WELLSBORO - John J. Antonio just turned 90 in May, but his thoughts are far from retirement. The Elkland, Tioga County native continues to produce his nearly daily radio show, "Coffee Break with John" on WNBT 1490 AM and FM.
In his 15-minute show which can be heard Tuesday through Friday, Antonio reads announcements and weather forecasts and interviews guests about what is happening in the county, such as the annual State Laurel Festival, held in June of each year. This year was its 70th anniversary.
In the years since he began his show, Antonio said he has interviewed about 4,000 guests, including representatives of non-profit organizations such as the Area Agency on Aging.
The show has been in production for 25 years this year, Antonio said, and though it started at the radio station he founded, WLIH-FM, back in 1986, it moved a year later to the coffee shop at Dunham's Department Store, on Main Street here because, Antonio said, "people were more comfortable here than in a radio studio with all of its equipment and lights."
He recalls the first show he did was an interview with then Tioga County Fair secretary Annie Clark of Roseville, who talked about the upcoming fair. Antonio said he has been at the fair every year, and plans to be there again this year in August.
Antonio said he has guests booked to be on his show all the way up to February of 2012.
On May 26, Antonio's birthday, he was surprised by the three Tioga County Commissioners and state Representative Matt Baker who arrived unannounced at the coffee shop to share in a huge birthday cake arranged by his daughter, Linda Stager, who also gave him a new set of commercial headphones for his birthday.
Antonio has owned several businesses in Tioga County, including the Twain Theater, Mansfield, which was closed and torn down in 1980. The lot became a parking lot, but now a group of local business people and others has formed an organization dedicated to bringing a movie theater back to Mansfield, and it might be named the Twain Two. Antonio said he is thrilled to hear the news.
"Some of the best times of my life were spent at that theater," Antonio said, adding that in addition to movies every weekend, the theater often held special events such as concerts and parties, including one for his daughter, which he called "Linda's Birthday Party," until 1970, when she turned 12, and would "get embarrassed" by all the attention.
"Admission was a toy to donate to a local charity," Antonio said, and noted that there would be 400 kids at the theater every Saturday for whatever event was scheduled.
Antonio also operated a bus service for Northern Tioga School District, starting Benedict's Bus Service in 1948, and then started working for Southern Tioga School District with six busses and a three year contract. Later he started the Mansfield Bus Agency, operating 14 trips per day north and south of Mansfield. At one time he and his wife, Effie, who passed away in 1981, operated five businesses at a time.
"I think the Lord has blessed me," he said, adding that staying active is a key to keeping a youthful outlook on life.
He fondly recalled his wife, calling her a "wonderful wife" and "a great business partner."
While Antonio, who became active with the Appalachian Thruway Association founded to make Route 15, then the only main road connecting Tioga County to areas to New York State to the north and Harrisburg and points south, he said Effie, "ran everything, and never complained," when he took extended stays lobbying Harrisburg for the highway.
Today, Route 15 is a limited access highway and on the verge of being designated Interstate 99, another accomplishment that delights Antonio, who worked tirelessly with other community minded individuals to see the highway improvement project come to fruition.
What else will John Antonio accomplish before the Good Lord calls him home?
"I'm ready for anything," he said with a twinkle in his eye.