Americo (Rico) Woyciesjes
Born: Solvay, NY
Died: May 26, 1997
The late Roy Simmons, Sr., the Syracuse University boxing coach, called him "the most aggressive man I ever coached". Simmons was referring to Rico Woyciesjes, a Solvay native who was an intercollegiate boxing champ at SU in addition to being one of the originally World War II Frogmen as well as an important scientist in the field of microbiology.
Woyciesjes boxed for SU in the light-heavyweight division (137 pounds). Since he worked his way through college as a puddler at Crucible Steel, Woyciesjes had little time to devote to traditional training for the ring. To stay in shape, he would run from his home in Solvay to his Piety Hill classrooms and labs, and then hoof it back to Solvay in time to get to his job.
The unorthodox training regimen proved to be effective as Woyciesjes was 29-2-1 with 22 knockouts. Woyciesjes won three collegiate boxing titles at SU from 1939 to 1941. He was scheduled to represent the U.S. in the 1940 Olympics but the Games were cancelled due to the European political and military situation. Woyciesjes’ boxing career may have ended, but not his fighting career.
When war broke out, Woyciesjes joined the Marines and became one of the original Frogmen. He participated in seven pre-invasion "suicide missions" including the bloody invasion of Guadalcanal. He received the Navy-Marine Corp. Medal "for heroic conduct as amphibian scout – under the cover of darkness to obtain vital intelligence information – daring initiative in the face of grave danger" the citation said. He also received other battlefield recognition from General Vandergrift, Marine Corps Commandant. Governor Thomas Dewey presented Woyciesjes with the "New York State Conspicuous Service Award".
Woyciesjes returned to Syracuse and worked for Bristol Labs and Allied Chemical and was a consultant to the Schering Corp. Later, he set up his own lab in his home and became the first scientist to isolate, test and sustain life in a rare new culture from which Gentamycin was developed, a broad spectrum antibiotic known as the "Last Resort Antibiotic" which has saved thousands of lives. Woyciesjes was considered a "genius in his class" for his pioneering work in soil microbiology.