- Year In Review
Through the UNM Foundation, Joe and Christine Di Gregorio of Gallup honored Joe’s father by establishing the Basilio Di Gregorio Business Scholarship. This endowed fund will forever honor its namesake and support UNM-Gallup students studying business administration. As a business person, Basilio began a Gallup grocery store that grew with the town, founded a bank, and served on the board of other banks. As a naturalized citizen from Italy, he marveled at the opportunities in America.
A good business person quickly recognizes growth opportunities. A good citizen knows what to take and what to leave behind. Basilio Di Gregorio was both. As a business person, he began a grocery story that grew with Gallup. As a naturalized citizen, he took seriously the freedoms and privileges of being an American. To honor him, Joe and Christine Di Gregorio of Gallup established the Basilio Di Gregorio Business Scholarship to benefit UNM-Gallup business administration students.
Their son, Dante Di Gregorio, a professor of international management and entrepreneurship at UNM’s Anderson School of Management, says that helping people develop entrepreneurial skills is the ideal way to remember Basilio.
“In the New Mexico economy there are so many start-ups, small businesses and family businesses,” Dante says. “UNM needs programs that reflect that, and particularly in Gallup. It’s easy to fall back on government jobs—that’s Gallup’s biggest employer. We’re trying to provide students with another path.”
In 1928, 15-year-old Basilio immigrated to the United States from Cansano, Italy. Despite much discrimination against Italian immigrants then, Basilio waited daily at New York City construction sites until finally the foreman learned Basilio could handle a shovel and pick. He worked on what is now the Lincoln Tunnel, which connects New Jersey and Manhattan.
Basilio and his brothers followed steady work. During the Great Depression they typically made 15 cents a day to 50 cents an hour. Basilio eventually saved enough money to return to Cansano and marry Oliva DeSantis. He then returned to the United States to continue reaching for the American dream. He moved to Gallup to earn a good income in the coal mines of the budding community. Once, Basilio and his brother shoveled two tons of coal in four-and-a-half minutes, winning a $10 prize in a contest
Not until 1938 could Basilio retrieve his wife and a daughter he had never met from Cansano. When Joe was born, Basilio knew he couldn’t work the coal mines forever. In 1938, he and Oliva risked their life savings of $1,200 and opened a small grocery store in Gallup. He called it the California Market because he drove to California to buy produce, olive oil, prosciutto and other Italian specialties to sell.
During the 1950s, Basilio’s family expanded to four children and his business grew to two supermarkets—allowing Basilio to serve the greater Gallup area while maintaining personal customer service. The Di Gregorio children worked in the stores, too. Basilio, who had learned English piecemeal over two decades, enjoyed greeting customers by name.
“Dad was very conscientious,” says Joe. “He didn’t need a calculator; he figured in his head. Mom and Dad were self-taught. They read our school books.” Basilio was also frugal, even after becoming prosperous. “He drove a 1979 El Camino—the side panels were held together with duct tape,” Joe says. “I bought him a new truck with four-wheel drive, but he didn’t want it.”
In addition to his retail chain, Basilio co-founded two grocers’ associations and served on the board of directors for another. He raised money for Gallup’s Chamber of Commerce building, serving as chamber president in 1963. He founded Citizen’s Bank (now Pinnacle Bank) in 1972 and also served on many New Mexico and Arizona bank boards. He worked up until his death in 2001. He was 88.
Joe says his father would have regarded the Basilio Di Gregorio Business Scholarship as one of his greatest achievements, and that his three sisters—Elizabeth Di Gregorio, Jeanette Van Doren, and Nicki Seay—are likewise proud of the family’s legacy.
“He thought he should leave something behind to make the world a better place,” Joe says. “This would be his idea of doing that. He loved to say, ‘Only in America . . . isn’t this country great?’ Education was very important to Mom and Dad. They wanted us to reach for the stars.”
You can help students reach for the stars by establishing an endowed fund at the UNM Foundation. Endowed funds may support scholarships, faculty, the general needs of the University or any UNM school, college or program, however the donor wishes, in perpetuity.
In addition to cash, you may establish endowed funds through any gift vehicle recognized by the UNM Foundation, including gifts of securities or real property, by pooled gifts from a group of friends, with memorial contributions or through continuing gifts to endowment accounts. You may help develop guidelines for how your endowments are to be governed and used.
You may fully fund an endowment with a one-time lump-sum gift; fund it over a three- to five-year pledge period or through a bequest or other deferred gift. Endowment minimums vary by purpose, so please contact the UNM Foundation at (505) 277-4503 or 1-800-UNM-FUND (866-3863), or visit our Web site at www.unmfund.org/, for information on establishing an endowed fund.