The Italian American Executives of Transportation celebrated a trio of luminaries at its dinner dance on Nov. 19 at Ashton Place in Willowbrook. Mariann Gullo was honored as Woman of the Year and Michael Allred as Humanitarian of the Year, with Ron Onesti receiving a special recognition award.
The following profiles have been provided by the organization.
MARIANN GULLO — WOMAN OF THE YEAR
Mariann Gullo is the Chief Operating Officer of Gullo International and a tireless activist on behalf of her Italian heritage.
Located in Elk Grove Village, Gullo International Development Corporation has been a leader in real estate and development in the O’Hare Airport area since 1968, when the company was founded by Mariann’s father, Giovanni Gullo.
“My father came here with his parents from Caccamo, Sicily, to visit his uncle in 1963,” Gullo says. “After seeing Chicago and the greater opportunity in the area, he decided to make a new life for himself in the United States.”
Giovanni worked at the legendary Como Inn, went back to Caccamo, where he met and married Maria LoCicero from nearby Termini Imerese, Sicily then returned to America. He started working in the construction trades, mainly painting and decorating, and with his earnings began to invest in property, but not just any property.
Giovanni’s first acquisition was at Oakton and Lively streets in Elk Grove Village, where he built a 5,000-square-foot building. He continued to buy nearby farmland, eventually developing the Elk Grove Village Centex Industrial Park, today one of the largest business parks in the nation.
“He looked at the area, which at the time was largely agricultural, and saw the possibility for more,” Mariann says. “It was 1968 and O’Hare was still not a major airport. But my father saw the potential for expansion with the growing airport.
He had a vision.”
The family settled in Elk Grove Village, where Mariann and her siblings — Virginia, Mario and John — were raised. She graduated from St. Viator High School and Loyola University, where she majored in marketing and communications and minored in Italian.
“Italian culture was in our blood,” Mariann says. “We went to Sicily every summer, returning to the land, speaking the language. All my life, I have been immersed in both.”
Mariann went on to earn an MBA from Loyola with a concentration in finance, and began working at Gullo International Development Corporation at the age of 22. She eventually became the COO of the company, with responsibility for overseeing its vast, multifaceted operations.
Through her commitment and hard work, she has established herself as a knowledgeable and respected leader in the local real estate market. Active in Elk Grove Village and the surrounding communities, she has taken on important leadership roles in area committees such as the Elgin O’Hare Western Access Project of the Illinois Tollway.
Mariann is a board member of the Elk Grove Village Italian Sister Cities Inc., which fosters relations between Elk Grove Village and Termini Imerese, Sicily, as well as Zihuatanejo, Mexico. Since 2000, Mariann and her family have spearheaded many educational, medical and business exchanges that have united the peoples of different countries and cultures.
“Our relationship with Termini Imerese allows us to continue our ties to Italy, bonding over language, education and culture, connections that are very important to us,” she says.
In 2017, the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans bestowed the prestigious Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Humanitarian Award upon Mariann. A year later, in 2018, she was selected to serve as chairperson of the JCCIA’s Columbus Day Parade in Chicago.
“I was so proud to march down State Street, and that year it was a beautiful day, 78 degrees,” she says. “My father led the parade in 2014, so the generations had come full circle.”
Her prowess in that position led to her selection as co-chair of the parade in 2021 and again this year.
Mariann strongly identifies with and is very proud of her Italian heritage. Fluent in the Italian language and tireless in her efforts to promote the heritage of our ancestors, she is a true beacon of our traditions.
It is that dedication that inspired the Italian American Executives of Transportation to honor Mariann as Woman of the Year.
“I am very proud and humbled to receive this award,” she says. “This just gives me more incentive to continue to strengthen the ties between our two countries and to work to promote and preserve Chicagoland’s Italian-American community.”
MICHAEL ALLRED — HUMANITARIAN OF THE YEAR
As the longtime owner of Q’s Restaurant in Hillside, “The Pizza Man” Michael Allred has delivered financial assistance along with countless meals and volunteer hours to community churches, hospitals and charitable organizations for more than 40 years.
A native of Chicago’s West Side, Mike traces his Italian lineage through his mother, Angela Ferraina, who hails from Cortale, in the province of Catanzaro, Calabria.
When Mike was a teen, his family moved to Elmhurst, where he graduated from York High School in 1967. To serve his country, Mike joined the U.S. Air Force, spending two years in California and two in Puerto Rico. Upon his honorable discharge in 1972, Mike began working at Q’s with his uncle Frank Ferraina and Joe Scrappo, becoming a partner in 1982.
Throughout the ensuing years, Mike bonded with the community. He began to get involved with local youth baseball teams while supporting numerous churches, including the Christ the King Parish in Lombard, and charitable organizations in the Hillside, Elmhurst and Oak Brook areas. He was a founding member of the Knights of Columbus, Christ the King Chapter in Lombard, and is a member of the American Legion T.H.B. Post 187 in Elmhurst.
During the height of the pandemic, Mike and his staff delivered food to hospitals and health service workers. “We donated and delivered pizzas and meals to hospitals like Hines, Loyola, Hinsdalem La Grange and Elmhurst, to not only the emergency rooms, but all parts of the hospital,” he says. “We saw these people working very long shifts under extreme stress and thought that donating food was the least we could do to pay them back.”
Mike has received numerous community awards and honors, including the Loyalty and Service and Signum Fidei awards from Montini High School in Lombard and the Man of the Year Award from Mayslake Village in Oak Brook.
Mike is honored to receive this most recent tribute from the Italian American Executives of Transportation, and says it fuels his drive to work on behalf of the community.
“I am honored to receive the award but realize that I would not have been able to accomplish these things without the support of my wife, Nancy, and son, Matt, as well as the employees and loyal customers at Q’s,” he says.
RON ONESTI — SPECIAL RECOGNITION
Ron Onesti has been intimately involved in the Chicago-area Italian-American community for close to four decades as a community leader, benefactor and businessman.
As president of Onesti Entertainment Corp., Ron produces concerts, special events and festivals nationwide. A specialty of the company is the production of Italian festivals and concerts. In the local area, he stages Festa Pasta Vino on South Oakley Avenue and Little Italy Fest on Taylor Street, both of which are in Chicago, and Little Italy Fest-West in Addison.
In 2005, he took over the Arcada Theatre, a 900-seat vaudeville theater in St. Charles that was founded in 1926, restoring it to its original splendor and using it to showcase local and national talent in the far western suburbs. Since then, he has expanded his dining and entertainment empire to include a boutique hotel and more than a dozen restaurants and performance venues across the Chicago area.
Ron has produced several projects for television and is a regular on-air host on the Chicago PBS station, WTTW Channel 11. He has also appeared on numerous radio shows, and his weekly column “Backstage with Ron Onesti” is one of the Daily Herald’s most popular features.
Ron currently presides over the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame and Casa Italia. He has donated his time, talents and corporate resources to countless organizations over the decades. In thanks, the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, Italian American Executives of Transportation, Italian American Police Association, Casa Italia and other groups have showered him with honors.
Ron was awarded the prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor, one of only three civilian medals recognized by Congress, at an all-military event at the Statue of Liberty in 2008. In 2017, he joined the ranks of the Cavaliere dell’Ordine della Stella d’Italia at a special ceremony at the Italian Consulate in Chicago. The honor was bestowed by Consul General Giuseppe Finocchiaro on behalf of Italian President Sergio Mattarella.