Remembering Renato Turano

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Born of humble origins, Renato Turano attained dizzying professional, civic and political heights while remaining unfailingly modest, generous and kind.

A wave of sorrow swept across the Chicago-area Italian-American community in early December as news spread of the passing of Renato Turano. One of our most beloved and respected leaders, Turano built a legacy of generosity, service and leadership that may never see its equal.

A co-creator with his brothers of one of the largest artisan bread manufacturers in the nation, Turano made history in 2006 when he became the first American citizen to serve in the Italian Senate. Those accomplishments were the base and pinnacle of a dizzying tower of achievements whose heights he scaled while remaining unfailingly humble and kind.

The eldest of three sons of Mariano and Assunta Turano of Castrolibero, Cosenza, Calabria, Turano was destined to lead. His great-grandfather was mayor of Castrolibero in the early 1900s, and his father organized local farmers into a cooperative before World War II, vastly improving their bargaining and earning power.

Born in Calabria in 1942 as war raged across Europe, Turano moved with his family to America when he was 15. Led by Mariano, the family bought a small bakery in Chicago in 1962 that Renato and his brothers, Umberto “Tony” and Giancarlo, gradually transformed into one of the largest privately held corporations in the Chicago area: the Turano Baking Co.

With Renato as chairman, Tony as president and Giancarlo as vice president, the trio built the company from its base in Berwyn into a baking empire — now run by the third generation of Turanos — that also includes plants in Bolingbrook, Georgia, Florida and Nevada.

“Renato was the chairman, but it really was a leadership of three-in-one. We all had our areas of responsibility, and we gathered to make decisions together,” Tony says. “Our company is large, but it has always been run like a family that includes all our employees and all our customers.”

“As Italians, family is the most important thing,” Giancarlo adds. “We always treated each other with mutual respect, not just as partners but as brothers and as best friends. It’s a rare quality in a business relationship and one that we cherished.”

Renato with his brothers, Umberto and Giancarlo

According to Tony, Renato was the engine that propelled the company’s legendary generosity.

Over the decades, the Turano Family Foundation has made sizable contributions toward the Greater Chicago Food Depository, research for juvenile diabetes, scholarships for Catholic schools, foundations that extend aid to the inner city and countless other charities.

Beneficiaries within the Italian-American community have included the Calabresi in America Organization, the Società San Francesco di Paola, the Columbian Club of Chicago, the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, the Italian American Chamber of Commerce-Midwest and Casa Italia, to name but a few.

“My family’s success would not have been possible without the Italian-American community,” Renato told Fra Noi when the company celebrated its 50th nniversary. “Like all good Italians, my brothers and I believe that you should always give back to those who have given to you.”

Whether the community needed hundreds of rolls for a fundraising dinner or tens of thousands of dollars to endow a scholarship fund, Turano could be counted on to lend a hand.

“There was no one as kind and generous as Renato,” says JCCIA Executive Director Jo Ann Serpico. “Whatever he did, he did it from the heart, without thought of recognition or reward.”

But with generosity like that, recognition and reward were sure to follow. The Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, Italian Cultural Center, Italian American Chamber of Commerce-Midwest, Italian American Civic Organization of Berwyn, Justinian Society of Lawyers and Order Sons of Italy in America showered honors upon Turano.

And his support of the community extended well beyond the financial. Over the decades, he presided over the Columbian Club of Chicago, the Calabresi in America Organization, the Italian American Chamber of Commerce-Midwest and Casa Italia.

He helped transform Fra Noi into an independent corporation in the mid-1990s and helped create Casa Italia half a decade later.

He was instrumental in the creation of the Calabresi in America Organization and served for decades as consultore to the region of Calabria, representing the interests of Calabresi in the United States at annual conferences in Italy.

He helped the Italian American Chamber of Commerce-Midwest win official recognition from the Italian government and represented the Midwest chamber on the Assocamerestero, an association of 74 Italian chambers of commerce around the world.

“For most of its history, the Italian American Chamber of Commerce was a social club for Chicago-area businessmen,” said Fulvio Calcinardi, executive director of the Italian American Chamber of Commerce-Midwest. “Renato helped transform it into a truly international organization with strong ties to Italy and other chambers around the world.”

The University of Wisconsin-Parkside bestowed an honorary degree on Turano to acknowledge his role in the creation of an exchange program with the University of Calabria.

“The impact that Renato has had on the partnership between the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and the University of Calabria cannot be calculated,” UW-Parkside Chancellor Jack Keating said at the time. “He has the enthusiasm and skills needed to bring people together and accomplish great things.”

