Cafaro family reaffirms its commitment to YSU

The broad smiles on the faces of the students said more than the thank-yous conveyed to the Cafaro family for its latest monetary gift to Youngstown State University.

The students were featured in a picture that appeared on the front page of Friday’s Vindicator memorializing the $1.5 million donation from Anthony M. Sr. and Phyllis Cafaro to YSU’s “We See Tomorrow” campaign launched in 2014.

The money will be used to fund the construction of the new Cafaro Family Field intramural complex on the north side of the campus.

In the overall scheme of higher education, an intramural complex may not seem to be all that important. But it is when the institution’s enrollment is growing by leaps and bounds and the administration is committed to providing students with a well-rounded academic experience.

“The outcome of more students on campus is that we need to provide activities – wholesome and healthy things,” said YSU President James P. Tressel during the Cafaro gift announcement. “We have grown to the point where we are running out of places for them to do that … This [field] is going to be an extraordinary difference maker.”

Cafaro Sr., retired president of the Cafaro Co., made mention of YSU’s enrollment growth when he spoke about his family’s long involvement in the life of Youngstown State.

“We are thrilled to be a small part of that success and to continue our on-going commitment to the university and its students.”

The financial commitment spans more than two decades and is reflected in the gifts totaling more than $5 million.

It is, therefore, not surprising that the Cafaro family last year received the Friend of the University Award, one of YSU’s highest honors.

It is also noteworthy that the Cafaro name adorns one of the residence halls on campus, the result of a $1 million donation.

During Thursday’s news conference announcing the $1.5 million gift for the Cafaro Family Field, the university provided reporters with a fact sheet showing the financial participation in the university: $1 million for the Watson and Tressel Training Site; $1 million to name the Cafaro House residence hall; $250,000 for the Andrews Student Recreation and Wellness Center; $100,000 to establish the Joseph and Betty Nohra Scholarship in nursing and business; annual support for the William and Alyce and the John Cafaro scholarships; and gifts to help fund the Rich Center for Autism and various other scholarships.

The family’s involvement in the institution of higher learning goes back more than 50 years when the patriarch, the late William M. Cafaro, joined other business and community leaders in the Mahoning Valley in lobbying for the then Youngstown College to become a public state university.

William Cafaro, founder of the Cafaro Co., one of the leading shopping center developers in the nation, was deeply rooted in the community and earned a well deserved reputation for his philanthropy and willingness to help the less fortunate.

There’s a story that old-timers tell about Bill, as he was known to most people, that explains the family’s tradition of giving.

During World War II, returning soldiers from the Valley knew to stop in at Cafaro’s Ritz Bar on Youngstown’s East Side where they were served a drink and a hot meal and given some cash to help them start their lives as civilians.

Despite his enormous success as a businessman, William Cafaro, reflecting the blue-collar culture of the Mahoning Valley, was neither ostentatious nor boastful. He shunned the spotlight and elicited pledges of secrecy from the many Valley residents he helped financially.

He was one of the founders and one of the first board members of the YSU Foundation, which has been a financial mainstay for the institution for decades.

William Cafaro’s heirs have continued that involvement, with Anthony M. Sr., a 1968 graduate of YSU, now serving on the foundation board.

Capri Cafaro, former state senator and now executive in residence at American University’s School of Public Affairs, serves on the YSU board of trustees. She is the daughter of J.J. and Janet Cafaro. J.J., the younger son of William, is the retired executive vice president of the Cafaro Co.

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