“Gene Romano loved his college and he loved his community, and both are stronger and more vibrant because of that affection,” said Hamilton President David Wippman.
Romano attended Hamilton at the urging of his father, who had wanted to attend Hamilton himself. Once on campus, the younger Romano was inspired by a course taught by noted New York historian David Ellis ’38, a fellow Hamilton graduate and Utica native. “He brought me awareness of the area and its many attributes,” Romano said of Ellis. “A lot of what I learned in his class, I used to enhance my career. He helped me learn to watch for changing trends and to appreciate the Mohawk Valley.”
After graduating from Hamilton, Romano stayed in the area and founded Pacemaker Steel in 1956 when he was just 27 years old. He was also instrumental in the formation of Special Metals. Other businesses included the Fountainhead Group and real estate ventures such as shopping centers, Manhattan office buildings, distribution centers, hotels and resort development properties, and Adirondack timberlands.
“Some way, somehow, I came out of Hamilton willing to take on just about any task that came along, with little fear of failing, but with just enough good judgment not to make foolish mistakes,” Romano said. “I really didn’t think about what my career path would be when I was a student. Neither did I fear going hungry. I think I knew I would be a business owner, but had no clue as to what avenue I would stumble upon.”
Also an extraordinarily generous philanthropist, Romano’s support touched hundreds of local charities and organizations, including the Utica Symphony Orchestra, the New Hartford Public Library, the Stanley Theatre, and the Boys and Girls Club of the Mohawk Valley.
He was particularly interested in higher education, donating more than $5 million each to Utica University and Hamilton College. The Romano Theatre in the Kevin and Karen Kennedy Center for Theatre and the Studio Arts at Hamilton recognizes his support and his passion for the performing arts, and the Romano Entrepreneurs Fund provides scholarship support to Hamilton students from the Mohawk Valley interested in becoming entrepreneurs and in living and working in the Utica area after graduation.
“Hamilton opened up the world for me in so many ways,” Romano said at the time he established the scholarship. “The reason for this gift is to encourage students who have a leaning toward entrepreneurship to stay here and do things to help this city return to its former glory. I’m hoping we get some bright students who love the area, have an entrepreneurial bent and who will stay and help the region grow.”
Hamilton presented Romano with an honorary degree in 2007. The citation read, in part, “You once remarked that Hamilton ‘taught me to listen, analyze and do my duty.’ As one whose concern and commitment have touched every corner of the community in which you grew up and prospered, you have done your duty most admirably by giving back to it abundantly and in manifold ways.”