2013 Cliff Harkins Distinguished Citizen of the Year Award


Anthony "Tony" Agnello

Award Criteria: This award recognizes distinguished service to nonprofit organizations, governmental assignments at the municipal, county, state or federal level, or other outstanding service as a citizen.

Graduated: 1971 BS in Sociology

President of The Friends of Afghanistan, Orchard Park Schools Board of Education Trustee, Retired Educator, Orchard Park, New York

Most influential figures: Dwyer (Spell Check),  Dean Underwood, Professor Christe, and Professor Suarez de Rivera

Favorite memories: Tony recollects working on gender equality issues on behalf of the NAU Student Government and having these measures adopted by the Arizona State Legislature as official educational reforms for the entire State University system. He also remembers watching the stars from an alpine meadow beneath the Ponderosa Pines.

Educator, counselor, and humanitarian, Anthony “Tony” Agnello has made helping others his life’s work. He estimates that he has instructed, coached, and advised more than 7,000 students over the course of his domestic high school teaching career. Combine that with his role as a Peace Corps volunteer in Afghanistan and coordinator for a Ukrainian English as a Second Language/American Culture Immersion program and the number grows beyond 10,000 students. Finally, add the support he facilitated for donations of supplies, computers and funding for six brick-and-mortar construction projects for Afghani girls’ schools, and he has impacted more than 25,000 student lives.   

But it’s not a numbers game for Tony, who recently retired after nearly forty years as an educator.  He taught biology and anatomy and coached football at Orchard Park High School near Buffalo, New York from 1975 until October of 2011 and served as the Teacher’s Association president for six years in the late 1980s. Tony was youth center director for the American School in Kabul, Afghanistan during 1975 and science supervisor for Samangan Province from 1972 to 1974 in conjunction with the Peace Corps/Teacher Corps. He is president of The Friends of Afghanistan, the national organization of returned Peace Corps volunteers who worked in the country in the 1960s and 1970s.

As the advisor for Educational Outreach, a student service organization, Tony has coordinated student volunteer placements at local missions, women’s shelters and Habitat for Humanity projects. He has supported refugee placements with local resettlement centers and helped sponsor charitable international efforts, including agricultural support, disaster relief and construction projects across the globe. A tireless proponent of education equality, Tony has lectured at regional universities on the importance of sustaining education opportunities for Afghan women and girls, and helped to coordinate outreach efforts in Western New York State.

He has been featured in Who’s Who Among American Educators and was named 2012 Buffalo Bills/M&T Bank Teacher of Year.  Upon retirement Tony was honored with the highly regarded Post of Fame Award, which is bestowed for a lifetime of service to the community of Orchard Park, where he has resided since 1976. Tony has won regional coach of the year honors during a high school football coaching career spanning more than 40 years.  

Tony’s participation at NAU as a student included the Sociology Club, Student Government, and intermural coordinator and multi-sports participant for Sechrist Hall, where he was selected as a “Top Ten Athlete” by his peers. He also played for the Lumberjack football team, which later propelled him to coach high school football. He is proud to have developed a football program that has produced multiple league and regional championships, as well as two State Championships. As a student he was also a Gold Axe recipient and made the Dean’s List on multiple occasions.

Fortuitously, Tony learned first-hand about the Peace Corps at NAU, when he was asked by the dean of students to give a Peace Corps recruiter a tour of the campus. Tony admits that the Afghanistan period of his life, which he describes as the “great adventure of my youth,” was unlikely to have happened without this chance encounter. Speaking of the occasion, Tony recalls, “I have said many times that without that opportunity at NAU, my life would have been very different.”