By Isabel Pulgarin
He was a man of the world who absorbed all it had to offer. It was on Oct. 6 that this philanthropist, entrepreneur, and academic, Dr. Luigi Salvaneschi, died in Medellín, Colombia at 92. The adjunct business professor and Barry Board of Trustee’s member of over 20 years is survived by his wife Didi Salvaneschi of 23 years who also served on the board, his daughter Margherita DePaulis, his sister Rina Sassone, brother Livio, and their children Paolo, Marlina, and Maura in Italy.
It was just one year ago that Thompson’s firstfloor lounge was established as the Salvaneschi Commons in honor of Didi and Luigi Salvaneschi’s endowed scholarship of $1 million for 50 opportunity scholarships to first-generation college students with financial need who aspire to teach.
“To give a future to young people that they might never have thought of … That is what I will leave behind,” he said when announcing his scholarship last year.
Born in Casale, Monferrato in Northern Italy on October 18, 1929, Salvaneschi was a man of the world yet began as a son of peasant farmers, aware of his family’s poverty.
“I know what poverty is… That was not the life I wanted to live,” he said last year.
He knew to build the life he dreamt about growing up he had to be a diligent student. He studied literature classics, different languages, history, and philosophy.
The humanities and liberal arts spoke to his heart in the building of knowledge and value. He listened to these roots in everything he did. He would read classical Latin and Greek every day of his life and compose a piece of music whenever he could spare a few moments to stay connected, in his words, to “appreciation for the beautiful things, for music, the arts.”
He would serve as a Second Lieutenant in the Italian Infantry from 1945 to 1946 and, after graduating in Classical Maturity in Valsalice in Torino, Italy in 1950, he began teaching. He taught at universities in Egypt and Lebanon. He continued to study canon law at the Vatican and civil law at the University of Rome, then got his doctorate in philosophy at Vatican University, Rome in ’58.
It was in the next year that Salvaneschi moved to Chicago with his then wife, Lenore, who he met while she was studying in Rome. He immediately started work frying hamburgers at McDonald’s and four months later was running the fast-food place as restaurant manager.
Soon after, the American corporate world would be his new frontier. He moved to Los Angeles in ’63 as manager but then dabbled in their real estate management after he got his real estate certification from the University of California, Los Angeles. By ’69 he became the vice president of real estate for the company based in Oakbrook, Illinois.
Wherever he travelled for work visiting McDonald’s locations around the world, he would learn their language and history.
“I did not think I would understand the markets if I did not understand the inner thoughts of the people that formed those markets,” Salvaneshi told the University of Houston.
His credentials soared after 1983. He moved to Louisville for a similar role in estate acquisition under the chain Kentucky Fried Chicken for a few years. Then, he was headhunted to become an expert for Blockbuster video in ’87. The video store chain had just over 100 stores when he signed on, but he soon rose in its ranks quickly to president, CEO, and director in Ft. Lauderdale and the company grew to have more than 1,500 stores by the time he retired from the corporate world.
Salvaneschi and his wife would summer in a rustic log cabin in Alpine, Montana in the mountains to do what he loved, second to the arts: hiking.
During his retirement, he graced the classrooms of our Andreas School of Business, teaching business with the humanities and liberal arts since '91. He served on the board of trustees as a major player in the details of the Silvester Tower in 2006, especially its great visibility from I-95.
His dream of a landmark for international attraction to Barry came alive in 2002. Salvaneschi spearheaded as an international business leader the details, funding, and accommodation of the turnpike’s sound-wall for a view with the Department of Transportation.
Friends, family, and colleagues honored him in a memorial service Oct. 25 in the Salvaneschi Commons.
“Although I have never met Luigi, I gathered that he was very passionate about education, as it changed his life, helping him go from poverty in the countryside of Italy to climbing his way up the corporate ladder in the U.S. and teaching at various universities across the world,” said Jacintha Finkley, a new member of Barry alumni relations, who attended the service.
A word of advice from him: you can learn everything you need to know about business by reading Dante Alighieri, especially in The Divine Comedy. Its poetry can give you more structure than even balance sheets.
The next time you are in the Thompson lounge or see the Tower from I-95, give a little thanks to Dr. Salvaneschi for adding a little light on this land.