Utica Businessman, Philanthropist F. Eugene Romano Passes Away
The Mohawk Valley region is mourning the loss of one of its most successful and generous business leaders. F. Eugene "Gene" Romano passed away on Saturday at the age of 94, according to family members.
Romano founded Pacemaker Steel on April 1, 1956, at the age of 28. He would grow the business into a multi-million dollar operation, that according to the book, F. Eugene Romano - Doing It His Way, was his pride and joy. He expanded his business holdings over the years to include Fountainhead Group in New York Mills, Romano First Properties, The Ambassador Plaza Hotel and Casino in Puerto Rico, among many others. He was also instrumental in the creation of Special Metals Inc.. Today, Pacemaker Steel is operated by his daughter Linda and the Fountainhead Group by his son John, both thriving businesses headquartered locally.
Romano, who grew up in an Italian neighborhood on Rutger Street in Utica, also had a creative side. According to his book, he was an accomplished pianist, who began earning money at the age of 13 when he played gigs locally for $5 a night. That was well above the minimum wage of 35 cents an hour back in 1941.
Those who knew Romano say while he was well known for his entrepreneurial skill set, it was his down to earth demeanor, accessibility, and generosity that he was best known for.
Author Malio J. Cardarelli, who wrote the book about Romano, said in a 2018 Observer Dispatch op-ed, "I think, more than anything, he should be admired and appreciated because he has never forgotten where he was born and raised and where he still makes his home."
Romano was definitely a champion for the Greater Utica area. Following his graduation from Hamilton College in 1949, Romano stayed in the area and invested.
"I was from a generation that never thought about leaving. I thought it was beautiful," he told Holly Foster in an article for Hamilton College. "I loved it and my family was here." The article was commissioned to commemorate Romano's establishment of a $1 million endowment for scholarships at the college in 1999.
"Hamilton opened up the world for me in so many ways," Romano told Foster in 1999. He said the endowment gift was "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," he added.
Romano also contributed to Utica College, now Utica University, and is one of only two people to give more than $5 million to Utica during a lifetime. These donations toward education were just the tip of the iceberg when it came to Romano's philanthropy.
Over the years, he supported several charities and causes throughout the Mohawk Valley including support for hospitals, education, The Utica Symphony, The Stanley Theatre, The Community Foundation, and dozens of other local causes that he deemed worthy.
As of publication time, funeral arrangements have not yet been made public.