If cows could talk, they'd probably thank Henry Tassitano for creating a gadget that can save their lives.
Mr. Tassitano, a parishioner of St. John the Baptist Church in Walton, lives with his wife, Mary, on a 200-acre farm in Walton. He cared for 50 Jersey cows for decades until the decline of small farms forced him to sell the animals in the late 1990s.
But before that, Mr. Tassitano patented an invention to detect inflammation of the udder and other impurities. The device can also filter the milk so that contaminated milk doesn't threaten a farm's entire milk supply.
A New Jersey native, Mr. Tassitano learned to box at age 15. He achieved a dozen knockouts as a junior boxer and declined an offer to fight at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
By that point, he had already passed on high school, too. The absence of a television at home led to the pastime of reading history books. His teachers, recognizing his sharp mind, wanted him to skip from seventh to 10th grade, but he refused - and quit school instead.
"I wanted to go up the grades like you should do," he explained.
Mr. Tassitano served in the U.S. Army in World War II. Later, while managing a motor pool in Panama, he rented a black Cadillac for future president Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. He also ran trucking companies as a mechanic for 39 years; today, the eclectic senior still pursues publishing fiction books he wrote for children and adults when he was a farmer.
The number of dairy farms in New York State plummeted by 27 percent from the late 1990s to 2007. Mr. Tassitano once made $17 per hundredweight of milk, but that profit dropped to $10. He continued to sell hay for a few years, but lost money on that, too.
"It's sad," he said of the declining industry.
Although he was forced to retire, the 84-year-old keeps busy mowing three acres of land around his house, fixing neighbors' tractors, hunting deer and baking and decorating cakes. He's also the handyman for St. John the Baptist parish.
Pitching in at the Walton church "means a lot to me," he said. "Friendship is more than money."
Aside from serving as an usher for 28 years, his parish resume includes installing windows and appliances; building doorframes and moldings; making electrical repairs; and looking after plumbing and refrigeration. His skills were passed down to him by his father.
Mr. Tassitano attends Mass three times a week, a routine he adopted during his time in the Army. In Guam, he witnessed a bomb kill two fellow soldiers and narrowly escaped his own death.
"That's why I still stick so much with the Church," he told The Evangelist. "Why didn't I stand there with them? God made me move, and I just moved."
Without cows to feed and milk, he sleeps until 7 a.m. and feels so healthy, he tells white lies about his age: "I'm on no medication, I have no aches in my body, and I'm only 48."