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Past Newsmakers

Winter 2012 Newsmakers

JOE ALONSO, is the chief stone mason in charge of repairing the Washington National Cathedral, which suffered about $15 million in damages in the Aug. 23 quake. Now 50, Alonso has worked at the cathedral since 1985 and set its last stone in 1990.

THOMAS D’AGOSTINO, is Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration. He is charged with keeping the U.S. nuclear arsenal “safe but ready.” A Naval Academy graduate and former Navy officer, he was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2007, one of the few Bush appointees in the Obama administration.

ANNETTE FUNICELLO, the beloved Disney Mouseketeer of the 1950s, turned 69 on October 22, 2011. She went on to become a popular teen actress. Her website,, commemorates her life and career. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1992, she established the non-profit Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Disorders. The Sons of Italy Foundation honored her in 1993. Tanti Auguri, Annette!

TONY LaRUSSA, 67, the legendary baseball manager who brought three of his teams to World Series victories during his 33 seasons, retired in October, following the 2011 series win by his St. Louis Cardinals. He is the first manager to retire immediately after a series victory. LaRussa, who has a law degree, has managed both American and National League teams, was voted Manager of the Year by both leagues and is up for consideration in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

GRACIA MARTORE, 60, granddaughter of Italian immigrants, is the new chief executive of Gannett Co, the media giant that publishes 82 daily newspapers, including USA Today and owns 23 TV stations that reach 21 million households, among its many holdings. Born in Boston, she lost her father as a child and held down three jobs to put herself through Wellesley College. She has been with Gannett since 1985 and is one of the few women to reach the top of the company’s corporate ladder.

UBALDO VITALI 67, a 4th generation silversmith, was one of 22 people in 2011 to receive a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, the so-called $500,000 “genius” award for creativity “with no strings attached.” Vitali is a master restorer of silver works from the Middle Ages through colonial America as well as an original artist and scholar. Trained in Italy, he moved to the U.S. in 1967 to open his workshop in Maplewood, N.J.

And "Addio" to...

WALTER BONATTI famed and respected mountain climber, died of cancer at age 81 in Rome last September. A purist, he preferred hemp ropes and wooden pitons to new technology and made many of his most dangerous ascents alone.

DOLORES DeFINA HOPE, wife of Bob Hope, died last September in Los Angeles at age 102. Married to the comedian for 69 years, until his death at age 100 in 2003; she helped establish the Eisenhower Medical Center in California, built on property the couple donated. A former singer from the Bronx, NY, Mrs. Hope raised four adopted children nearly single-handedly because her husband was often away.

GENO PAOLUCCI, the son of an Italian immigrant coal miner, who became a millionaire through developing Chun King canned chow mien and later a host of frozen dinners, died Nov. 24 at age 93 in Duluth, MN. He helped found the National Italian American Foundation and was also honored by the Sons of Italy Foundation.

PETE RUGOLO, the composer/producer, who helped shape Jazz in the 1940s and 1950s, died in California last October at age 95. He produced for Miles Davis, Patti Page and Nat “King” Cole, among others. Born in Sicily, he came to the U.S. at age 5.