Known to many as the Lamp Doctor, Russell Calemmo’s shingle hangs outside his home on Three Mile Harbor, inviting anyone with a lamp that needs fixing into his world of creative artistry.
A painter, sculptor, storyteller, writer, and an electrician, Calemmo, known locally as the Lamp Doctor, began his lamp-fixing business unintentionally. “One Saturday, I was doing some work in my garage and this car pulled into my driveway and a woman got out and asked if I could help her. I recognized her as the widow of a man that I had done quite a bit of electrical work for. She took a lamp out of her car and asked if I could fix it,” he recalled.
“It belonged to her late husband, George and she said he had it for so long she didn’t want to get rid of it. I took the lamp, put in a new socket and a new bulb, and fixed it. She was surprised that I did it so quickly and I wouldn’t take any money when she wanted to pay me. She was very grateful,” he added.
According to Calemmo, “The next day, The East Hampton Star published a letter to the editor from the widow telling everyone about what I did for her. In her letter, she called me the ‘Lamp Doctor.’ The next weekend, two people came and asked me to fix their lamps. Each weekend more and more people came, bringing me their lamps to fix.”
As Calemmo’s customer base grew, he realized that the only other person who did this type of work was someone he knew on the North Fork. Recognizing the need for his skill, he established connections with manufacturers and bought inventory to handle the volume of repairs he was taking on.
Customers who arrived at Calemmo’s home were amazed by his paintings and sculptures. “One lady came and said that I was like a doctor and told me that I should call the place something like the Lamp Hospital,” he said. The name stuck.
“The best thing in the whole world about this is the people and the stories they tell about their lamps. It boggles the mind. Some people are casual, and others are so passionate. Some people tell me stories and I laugh so hard I fall down, and others tell me stories and the tears shoot out of my eyeballs. That’s why I like to do this. Hearing their stories and making those people happy and content, that’s what gets me going,” he said.
Originally from the Bronx, Calemmo remembers going to Orchard Beach and, as a child, thinking, “It was the greatest place in the world.” Before long, his family moved to an Italian neighborhood in Massapequa. He recalls that his father was a very strict Italian. They celebrated all the holidays with family and there was always lots of food.
“During the week, you always knew what you were having for dinner based on what day of the week it was. Thursday was macaroni night. My mother made her own pasta, and we each had a job in the kitchen. My job was to grate the cheese. There was no TV in the kitchen that you could watch while doing things. I really didn’t like grating the cheese, and one day I came up with a science project.
“I took one of the big cans of tomatoes, turned it inside out, put some nails in it, and hooked up a motor and made my own automatic cheese grater. I showed it to my father and turned it on. It didn’t take long before my father said the cheese didn’t look right. He told my brother to go get a magnet. The cheese stuck to the magnet. Of course, that was the end of the automatic cheese grater. We talked and laughed about this one for years afterward,” he recalled.
In addition to his artistry, Calemmo has received more than 50 awards and medals for the variety of wines he makes by hand under his private label. He is also the vice chairman of the East Hampton Food Pantry, volunteering his time for more than 15 years to ensure that the pantry can feed the more than 200 people who rely on it for food.
Calemmo also has been a member of the Lions Club for more than 32 years, serving a term as president and now as zone leader. He strives to continually improve its disability program to ensure that anyone who is in need of a wheelchair, walker, crutches, or any other assistive device can obtain it at no cost from the Lions. He also oversees the club’s eyeglass recycling program, and has collected more than 14,000 eyeglasses, which benefit others who are unable to afford glasses themselves.
Residing in East Hampton with his wife, Patti, Calemmo has a passion for helping others which is reflected in the many hours he devotes to volunteering for the food pantry and the Lions Club.
“What’s important to me?” he asked. “It’s the way I view life, I live by a simple code: health, integrity, family, and faith. That’s what’s important to me.”