LYNN — Bill McDonald was the man with the jokes and barbs Thursday night at the Hibernian Hall.
McDonald was the emcee for the annual Friendly Knights of St. Patrick affair, and while the customary boiled dinner was served, everything about the rest of the evening was definitely a roast. McDonald, as roastmaster, doled out the jokes in equal opportunity fashion — and that included a healthy amount of ribbing directed toward the two principal honorees: John Olson as Irishman of the Year, and Tony Nicosia as the Randazzo-Solimine Community Service Award recipient.
It was all in good fun, of course. A near overflow crowd, most of them bedecked in St. Patrick’s Day green, gathered on the second floor of “The Hibs” on Federal Street in West Lynn for the dinner, the proceeds of which go toward helping deserving local high school students. Last year, the Knights were able to give money to help Shaneil Nelson of Lynn Tech, who struggled with homelessness and commuting to school from a shelter.
This year’s recipient will be named at a later date.
Olson, the former captain of both the English and Curry College football teams, now owns Columbia Insurance in Lynn. His grandfather, the late Lynn Public Schools superintendent J. Leo McGuinness, was one of the founders of the dinner.
Olson, for a long time, was president of East Lynn Pop Warner football. Under his direction, the league expanded its program and changed its identity to reflect the English High football team (the teams practice at Keaney Park, behind the high school).
“I am 62 percent Irish,” said Olson, although he admitted later that he has not had that claim vetted by any official genealogical site.
“Mostly family lore,” he said.
Olson also said that he’s lived in Lynn for all 57 of his years.
“I’m very honored to be given this award,” he said. “I’m especially honored because my grandfather was one of the founders of ths dinner, and I was very much influenced by him as a child.
“I never met anyone who didn’t like him,” Olson said of the late superintendent. “Just about everybody I ever met had a good word about him.”
Nicosia is an athletic legend at St. Mary’s. A shortstop in high school, he was among a cadre of the late Red Sox star Tony Conigliaro’s lifelong friends, others being legendary high school baseball coach Frank Carey and former Lynn businessman and School Committee secretary Tom Iarrobino.
Iarrobino was in attendance.
Nicosia recalled meeting Donald Randazzo, who also helped found the dinner in 1947, when they played softball together after he got out of the U.S. Marines.
“I loved Don, and I am honored to receive this award that has his name on it,” said Nicosia.
The award is also named for David J. Solimine Sr., a Lynn funeral director and philanthropist.
Nicosia, after his stint in the service, had many jobs, but the one for which he is known the most is proprietor of Tony’s Place on Franklin Street.
Tony’s is the go-to place for many fundraisers for various causes, many of them involving local youth sports.
“I’ve always tried to stress to my children (son, Anthony, and daughter, Tara, were in attendance) that loyalty is important,” said Nicosia. “And that working together for a good cause results in the betterment of Lynn.”