Joe Amato has been a drag-racing world champion, a successful business owner and a developer, but there is one title he always wanted to earn.
High school graduate.
Fifty-five years after he left South Scranton Junior High School to run his family’s business, Mr. Amato has a high school diploma sitting on his desk, courtesy of Old Forge High School.
“It’s one of those things that you always think is on your list but you never think it will happen,” Mr. Amato, 70, said.
Mr. Amato received an honorary Old Forge diploma at the school’s graduation ceremony on Friday, June 27.
“It wasn’t just that I got my high school diploma, it was the total package of graduating with the kids,” Mr. Amato said. “It was something that I never experienced.”
Mr. Amato dropped out of school when his father became too sick to run AA Auto Parts, a business Mr. Amato’s father started.
Mr. Amato took over the business and by the time the family sold it in 1998, AA Auto Parts and Keystone Automotive Warehouse had become one of the most well-known and largest suppliers of parts and accessories of the automotive business.
As a drag-racer, Mr. Amato won the National Hot Rod Association Top Fuel championship a record five times and won 52 events.
More recently, Mr. Amato made a name for himself as a developer in the Wilkes-Barre area. He owns the Gateway Shopping Center in Edwardsville and in 2013, purchased the University Corners complex in downtown Wilkes-Barre.
Receiving an Old Forge High School diploma, Mr. Amato said, felt like a reward for his perseverance over the years.
“And I got to do it in Old Forge,” Mr. Amato said. He lived in the town for about 30 years.
“When I was a racing champ they used to put a sign up by my house,” he said. “This town really honored me and took care of me.”
Old Forge superintendent John Rushefski said the Old Forge class of 2014 immediately welcomed Mr. Amato to their ranks on graduation night.
“It was just a warm embrace by the students,” he said. “They were just thrilled. Here’s this legend in our area… It made their graduation even more special.”
School board President Deborah DeSando said his story showed the importance of education.
“I think the message obviously is that even as successful as he was, he always found it was something missing in his life,” she said.
“It seemed like he was thrilled with the evening,” she added. “It was something that he always wanted to do.”
Now Mr. Amato’s diploma sits on his desk next to a framed Forbes magazine article about him. He said he’s planning a graduation party at his house on Harvey’s Lake.
“Not bad for a kid from Scranton, you know?” Mr. Amato said.
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