Editor’s note: PCT magazine received the following tribute to Mike Bertino, former president of York Chemical Company, Garden City Park, N.Y., who passed away last month. Christopher Donaghy, CEO of Residex-Turfgrass recently penned the tribute to his long-time friend.
To read Bertino’s obituary, click here.
Chris DonaghyIn a direct Italian translation, “Con Te Partiro” means “I will go with you.” When the duet of Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli first sang “Con Te Partiro,” or “Time to Say Goodbye,” it was as if a chorus of angels bestowed the love and serenity of the heavens upon the listener. On Dec. 18, 2010, Michael Anthony Bertino, former president/CEO of York Chemical Company, was received into the heavens by a chorus of angels to his eternal resting place. He was in the comfort of his loving family when he departed.
Mike’s story is one with a meager beginning and a rich ending. He was born on Jan. 11, 1938, in Coney Island, N.Y., to hard-working Italian parents. His mother, Carmela, was born in Brooklyn, raised in Italy until the age of 18, and worked as a costume seamstress. His father, Rosario, was an Ellis Island immigrant, and he worked as a barber. Life amidst the Great Depression and WWII for most residents of this world famous, seaside, amusement park neighborhood in Brooklyn was at or below the poverty level. The Bertino family was no exception. Mike, along with his brother and sister, was raised during a period of sacrifice and little luxury, and in a world where only the strong survived.
When WWII ended, life for most Americans began to improve and the suburban sprawl spread into the farmlands and countryside of Long Island like an out of control forest fire. Cookie cutter subdivisions such as the famed Levittown neighborhood were sprouting in vast fields where cattle, crops and trees once dominated. Suburban living was an opportunity for returning war veterans and others to pursue their long awaited and hard fought chance at the American Dream. The Bertinos moved to suburban Valley Stream, N.Y., where Mike finished growing up and graduated from high school, however, he never lost touch with his Coney Island roots.
Mike’s parents taught their children that they had to work hard to earn the things they wanted and to advance their status in life. So Mike began his days as a hard-working young man, first as a shoeshine boy in his father’s barber shop on Saturdays at age 10, then working as a field laborer pulling weeds for a plant nursery at age 12, and then he landed a prized-job at age 14 with Famous Nathan’s, the Coney Island hot dog stand, back in the old neighborhood.
At Nathan’s, Mike would show the working world that he was willing to start at the bottom to prove he belonged at the top. His “nothing is beneath me” attitude would serve him well at Nathan’s and for the rest of his working life. Mike started by unloading the hot dogs from wooden barrels and cutting the strings that held each hot dog together in a seemingly endless rope. From there he advanced to dishwasher, then to kitchen helper, and ended his career as the youngest and second fastest counter serviceman that Nathan’s ever employed. Nathan’s was the busiest fast food establishment in the world, and there was nothing easy about serving hot dogs to thousands of people on a daily basis all summer long.
Mike knew he wanted more out of a career and from life than just working at Nathan’s. He had earned enough money to support himself, so Mike enrolled at the State University of New York at Farmingdale to study plant protection technology. He selected this major because of his time spent working in the nursery business. It was at SUNY Farmingdale where Mike was introduced to entomology courses that led him to learn more about the discipline. Now with a career path in view, Mike finished his two-year degree at SUNY and transferred to the University of Georgia to study entomology and eventually earn an advanced degree.
Upon his graduation with a degree in entomology in 1961, Mike’s first job was at Getz Exterminating in Atlanta where he held the position of technician-in-training and quickly advanced to a management role by displaying his versatility, intelligence and persuasive, but good-natured personality. From Getz, he took a technician’s position with Orkin and quickly moved into management at the Fort Worth, Texas, location. After a few years at Orkin, he switch from service to manufacturing when he took a job back in New York as regional sales representative for Velsicol, the makers of Chlordane. From Velsicol, he took a position as corporate trainer with Orkin at their headquarters in Atlanta. His next career stop was at York Chemical Company when Seymour Rubin, the owner, recruited Mike to join his company as president. It was here in distribution where a more mature Bertino began to forge his lasting mark on the industry.
York Chemical’s strengths were defined by Mike and rooted in the values he learned from his parents, the Nathan’s experience and his mentors along the way. Hard work, strong relationships, highest service and stewardship possible, and having fun in the process were the hallmarks to York Chemical’s success. Mike assembled a team of the finest and most knowledgeable experts within the industry, and beyond their strengths as experts, they all possessed outgoing and friendly personalities. This strategy was the key to creating memorable experiences and events for York Chemical’s customers.
Mike also possessed an inventive spirit, and through his ideas and concepts to improve the professionalism and safety standards of the industry, he designed the first drill stop interrupter and developed the concept for the first spill kit. Mike was passionate about protecting the industry he so loved and respected.
As the federal and state governments began to require and mandate more regulations, licenses, certificates and training, York Chemical through Mike’s direction, seized the opportunity to create the “Vendor Road Show,” where the best supplier reps were selected, boarded a bus, and held captive for an entire week making show calls in Boston, New York, Philly and Baltimore, just like the Rat Pack tours of the 50s, and of course Mike played the command role of Frank Sinatra, and he played it better than most (except maybe for Frank himself). Through his leadership and 20 years of service, York Chemical became the most dominant and well recognized distributor on the East Coast during the late 1970s to mid-90s. Mike’s rise to success from his meager beginnings was testament to the values that drove him.
Mike Bertino, former president of York Chemical Company, Garden City Park, N.Y.To live without brings about an appreciation and respect for the good things in life and the hard work necessary to create opportunity. Mike had a strong appreciation and respect for the good things in life from his upbringing, and he never took them for granted. This understanding allowed him to pursue and attain the American Dream. He also did his best to ensure that his family members and business associates appreciated the fruits of hard work and had the same chance as he did to grasp opportunity and advancement. He understood that entitlements were truly for the helpless, and not the capable. Mike was very capable.
Mike never lost touch with the game-changing power of fun, and he personified it with his warm, inviting smile and his gregarious laugh that drew so many people close to him. Mike’s legacy and mark on this industry is not only found in the memories and standards he created, but also by his own flesh and blood, Kitty Lee, who not only walks in her father’s footsteps, but is sure to outpace him to Mike’s proud delight.
Con Te Partiro Michael Anthony Bertino! You will be missed by many but never forgotten.