Among his countless other contributions to the well-being and vitality of the community, Turano leveraged funds from the Italian government to support economic exchanges between Italy and the Midwest, brought Calabresi organizations from across North America together for the first time to work for the common good, marshaled resources on both sides of the Atlantic to bring Italian folklore and culture to the Midwest, and supported the consul general’s language program in Midwest schools.

Accolades poured in from every level of government, including the city of Berwyn, state of Illinois, region of Calabria and nation of Italy, which bestowed the title of cavaliere upon him.

In 2006, the Italian government expanded representation in Parliament to include Italians living abroad. For Turano, running for the lone Senate seat in North and Central America was the natural next step in an already stellar career of public service.

“I was asked by leaders in America, Canada and Italy to run because they knew about my experience and because they knew I would be doing this not for personal gain but on behalf of Italians living on the continent,” he said at the time. “Besides, whenever there’s a worthy cause, you can count on me to get involved.”

Turano’s twin missions were to give Italians living abroad a voice in the affairs of government while ensuring that the government provides its citizens with the service they deserved.

With credentials and a platform that dwarfed his competitors, Turano won the popular vote handily in April 2006. As part of Romano Prodi’s victorious Partito Democratico, he and his fellow senators and deputies around the world began the daunting task of representing millions of Italians living abroad while dealing with resistance from their counterparts on the Boot.

“They looked at us as if we were Martians,” Turano recalled. “Their attitude was, ‘We know how to run this country. Why are you here?’”

Undeterred, he and the other senators “in estero” formed a committee with a dozen others elected in Italy to address the concerns of their fellow Italian citizens around the world.

“We were able to legitimize the needs the needs of our constituents as well as the positions that we held,” he explained. “In the end, we were able to demonstrate that we had as much to offer them as they had to offer us.”

Turano served as Senator from 2006-08 and then from 2013-18. In the face of a severe economic downturn, he and his compatriots were able to wrestle annual funding increases for the consular system, Italian language and cultural programs, and university exchanges, among other initiatives.

With everything he accomplished in the business, civic and political realms, Turano never lost sight of his top priority: his family.

He married Patricia Filishio in 1965, and together they raised three children — Lisa, Renee and Mario — who, in turn, gave them nine grandchildren — Renzo, Nico, Reno, Malina, Gabriella, Alessandra, Gioia, Renato and Rocco. His beloved Patricia passed away in 2019.

“My parents complemented each other, excelling individually while creating the space for each other to be their best selves,” Lisa says. “My dad had this very logical, business side, and my mom was more creative and artistic. Together, they made the perfect couple. Gracious, generous and fun — always fun.”

“Our father had a unique gift of forming a true friendship with each of us, including his nine grandchildren. He had a way of nurturing our talents, offering us a little extra support whenever we needed it,” Renee says. “He was our guiding light, and his rays of sunshine will forever fill our hearts. We were truly blessed to be loved by him, and we all strive to be a small percent of the wonderful person he was.”

“Our father mentored all of us in the same way, by setting such an amazing example,” Mario says. “He had the presence of a lion and the grace of a swan. He gave us thoughtful advice throughout our lives that will shape us for generations to come.”

Turano’s days were cruelly cut short by ALS, but his memory will be as lasting as his impact was immense. He lived his life to the absolute fullest, and we can do no better than to emulate him with the days allotted to us.

Renato and Patricia with their children, (from left) Mario, Lisa and Renee

The above appears in the January 2022 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.


About Paul Basile

Paul Basile has been the editor of Fra Noi for a quarter of a century. Over that period, he and his dedicated family of staff members and correspondents have transformed a quaint little community newspaper into a gorgeous glossy magazine that is read and admired across the nation. They also maintain a cluster of national and local websites and are helping other major metropolitan areas launch their own versions of Fra Noi.

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One comment

  1. Robert DeChristopher

    I remember Renato. When he came to St. Mel High School, out teacher introduced him and said he wanted to sing a song from Italy. I remember his voice was very high pitched. I could hear the wise guys behind me making fun of him. After the class was over, I went up to Renato and told him his song was very beautiful. The next time I saw Renato was years later on Augusta Blvd. and St. Louis Ave. He was driving one of the Turano bread trucks. I called out to him and he stopped. I said, “What are you doing driving a bread truck? You just got a degree in Electrical Engineering.” Renato said he wanted to help out his father. I remember the original bakery was on Belmont Ave. Then the bakery moved to Berwyn on Roosevelt Road and is still there. We are Italian. The name DeChristopher is the Americanized version of DiCristofaro. Being Italian, we have bought Turano bread for many decades because it is the BEST Italian bread. A meal is not a meal without Turano bread. I am sorry for Renato’s family and I am sorry for myself. I will miss Renato.

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