Friday, June 7, 2013

Italian-American businessman Tony Pellegrino, 82

Italian-American businessman Tony Pellegrino passed away on Saipan Friday [June 7]. He was 82.

Marianas Variety newspaper published a feature story on Pellegrino two years ago. Read story below:

By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor

HARD work is one thing every Sicilian knows by heart and one thing they brought with them in search of a better life in the United States as immigrants in the late 19th century.

The Pellegrinos came to America armed with the determination to start life anew.

Anthony Pellegrino, who was born in Pennsylvania on Aug. 31, 1930, is the second of three children — a sister who’s turning 89 years old next month, 

Tony at 81, and a younger brother who’s now 78 — of a Sicilian couple.

The Pellegrino patriarch, Pellegrino says, was a self-taught baker and his mother was a homemaker and a storekeeper.

“They opened up a grocery store,” he says.
He adds, “They came to America as immigrants. They didn’t know how to read or write English.”

Like how the Sicilians labored hard with their carreto del lavoro back home, Pellegrino says his parents worked hard in their new country to provide for their family.

“Hard work, determination and truthfulness,” are some of the virtues the young Pellegrino grew up with learning from his parents.

“They didn’t preach to me—it was their examples,” he says.

For Pellegrino, he says his father never raised his hand nor yelled at his mother. He neither saw his mother abuse his father.

“There’s mutual respect. They had been married for 40-50 years,” he tells Variety.

One thing he clearly remembers his parents teaching them is they made them work.

Coming home from school, Pellegrino says, “I had to wash the bathroom and the floors. I had to learn how to cook. My brother washed the dishes and I dry them or the other way around. We had to fix our own bed—everything.”

According to Pellegrino, he and his siblings learned the age-old Italian method of corporal punishment for which he said he was grateful.

Describing further his parents, he says, “They never spoke of their feelings. They showed them by their actions.”

Of all the Sicilian traditions passed down from generation to generation, Pellegrino says he would like to maintain that all members of his family come together during dinnertime.  “I insist that my three children sit down with me at dinner every night.”

He reasons that it is during dinnertime that he gets to converse with them on how their day went and share with them about his.

On Sundays, Pellegrino says he would like to take his family out to dinner.

“I like this thing of sitting down, talking to one another, realizing that we are a family. That is one of the things 

I teach my kids all the time. Family is ‘numero uno’.”

When WWII broke out, Pellegrino was only 10 years old. He barely remembers those war years except for the food rationing and how people queued to get their share.

Pellegrino had wanted to become a professional jazz player. “So when I got out of high school at 18, I left for New York City with a suitcase in one hand and my saxophone in the other hand.”

“I spent two years in the entertainment field and realized I had more desire than talent.  I realized that I had no talent,” he says.

He tells Variety that he could never be Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker or Thelonious Monk — “these were like the giants of those days.”

At 20, he went home defeated but decided to go to college. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in education from Kutztown State Teachers College and his master’s degree in liberal arts from Temple University.

For 12 years, Pellegrino was a schoolteacher.

In 1958, he went to Japan where he taught in a military dependents school system and where he first ventured into business—introducing car wash equipment and franchising.

He recalls, “I gave myself five years—if I succeed, I’ll stay in business; if I fail, I’ll go back to teaching.”

He stayed in Japan for 16 years, 10 of which were spent in business.

After marrying a Japanese national, he decided they move to Hawaii. “She couldn’t speak much English so I figured Hawaii is one foot in Japan and one foot in America.”

He tells Variety when he moved to the Aloha State he didn’t know anybody there.

But there he set up a home improvement and remodeling  company. “It was  very successful,” he says.

Then a friend told him about an island called Saipan and actually took him here in the early ’80s.  Then, after coming back for two more trips, he decided he would relocate here for good.

In 1984, he sold his business and moved to Saipan.

He says, “I fell in love with it. I said this is a goldmine. There are so many opportunities.”

Coming to Saipan, Pellegrino realizes it would be a perfect fit to have sunset cruises on Saipan.

“So I built a boat over here in 1984 that we still use for sunset cruises.”

While he was building his 85-foot by 30-foot boat, he remembers people flocking to it and asking, ‘Mr. Pellegrino, is this Noah’s ark?’ I call it ‘Pelli’s Ark’,” he recounts.

In 1985, he says, he was running the sunset cruise business and they needed a drinking water on the boat. It was not available at that time except for the gallon-size water containers sold at the stores, he says. So, necessity for bottled water gave birth to his Saipan Ice company.

Another necessity came up just five years ago with the garment factories abandoning Saipan including a warehouse he used to lease to them in Chinatown.  With the garment businesses gone, he needed a business to fill the vacuum and to bring in revenue — thus, the shrimp production business was born.

His businesses thrive.

Asked on his secret to success, Pellegrino replies, “Determination! We need to take a calculated risk.” He admits he had some failed businesses but that didn’t deter him. And like a child who falls on his knees on the ground, he picks himself up and starts running again.

Aside from determination, Pellegrino believes in mutual respect.

He has over 100 employees and he treats them as partners. “We fail and we succeed together.”

When not working, Pellegrino does a lot of reading and research. “I keep reading as much as I can.”

Asked if he still plays the saxophone or any musical instrument, he says, “When I give up on something, I completely turn away from it.”

At 81, Pellegrino has five children — his daughter Miki who’s president and ceo of his sunset cruise business and a son who lives in Boston from his first marriage, and three other children ages 15, 12, and 10 years old— all of whom he calls “the joys of my life”.

One thing he advises his children, “I don’t select a trade for you or  profession.”

He says he wants them to find a job that they truly enjoy doing and be the best that they can be.

For those looking to start a business, Pellegrino has this to say, “Be determined that you are going to do it. Study what you want to do. Take a risk. Take a calculated risk.”

He, however, stresses the importance of establishing relationship with people that’s founded on trust.”

At 81 years old, Pellegrino says there’s no slowing him down. “Retirement is an obscene word,” he says.

On the philosophy he subscribes to, he says, “I want to do better tomorrow what I can do better today.”

Despite the march of time, Pellegrino has not lost his magic touch. With his vision and indomitable spirit, he continues to inspire the younger generation that the businesses that thrive are founded on trust and hard work.

No comments: