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Community bids addio to George Randazzo

There are pillars in the community. Those individuals who stand for something. Those who truly make a difference in the lives of all whom they touch. George Randazzo, the founder and president of the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, was one such person. We lost George on July 28. He was 77.

George was born on Oct. 21, 1941, and grew up in the classic Chicago Avenue Italian neighborhood. An extremely proud U.S. Army veteran, he served 11 months in Vietnam. In 1977, he founded the Boxing Hall of Fame. He threw a grand inaugural gala, with every living Italian American boxing legend alive at the time. The event captured the attention of other sports greats, including Joe DiMaggio, who advised him to honor Italian American legends in all of sports.

A year later, he created the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame. The first hall was in a rented storefront on Grand Avenue in Elmwood Park, evolving over the years into a much larger location in Arlington Heights.

Then, in 2004, Randazzo put a leadership group together in order to build the organization’s own building in Chicago’s Little Italy on Taylor Street. DiMaggio, who became one of George’s closest friends, was there for the groundbreaking. The 44,000-square-foot, three-story Jerry Colangelo Center was completed in 2008. It was named for the college basketball great, international sports team owner and former resident of Chicago Heights who answered George’s call to lead the fundraising fight.

Randazzo was the recipient of countless awards and recognitions, including the prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

After 40 years, almost 300 inductees and more than $6 million in scholarships awarded, the Hall of Fame is about to graduate to another level. George was scouting new locations in suburban Chicago as well as several other satellite locations around the country before he passed away.

Those of us who were close to George knew him as a visionary, a dreamer. He was laser-focused on his mission, had an immense love for his family, and was an unselfish friend to countless others. He is survived by his devoted wife, Linda, his two sons, Anthony and Marc, and nine grandchildren.

His legacy will also survive. The National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame board of directors has pledged to keep George’s dream alive. A great thing, because his dream was to keep the memories of sports greats of Italian heritage alive for generations to come. His legacy will be carried on, as will the memories of those enshrined. Yes, he was a pillar of the community … as strong and enduring as the Hall of Fame itself.

— Submitted by Ron Onesti

About Ron Onesti

Ron Onesti is the CEO and president of Onesti Entertainment Corp. For the past three decades, he has produced Chicago's most popular Italian festivals, and also owns the historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Producing more than 200 live concerts each year, Ron has worked with some of music's most loved entertainers. Frankie Valli, Mickey Rooney, Connie Francis, and Jersey Boys, as well as stars Joan Rivers, Bret Michaels, and Don Rickles, have all graced the stage of the Arcada Theatre. He is a gourmet cook and journalist, writing a weekly column for the Daily Herald and hosting his own show on WGN. Ron lives in Wood Dale with his wife, Elena, and their daughter, Giuliana.

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