. At the same time, he started attending the newly created Utica College.
"I was passing everything, and I thought, 'Gee, maybe I could really get a degree,'" he said.
He did, but in 1959, it still was hard to find work in Utica. He eventually landed a job as an engineer for the state Department of Transportation, and stayed there for the next four decades.
By the time his children, Paul, born in 1956, and Audrey, born in 1961, were coming of age, he knew things might be different for them.
"Utica was starting to go downhill," he said. "One of the main things you saw was kids couldn't get a job."
Paul stayed in the area and built a career as a landscape architect for the state Department of Transportation. Audrey, however, moved out west and has a job with the federal Department of Homeland Security.
Girmonde: 'I have been pretty lucky'
Walking into DDS Motor Sports on Oriskany Street West in Utica you are immediately hit by a blast of new-car smell.
It's filled with motorcycles, snowmobiles, ATVs and other sport vehicles, an outgrowth of Girmonde's love of athletics and the outdoors.
"If you are able to stay in business for any length of time and make a comfortable living, I think I have been pretty lucky," he said.
Girmonde's family has been in business in Utica for three generations. His grandfather owned Twin Ponds Golf and Country Club in New York Mills, and he grew up working there.
He was surrounded by family — cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents — and he liked it that way.
Like his father and grandfather, his livelihood is closely linked to the local economy, but he wouldn't trade the choices he has made.
"I never really had a desire to move away," he said. "You give up closeness with family when you go, but you might give up financial gain if you stay."
Still, he knew he had to ready his children for a tougher world.
"We all made sure they went to college," he said. "We didn't prepare them to leave, but to stay if they wanted to stay and go if they wanted to go."
Page 3 of 3 - Now, Girmonde's daughter is in real estate in Phoenix and his son is about to finish college and plans to move to a larger urban area.
Ramirez: 'God had a hand in it'
Ramirez lived in New York City until he was 5, but his roots are firmly planted in Utica.
That's despite his parents and younger sister moving to South Carolina. His father, who is in banking, wanted a better salary than he could find here.
Ramirez is proud to serve in the Utica Fire Department and happy to be in the city where he grew up.
He spent lots of time playing with friends from his Mildred Avenue neighborhood, going to the Utica Zoo, watching games at Murnane Field and playing sports.
It doesn't hurt that he married another Utica native from a firefighting family.
"I guess you could say God had a hand in it," he said over the phone, soon after he had put his 1-year-old daughter Grayson down for a nap. "In 2009 and 2010, I met my wife and I found that job and I have been grateful for that year."
On school breaks while attending SUNY Albany, Ramirez would come back to Utica and talk to friends about future plans. Many wanted to stay but were worried about how to make a living.
Now, many have managed to do so by getting government jobs as firefighters, police or correction officers, he said.
It seems to be working well for many of them.
"Everyone is finding their niche," he said. "We are getting to our mid- to late-20s, and a situation where we can foster children and a family."
He wants Grayson to be able to choose Utica when she grows up, too.
"I will do my best to get her through college and give her the best chance to either stay or leave if she wants," he said. "I think she will want to stay here like I did."
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