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Regis Philbin, Sam Donaldson, Hillary Clinton Join Sons of Italy Foundation® To Celebrate Italian-American Achievements in Education

Press Contact: Diane E. Crespy, (202) 547-2900

Washington, D.C., June 1, 2001 - A who's who list of more than 900 of Washington's and the country's most prominent corporate, union, and political leaders gathered at the National Building Museum Thursday, May 24, to indulge in world-class Banfi wines, a performance from Italian-American tenor Michael Amante, and a special awards ceremony honoring Regis Philbin and ULLICO Inc. and Banfi Vintners executives.

The audience of the Sons of Italy Foundation®'s (SIF) 13th Annual National Education & Leadership Awards (NELA) Gala, the foundation's most important fund-raising and public affairs event, included Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Pennsylvania's Rick Santorum, numerous other members of congress, former vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, fashion tycoon Massimo Ferragamo, Italian Ambassador Ferdinando Salleo, actors Tony Lo Bianco and Connie Stevens and White House Senior Adviser to the President Karl Rove, to name a few.

The order of the evening was a celebration of Italian culture and recognition of successful Italian-Americans in academics, business, and philanthropy.

Master of Ceremonies and ABC television anchor Sam Donaldson emphasized the foundation's focus on acknowledging the positive accomplishments of Italian-Americans and supporting education.

"You've done a great deal for America and a great deal for all of us," Donaldson said. "I work in a business founded by Marconi; tonight we are all Italian."

Senior Adviser to the President Karl Rove stopped by the gala to address the audience and stressed the most important positive contribution of the Sons of Italy Foundation®.

"I would not have made it through school had I not been given a scholarship that paid my tuition and…books, so I know that the kind of opportunity you provide these young people is the kind of opportunity that I enjoyed because someone cared enough to give me a scholarship…" Rove praised the SIF for being the first national organization to publicly support President Bush's education reform plan.

A gracious Philbin, who received the foundation's first Lifetime Achievement Award, announced he had met a young woman in his studio audience that day who had received a scholarship from the SIF and said she could not have completed her college education without it. "I told her I would tell all of you that story tonight because it touched me very much. It shows you where your scholarships have gone and how much they have helped people," he said. "That's what I love about this organization - the fact that you have contributed so much to the education of our young people and helped them so much."

Philbin, whose father is Irish and mother is Italian, is no stranger to the SIF, having served as master of ceremonies for the NELA Gala in 1997 and 1998.

ULLICO Inc. Chairman, President, and CEO Robert Georgine was on hand to accept the foundation's fifth Humanitarian Award. Georgine has been a pillar in the labor community for more than 30 years, serving in numerous leadership roles with ULLICO, the Building and Construction Trades Department (BCTD) of the AFL-CIO, and the Lathers International Union, where he held his first national leadership position. As a leader in the American labor movement, he initiated vast improvements in benefits for union workers, founding the National Coordinating Committee for Multi-employer Plans, which works to improve retirement, health coverage, and apprenticeship and training programs of the BCTD and other unions, and the Center to Protect Workers Rights, which serves as an educational, research, and advocacy organization.

John Mariani Jr., chairman of Banfi Vintners/Castello Banfi, the leading U.S. wine importer, was presented the foundation's National Education & Leadership Award. Under John Jr.'s leadership the company, a family business founded in 1919 by John Mariani Sr., has grown into a multi-million dollar estate and a noted philanthropic organization through its Banfi Foundation which supports numerous philanthropic organizations including the SIF, Catholic Relief Services, and universities. Among his credits, Mariani pioneered a major change in the American wine business by introducing Lambrusco to the U.S. market. It quickly became, and remains, the nation's leading wine import.

In typical Sons of Italy Foundation® style, however, the stars of the evening clearly were the 13 recipients of the foundation's National Leadership Grant scholarships, who attended the gala to receive their awards. Michael Albanese, Point Pleasant, N.J.; Nathan Irace Burke, East Hartford, Conn.; Jason Della Rosa, East Providence, R.I.; Dianna Lea Di Iorio, Long Grove, Ill.; Nicole Di Lello, Congers, N.Y.; Nicole Gerardo, Austin, Texas; Kristen Teresa Hanisch, Cambridge, Mass.; Mikayla Rose Patella, Snohomish, Wash.; David Vincent Salvo, Kennett Square, Pa.; Marcella Spera, Hershey, Pa.; Angela Sposato, Philadelphia, Pa.; James Terry, Noblesville, Ind.; and Ryan Vandersypen, Alexandria, La., all received scholarships ranging from $4,000 to $10,000 for their academic merits and community service.

The NELA Gala regularly attracts corporate and nonprofit CEOs; members of congress; cabinet members; dignitaries; leading celebrities such as Stevens, SIF Spokesperson Lo Bianco, Tony Bennett, Tommy Lasorda, Larry King, Joely Fisher, Frank Sinatra Jr., Vic Damone, Cindy Williams, Isaac Hayes and fitness guru Denise Austin; members of the Italian-American community; and the president of the United States. Proceeds from the gala benefit various educational, health and medical charities, cultural preservation, disaster relief and other special projects, to which the SIF has contributed approximately $74 million since its inception in 1959.

Foremost in the SIF's charitable efforts is its National Leadership Grant Competition (NLGC). Each year hundreds of Italian-American students compete for scholarship awards ranging from $4,000 to $15,000. The SIF and its state and local affiliates have awarded more than $33 million in scholarships since 1968. The SIF has contributed an additional $41 million to other philanthropic causes, including the Alzheimer's Association, the Cooley's Anemia Foundation, the SLE (Lupus) Foundation, Inc., the Children's Inn at NIH, the March of Dimes, the Garibaldi-Meucci Museum, earthquake relief in Assisi and Mexico, and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.

Visit the list of Gala Honorees and Sponsors.

For more information on the Sons of Italy Foundation® visit the SIF online at to keep up to date on the NELA Gala and other SIF activities.