Peter Lello didn’t need a letter of recommendation from me. Of that, I was certain. But he asked, so I wrote. And when I did, I thought perhaps I could shed some light on why Peter was the right person for the fundraising position he sought at the college.
A first glance at his resume might lead one to conclude this line of work not in Peter’s bailiwick. After all, he had spent most of his career in two fields: food brokerage and Catholic education. But having once overseen development at the college, I knew a basic tenet of this line of work: People don’t give to causes. People don’t give to institutions. People give to people.
And there was no finer “people” than Peter Lello.
Other candidates might boast impressive track records in major fundraising, I wrote, but none would bring the vast multitude of loyal friends ready and willing to support Peter, and none would possess his sweet, humble, sincere disposition. I was sure I was not the only one to say this, but in final analysis, I was pleased and honored to add my name to the list.
My letter came to mind the night I sat in the auditorium at the college as Joseph A. Paglianite stepped to the podium. Founder and owner of Grotto Pizza, a legendary business not only in Northeastern Pennsylvania but in the state of Delaware as well, Mr. Paglianite was full of gratitude. He thanked the countless number of people who had been loyal customers over the years and the countless number of young people who had worked at his establishments. Then he reached into the breast pocket of his suit jacket and handed the chairman of the board a check for a million dollars.
The donation meant that students interested in careers such as the one that had brought Mr. Paglianite not only wealth but also great personal satisfaction, could get their start at the Joseph A. Paglainite Culinary Institute at Luzerne County Community College.
It was by far the largest individual donation LCCC had ever received. And all because of the efforts of a soft-spoken, low-key gentleman unobtrusively standing off to the side: the college’s Major Gifts Officer Peter J. Lello.
Peter was named to that position in 2006 and immediately played a pivotal role in the largest capital campaign in the college’s history that resulted in the construction of the impressive Public Training Safety Institute. In addition to the donation from Mr. Paglianite, he also played an integral role in securing a naming donation for the Francis and Mary Gill Carrozza, RN Health Sciences Center.
These and other successes during Peter’s 10-year career at the college (he retired in 2016 due to ill health), along with a general sense of a life well-lived, came to mind during the week following Peter’s death on Feb. 16, after a long and courageous battle with several illnesses. He was 75 years old.
Part of the college’s official statement read: “Peter was a valued and valuable member of the Institutional Advancement Team and wore many hats. He helped in planning for the Scranton and Pittston centers, alumni outreach through the President’s Alumni Council, promoting the LCCC Cooking show, Cooking Class(ics), which highlighted the culinary and communication arts departments, legislative outreach and the promotion of the Schulman Gallery. He helped organize some of the most successful exhibits held at the Gallery that brought national and international shows, community involvement, foreign ambassadors and much positive attention and good will to LCCC. Peter gained the trust, friendship and respect of many people and it was an honor to know and work with him.”
Peter’s oldest and dearest friends, particularly Michael Clark, the Rev. Louis Grippe and Ken Musto, cannot think of Peter without thinking of his first love: food. “Back in high school, we were just poor, unsophisticated kids from Pittston,” Michael Clark, a classmate at St. John’s high, says, “but Peter, whose dad, Peter Sr., owned Sterling Beef, lived in a different world. And he made us part of it.”
Michael described lavish trips to New York City, all orchestrated by Peter. Reservations at exclusive hotels. Dinners at the best restaurants.
“We’d save every penny we made all summer for our New York excursions with Peter,” he says.
Others in Peter’s circle back then included P.J. Melvin, Michael Sheridan and Dr. Jerry Jordan.
“We were just kids,” Michael Clark goes on, “but often we’d take the train out of Scranton, sometimes the famed Phoebe Snow. We’d be in an elegant dining car or bar car smoking cigars with white-coated waiters serving us.”
As adults, the group continued to enjoy Peter’s wizardry with food.
“He was a master chef, always hosting us at his home on Linden Street in West Pittston,” Clark says. “The steaks, the pasta dishes, and, oh, the desserts.”
Peter’s lifelong affiliation with food led him to what he may have considered his greatest success at the college. Learning that every day a number of students came to the college hungry, Peter got involved in creating and stocking a food pantry on the campus, and became the college’s representative to the Empty Bowls Project, a regional, collegiate effort to raise funds and awareness of hunger issues.
Upon his retirement, LCCC designated the food pantry the “Peter J. Lello Student Food Bank.” Nothing could have been more appropriate.
Peter was laid to rest Friday. If you desire to please his heavenly spirit, a donation to the food bank might do the trick. His friends all think so.
Peter Lello’s obituary is on page P8.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.