A first generation American, Dr. Silvestro believed in the opportunities of America and higher education. He would become a director and advisor to many of the country’s premier history institutions to educate and interest the public in understanding our national heritage. He was chairman of the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation, a presidential appointment, and a U.S. representative to UNESCO. He was a 33rd Degree Scottish Rite Mason, Valley of Boston.
Graduating from Hillhouse High School in 1942, he was in the first class of 18 year-olds to be called into service as World War II progressed in the Pacific. Selected for the U.S. Army Medical Corps, he nevertheless volunteered for the U.S. Army Air Corps, lured by the glamour of flying and the more immediate impressions made on the sorority debs of Phi Epsilon Alpha. He flew 38 missions against enemy targets in the South and Central Pacific, the Philippines, Formosa (Taiwan) and China serving as a tail and belly gunner on a B-24 Bomber in the 2nd Bomb Squadron, 222nd Bomb Group (Red Raiders), U.S. Army Fifth Air Force. Honorably discharged in October 1945, he was awarded the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf clusters and nine campaign battle stars.
Graduating in 1949 from Central Connecticut State College, New Britain on the GI Bill, he became enthralled by both history and his instructor, who the next year, would become his beloved wife, Betty, of 60 years. He received his MS degree in American History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1951, where both he and Betty received their Ph.D.s in 1959.
After serving from 1957 1964 as the first director of the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH), the professional association of historical societies in the United States and Canada and as the editor of the AASLH’s monthly publication, History News, Dr. Silvestro was selected in 1964 as associate director of the Chicago History Museum (then named the Chicago Historical Society), becoming director the following year. During his 10-year tenure at the museum, he initiated and directed significant changes affecting exhibition design and practice, and instituted novel exhibition and collection agreements nationally and internationally. He led the funding and construction of a $4.5-million addition to the museum, and made notable acquisitions for the museum and library collections, including one of the very few remaining original prints of Paul Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre, and with some notoriety, Sally Rand’s fans. He served on the Mayor’s Commission on Chicago Historical and Architectural Landmarks, 1968-74; the Governor’s Advisory Council on Illinois Historic Sites, 1968-74; Regent, Lincoln Academy of Illinois, 1968-74.
In 1973, the U.S. State Department, the Soviet Ministry of Culture and the American Association of Museums invited Dr. Silvestro as one of four American museum directors accorded behind the scene consultation and access within the then Soviet Union to special collections in the major museums and historic sites of Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev and Tiflis.
In 1974, President Richard Nixon appointed Dr. Silvestro as chairman of the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation, an independent unit of the federal government established under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 to monitor and safeguard the archaeological and historical sites on federal lands owned by the U.S. government. He served as chairman until 1977.
In 1974, the Scottish Rite Masons invited Dr. Silvestro as founding director to create the National Heritage Museum, a new museum and library in Lexington, Mass., to be home to one of the country’s finest collection of materials and artifacts related to American Freemasonry and to history at the time of the American Revolution. The new $6 million building, designed by Shepley, Bullfinch, Richardson and Abbott, won an AIA award for its design. For 18 years until his retirement in 1992, Dr. Silvestro built a talented professional staff, and guided the development of the exhibits, collections and educational programs to successfully achieve their goal. His special interest was building the map and print collection. In 1985, Dr. Silvestro co-authored with his wife, Betty M. Silvestro, “A Decade of Collecting: Maps”, a catalog accompanying the museum’s acquisitions.
Dr. Silvestro was a member of the Council and Vice President of the American Museums Association, 1965-71; a member of the Advisory Board of the Eleutherian Mills-Hagley Foundation, Wilmington, Del., 1973-76; chairman of the Historic Sites Committee of the Organization of American Historians, 1973-78; U.S. representation on the International Council of Museums, 1968-72; U.S. representative UNESCO Committee to Safeguard the City of Venice, 1975-77; member of the advisory panel for the National Foundation of the Arts and Humanities Arts and Artifacts Indemnity Act, 1975-78; member of the advisory panel for the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Arts, 1972-78. He was a trustee of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, 1968-74 and a lecturer on historical museum administration at Colonial Williamsburg.
In retirement, Clem and Betty converted the summer cottage in Hancock Point to year-round residency and moved there from their 18th century farmhouse in Groton, Mass. Since the move to Maine, the home has been the central gathering point for the family where daughter, Elizabeth, her husband, James, and grandson, AJ enjoyed many summer vacations and holidays. An enthusiastic trap shooter, Clem was a member of the Blue Hill Gun Club and, whenever possible, brought along his grandson and son-in-law to enjoy the challenge. He routinely out shot both of them until recently when AJ (not James) got better.
Predeceased by his wife, Betty in 2010, he is survived by his daughter, Elizabeth, her husband, A. James Casner, his grandson, Andrew James Casner III, a student at Brandeis University; sisters, Lucille Zorena, Eleanor Ruby, Rose Laurello, and Anne DeMatteo; his brother, Anthony; sister-in-law, Jean Johnson; nieces, Karen Forbes and Anne Ritz; nephew, Jeffrey Johnson and many other relatives and friends. Sisters, Jenney Corniello, Ida Milone, Mary Landino, Sarah Mazzetta; and brothers, Alfred, James, and Joseph predeceased him.
A private burial will be at the Mt. Hope cemetery next to Betty, the love of his life. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in memory of Dr. Silvestro to Courtland Rehabilitation and Living Center, 42 Bucksport Road, Ellsworth, ME 04605 and to The National Endowment for the Humanities, 400 7th St., SW, Washington, D.C. 20024. Arrangements by Jordan-Fernald, 113 Franklin St., Ellsworth. Condolences may be expressed at www.jordanfernald.com.