PLATTSBURGH — In John Celestino’s time as publisher of the Press-Republican, he made an impact on the North Country community.
Celestino died last Friday in Lewiston in Niagara County where he lived. He was 63.
“John and I hit it off the first time we met,” North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas said.
“It might seem that Lewiston and Niagara Falls are far from Plattsburgh, but we immediately talked at length about the northern border and our shared connection with Canada. The similarities made publishing papers there and here a natural fit in many ways.
“But mostly, I was impressed by his commitment to the indispensable role of local newspapers in the lives of communities like ours and his command of the great transition newspapers were and are going through.”
Celestino became publisher of the P-R in August of 2019. At the time, Celestino was also publisher of the Niagara Gazette and Union-Sun & Journal, sister papers of the P-R, and part of the CNHI LLC chain.
He brought high energy and a positive can-do attitude to the P-R, exploring numerous options to make the P-R stronger and more visible.
A survey denoting that the P-R covered 75 percent of the local market in 2019 made him especially proud, and he worked to build on that success.
Lamiaa Aly, who succeeded Celestino as publisher at the P-R, said he was a great supporter of the newspaper, its staff and the community.
“John always wanted to make us better and he was driven to succeed for all of us,” Aly said.
“He lived and breathed newspapers and it was infectious to all of us.”
Aly said Celestino had a great passion for life.
“He loved newspapers, he loved his people, he loved good food, he loved good movies and he was very passionate about anything he loved.”
In early 2020, Celestino spearheaded a food magazine produced by the P-R’s newsroom called North Country Foodie. The edition was a fine glossy print publication that featured food and operations of some of the most notable restaurants in the area.
The magazine was a hit, but unfortunately it was derailed by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the summer of 2020, the P-R began its Press Pass Podcast as another way of reaching readers. He was one of the first guests on the podcast and he trumpeted the importance of the newspaper with great vim and vigor, imploring people to give it a listen.
Douglas said Celestino was instrumental in helping the North Country deal with the pandemic in the most positive way possible.
“We communicated frequently during the pandemic on how the Chamber and the paper could collaborate on helping our community work through the challenges,” Douglas said.
“Especially those facing our business community. He was a great gentleman with a genuine commitment to the newspaper and all who it serves.”
While the business side of the newspaper was his main focus, Celestino also took great interest in local news. He jumped at the chance to attend a news conference with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer at University of Vermont Healthcare Network CVPH in Plattsburgh in June of 2022.
The two shared stories after the news conference and Celestino stressed the importance of local newspapers and encouraged the senator to support them, to which Schumer enthusiastically agreed.
In Plattsburgh, he loved to visit area restaurants and local sites of interest and became immersed in the area’s rich military history.
Pizza Bono in Downtown Plattsburgh was one of his favorite places to visit where he would have a meal and visit with his friend owner Savario Menardi.
“He was a wonderful guy,” Menardi said.
“He used to love my food and I enjoyed his company, and we would sit here and talk and really enjoyed it.”
Menardi and Celestino’s families are from the same province of Calabria in Italy, which gave them a bond.
“He could have went anywhere to eat, but he came here and I was glad he did,” Menardi said.
“We became friends and I always looked forward to seeing him here and I’m going to miss him.”
A Philadelphia native, Celestino had a passion for writing at an early age. He graduated from Temple University with a bachelor’s degree in communications and journalism and hoped to parlay his education into a career as a reporter.
After leaving college, he got his first newspaper job as a telemarketing sales representative at The Philadelphia Inquirer.
He planned to eventually move on to a position in the newspaper’s editorial department, but his knack for being a salesman kept him on the business side of the operation. He worked for the Inquirer in various sales and sales management positions for 14 years.
In 2003, he accepted a position at The Press of Atlantic City where spent 13 years working in the advertising department and as circulation director.
In the spring of 2017, Celestino accepted a position as publisher of the Union-Sun & Journal and the Niagara Gazette. He was later promoted to a position as regional executive for the newspapers’ parent company, CNHI, LLC.
In his capacity as regional executive, Celestino oversaw the operations of the Niagara Gazette, the Lockport Union Sun & Journal, the Plattsburgh Press Republican and multiple daily and weekly publications in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
Donna Barrett, CNHI president and CEO, described Celestino as an accomplished and valued company executive.
“John was a shining star for our company and we are devastated,” said Barrett. “His positive energy was the driving force behind his success with the newspapers in his region. He brought out the best of everyone on his team and I never heard him say an unkind word about anyone. He was a kind, thoughtful, wonderful man who was devoted to this business.”
Celestino lived in Lewiston. He is survived by two daughters, Andrea and Julia Celestino.