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ADIRONDACK LIVING: Brooklyn native finds sense of belonging in mountains

March 2, 2018
By GRIFFIN KELLY - Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

SARANAC LAKE - John Vallini climbed the 2,876 feet to the top of Mount Jo in Lake Placid, taking in the scenery of the Adirondack High Peaks ahead and Heart Lake below.

In what was a relativity silent environment, he breathed in the crisp, fall air and shouted at the top of his lungs, "I'm going to live here!"

That was more than 28 years ago, and he said it's been the best 28 years of life.

Article Photos

News photo — Griffin Kelly
John Vallini poses with an engine at the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department, where he volunteered on the rescue squad for more than 15 years.
(News photo — Griffin Kelly)

Vallini grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn in the 1950s and 1960s. Over the years, Vallini likes to say he "lived three lifetimes in one." He was never afraid to re-invent himself and start from scratch.

He originally went to school for chemistry, then later found a career in photo production and finally transitioned to volunteer work and nursing.

"I always remember what my dad told me. 'Make sure you pick a job you like because you're going to have to go to it every day,'" Vallini said.

In the late 1980s, Vallini had been working in Manhattan at his own photo production company. There he shot mainly for fashion and cosmetics companies such as Avon. After a while, Vallini grew tired of the responsibilities and pressures of running his own business. He decided to pack up and leave for the North Country, an area he vacationed in many times and saw as an escape from city life. He would often take trips upstate to photograph the mountains. Vallini didn't even have a job lined up, but he knew he want to live in the Adirondacks.

"I came up here to hide," Vallini. "I wanted to get away from it all. I always liked being outside and Mother Nature takes real good care of you."

He went from a 3,000-square-foot studio on 20th Street between Broadway and Park to barely a one-room barn on the edge of Hoel Pond near Saranac Inn, and he loved it. The house didn't even have a phone, which he enjoyed.

One of the main reasons Vallini moved to the Adirondacks was because he wanted a greater sense of community in his life. He wanted to feel like a part of something bigger than himself.

"You don't find those opportunities in Manhattan too often," Vallini said, "and I found this community very accepting."

Eventually Vallini moved to Saranac Lake and has since been a member of the village's fire department rescue squad, flew with helicopter rescue service North Country Life Flight and worked as a registered nurse in the open heart unit at CVPH Medical Center in Plattsburgh.

For about a decade, he worked with the state Olympic Regional Development Authority as the head of medical operations at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid.

Some of Vallini's friends downstate thought it was funny that he left his hectic life of photo production and found less pressure in an emergency room.

"For me, it's all about helping others," Vallini said. "There were plenty of times where people would come up to me and say 'You took care of my son,' or 'You helped my father in the hospital.' It's very satisfying doing something for somebody else."



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