The scholarships will be given to entering students from the Utica area, who show an interest in business and a commitment to returning to the Mohawk Valley after their education is complete.
The endowment was created by Romano, a 1949 Hamilton graduate, in honor of his 50th reunion, which is being celebrated June 4-6. His generosity will be publicly acknowledged at a meeting of the Hamilton College alumni body on Saturday, June 5. In recognition of this gift, Romano's name will be permanently inscribed on the wall of Hamilton's Burke Library with the college's other most significant benefactors.
"Hamilton opened up the world for me in so many ways," Romano said. "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," he said. "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 College President Eugene Tobin called Romano's gift, "A tribute to the spirit of entrepreneurship that Gene Romano himself has so admirably demonstrated. His generosity will benefit not only Hamilton College students from Utica and the Mohawk Valley, but also the entire Central New York region. The intent is for these Mohawk Valley natives to stay in the area after they graduate and participate as active business leaders and citizens in Oneida County."
Romano has several businesses in the Utica area, including Pacemaker Steel, Romano First Properties, and the Fountainhead Group, as well as the Ambassador Plaza Hotel and Casino in Puerto Rico.
Born in Utica, Romano enrolled in Hamilton at the urging of his father, who had wanted to attend Hamilton himself. Although the elder Romano applied and was accepted at Hamilton, his parents urged him to enroll at New York University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in accounting.
Romano said he especially appreciated a Hamilton course taught by David Ellis, a professor of American economic history and a noted New York State historian. "He brought me awareness of the area and its many attributes," Romano said. "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 graduation Romano stayed in the area. "I was from a generation that never thought about leaving. I thought it was beautiful," he said. "I loved it and my family was here." He went to work at Kelsey-Hayes in Utica and quickly became the steel buyer for that leading supplier of jet engine turbine parts. Romano was appointed an advisor to the National Munitions Board during the Korean War. There, he developed relationships that led to a federal loan to fund Special Metals Corp., which he co-founded as a division of Kelsey-Hayes and is today the largest producer of jet alloys.
In 1956 Romano founded Pacemaker Steel, a distributor of industrial and construction steels. Other businesses include the Fountainhead Group, which manufactures garden and agricultural sprayers and fire-fighting pumps and is headed by his son, John; hotels in Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania; a variety of real estate, including shopping centers and Manhattan office buildings, distribution centers, resort development properties and Adirondack timberlands. He also participates in many real estate ventures led by his daughter, attorney Linda Romano and her husband, Russ Petralia.
With his gift to Hamilton, Romano is making good on a promise he made to his late wife, Jeanne, who had urged him to help revitalize the Utica area. Romano recalls, "I wanted to do something of an important nature for the area and I wanted to do something for Hamilton, a school that we love. Hamilton is more than an excellent liberal arts college; it's a wonderful way of life. The proceeds of this fund will endure throughout the next century and beyond. I am confident that this great institution will turn out some of the leaders of Utica's reindustrialization."
The Romano Scholarship represents one of the largest commitments Hamilton has received to date for The New Century Campaign, an $83 million effort to raise unrestricted and capital funds for the college.