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01/23 - "Millionaire" Star Regis Philbin and CNN's Larry King to Highlight Sons of Italy Foundation®'s Annual Gala

Banfi Vintners and ULLICO Inc. Executives to be Honored; Fred Travalena and Michael Amante to Perform

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

Washington, D.C., January 23, 2001 - The Sons of Italy Foundation® (SIF) will honor "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" and "Live with Regis" star Regis Philbin with a special Lifetime Achievement Award, along with Banfi Vintners Chairman and CEO John F. Mariani, Jr., and Union Labor Life Insurance Company Inc. (ULLICO) Chairman, President, and CEO Robert A. Georgine, who will receive the organization's National Education and Leadership Award (NELA) and Humanitarian Award, respectively, at the13th Annual NELA Gala, May 24, 2001, at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

Larry King will emcee the event, and tenor Michael Amante and entertainer Fred Travalena will performer. Amante, who debuted at the NELA Gala in 1999, will sing a number of arias and popular tunes, accompanied by a 12-piece orchestra. Well-known on the nightclub circuit as a comedian and a regular supporter of the SIF, Travalena will provide a touch of comic relief to compliment the evening's lively, yet serious, focus on education, culture, achievement, and fine wines and food. Also attending the gala will be actress, SIF supporter and 2000 Humanitarian Award recipient Connie Stevens and SIF spokesperson and actor Tony Lo Bianco.

"The Sons of Italy Foundation®'s commitment to education, cultural preservation, and bettering the lives of all Americans is embodied in our three honorees," said Philip R. Piccigallo, Ph.D., Sons of Italy Foundation® national executive director and CEO. "Their lifetime pledge to building a better world through business, education, and philanthropy is at the core of what the SIF stands for."

Affectionately known to millions as "Reege!" and recognizable by his token line "Is that your final answer?" Philbin started out his career in broadcast media as a news and sports writer, and from there grew to be one of America's most loved entertainers. With nearly 40 years of television and radio experience under his belt, Philbin's popularity only seems to grow, continuing minus partner Kathie Lee Gifford on "Live with Regis" and most recently with his popular prime-time game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?"

Philbin, whose father is Irish and mother is Italian, is no stranger to the SIF or to other philanthropic endeavors. He was master of ceremonies for the NELA Gala in 1997 and 1998, and devotes his time to being spokesperson for the American Heart Association.

Banfi Vintners, a family business founded in 1919 by John Mariani Sr., has been built into a prestigious wine empire and the United States' leading wine importer by NELA honoree John Mariani Jr., and his brother Harry. Under John Jr.'s leadership Banfi has grown into a multi-million dollar estate and a noted philanthropic organization through its Banfi Foundation.

After attending Cornell University and studying viniculture in Europe for two years, Mariani and his brother took control of the company in 1964. A mere three years later they pioneered a major change in the American wine business by introducing Lambrusco to the U.S. market. The wine quickly became, and remains, the nation's leading wine import. Mariani was also responsible for acquiring Castello Banfi, a $100,000,000 estate and medieval castle in Montalcino, Tuscany, that houses a restaurant, hospitality center, and glass museum.

The Banfi Foundation has supported various philanthropic organizations including the SIF, of which Banfi has been a top supporter for many years. Also included on the Banfi Foundation's list of beneficiaries are Cornell and Colgate Universities, which have had chairs funded by Banfi, and Catholic Relief Services, which aided victims of an earthquake in Potenza, Italy, in the early 1980s.

Humanitarian Award recipient Georgine has been a pillar in the trade 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.

A leader in the 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.

Georgine is a member of a number of trade, civic, and public interest groups including the Center for Housing Policy, the Conservation Foundation, the American Nuclear Energy Council, the Alliance to Save Energy, and the National Center for Productivity and Quality of Working Life, among many others.

Georgine retired as president of BCTD in April 2000, but continues to serve in his executive role at ULLICO.

The NELA Gala regularly attracts corporate and nonprofit CEOs; members of congress; cabinet members; dignitaries; leading celebrities such as Tony Bennett, Tommy Lasorda, Joely Fisher, Frank Sinatra Jr., Vic Damone, Connie Stevens, SIF Spokesperson Tony Lo Bianco, 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 more than $70 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. Recipients attend the NELA Gala to receive their awards. The SIF and its state and local affiliates have awarded more than $33 million in scholarships since 1968.

The SIF has contributed an additional $37 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.

For additional biographical information on the honorees, please contact Diane Crespy, communications manager, at (202) 547-2900, (202) 547-0121, or

For more information on the Sons of Italy Foundation® and attending the 13th Annual NELA Gala, please contact 202/547-2900, 202-547-0121(fax), or Also visit the Sons of Italy Foundation® online at to keep up to date on the NELA Gala and other SIF activities.