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Mario J. Pirastru, 88, regional state park director for nearly two decades

April 4, 1929 – July 7, 2017

When Gov. Hugh Carey named Mario J. Pirastru, a prominent Niagara Falls Democrat, to the post of regional director of the Niagara Frontier State Park and Recreation Commission in 1976, Republicans cried foul.

State Sen. John Daly, a Lewiston Republican who led opposition to the appointment, called it “one of the most irresponsible applications of patronage” he had seen.

Mr. Pirastru answered the criticism by serving as a steady and capable manager of the Niagara Reservation at the American falls, Artpark in Lewiston and other state parks in the region for nearly two decades.

In 1990, Gov. Mario Cuomo affirmed Mr. Pirastru’s proficiency by putting more parks under his supervision, naming him director of the Allegany and Genesee State Park Regions. In all, he oversaw 18 parks.

When he retired in 1995, he told Buffalo News reporter Robert J. McCarthy, “The stewardship of the parks is the really important thing; the parks are bigger than politics.”

He died last Friday in his Niagara Falls home after a period of declining health. He was 88.

Born in Niagara Falls, he was the son of immigrants from Sardinia who spoke only the Sardinian language at home. When he and his brother Louis started kindergarten, they knew no English. After graduating from Trott Vocational High School in 1947, he took up his father’s trade, working as a bricklayer in Local 3 NY of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers.

He served in the Army during the Korean War in the Medical Company of the 135th Infantry Division in Alabama and Alaska, attaining the rank of corporal.

Returning from service in 1953, he married Marie S. Ferro, whom he met before he went into the Army at a big band dance hall in Niagara Falls, Ont. That year he also was elected as a Democratic committeeman in the old Ninth Ward.

In 1955, Mr. Pirastru was elected to the Niagara County Democratic Executive Board and went on to become city Democratic chairman. His wife served for more than a decade as vice chairman of the Niagara County Democratic Committee. Together they played major roles in strengthening the party throughout the county.

He became president of the bricklayers local in 1963 and served in that post for 25 years. During the 1960s, he also was appointed deputy parks director for the City of Niagara Falls, later becoming parks director. When he was named to the state post in 1976, he was the city’s property and supplies director.

As regional parks director, he oversaw the removal of sections of the former Robert Moses Parkway closest to the American falls and the upper rapids; the $14 million redevelopment program in Prospect Park at the Falls in the 1980s, including the construction of the Orin Lehman Visitor Center; and a $6.5 million Artpark renovation project in the 1990s.

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He arranged for the lighting of the upper rapids above the American falls and opened the upper rapids and Goat Island to fishing. He also hosted media and celebrities from around the world for filming and broadcasts at the falls.

In 1985, he was honored by the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation with its Leonard L. Huttleston Award for excellence in service to the public.

He served on the boards of directors of the Niagara Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Niagara Falls Beautification Committee, the Festival of Lights, the International Illumination Board, Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, the Knights of Columbus and the Cristoforo Columbo Society. He was a former president of the Niagara Falls Boys and Girls Club.

The Cristoforo Colombo Society presented him with its Colombian Award in 1984. He also received honors from the Niagara Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, the Pine-19th Street Association, the Athletic Congress and the Niagara Beautification Commission.

An avid Buffalo Bills and New York Yankees fan, in retirement he enjoyed golf, bocce, cooking, gardening, breakfast with friends at Marketside restaurant and attending his grandchildren’s sporting events.

In May, Buffalo News columnist Sean Kirst wrote an appreciation of Mr. Pirastru, who consoled him on the death of his mother 30 years ago.

In addition to his wife, who is a retired Niagara County Court clerk, survivors include two daughters, Michele Pirastru D’Angelo and Marisa Gara; a brother, Louis; five grandchildren and a great-grandson.

A Mass of Christian Burial was offered Wednesday in Holy Family Parish at the St. Joseph’s Catholic Church Site, 1401 Pine Ave., Niagara Falls.

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