Printing industry veteran proud to be an American of Italian heritage

Lou Di Rico

Lou Di Rico

Title: President, Arland Printing

Age: 63                                     

Lives in: Mineola, N.Y.

Sister Camille: Lou, about 15 years ago I approached your company, Arland Printing, to arrange for the production and distribution of Christmas cards. The artist, David Paul Hammer, was on death row in Terre Haute, Indiana. He had responded to my encouragement to design cards I would market to raise money to help children in need. From this collaboration was born a friendship between us.

How did you feel about participating in this project?

Di Rico: It felt great to print a project from artwork drawn by an incarcerated man on death row and turning his art into profits helping children at risk. Whether too little or too late, it was a way of giving back to society!

What have you learned from it?

That people can be remorseful and try to do the correct thing regardless of their bad decisions in the past.

Where and with whom did you spend your childhood?

I spent my early childhood until I was married in Astoria, N.Y., with my parents, sister, large extended family and many good friends.

How significant is your Italian heritage?

This question has to be answered in the following manner. In my early years as an immigrant in the 50s, it was a bit tough being Italian. We were negatively stereotyped for several reasons, with my given name of Luciano not helping things during the time of famous mobsters, etc.! I -- and many others -- were made fun because of our last names also, our language barrier, our food, our literacy, and we were called some very derogatory names. It was that way during those years and it was somewhat overlooked at that time too.

Lou, as painful as that must have been, did any good come from it?

Yes, it did two things. One, [it] made us more resilient and two, helped [me] to become an "American" much quicker. To answer the question more directly now, and after explaining my early years, my Italian heritage became very important and much appreciated after the hurt was put behind me. I learned and realized how significant it was to me, starting with the institution of family that included respect and much love, along with the lifestyle it enabled.

What effect did your Italian heritage have on you?

I believe my Italian heritage included having a hard, honest work ethic, teaching us to complain little but have a "do more" attitude! It also taught me to become aware of what positive contributions Italians in general gave to this world from Roman roots of plumbing, politics and building to music, science, art, explorations, etc. I wish to reinforce also that as proud as I am to be of Italian heritage, I am even prouder to be an American citizen, so fortunate to be able to enjoy and have opportunities no other nation could have provided me, while still having my Italian roots. For myself, it's the best of both worlds! 

Did you have any role models or heroes?

Yes, both my mother and deceased father are definitely my role models. They taught me lots of what I wrote earlier, but also the importance of education, how to behave among other people, how to succeed by always striving no matter how difficult, and family first! These were basically simple lessons coming from them with only a mediocre education. They were self-taught but had an abundance of common sense!

Where did you meet your wife? What drew you to marry her? 

Wow, I can go on forever with this question! My wife's name is Elsa, and we met at W. C. Bryant High School in Woodside, N.Y., in 1968. It was our junior year and she was in my English class. We both had similar backgrounds, parents and lifestyles and the attraction was an easy start. She liked me right away, but I was a bit stupid. I wanted no long term relationship. I made it clear, but she was respectfully persistent and continued making me aware that she liked me very much. That drew me to her more! As time went on, we graduated, she went to work at a bank and I began my college education at Hunter College of The City University of New York. I dated a couple of other girls, and she had an interest in another young man, but both of us came to realize through the personalities of these others, that we were really meant for each other.

So we dated long term, fell in love, and planned to marry, but at my mother's insistence, only after I graduated college! We now have three fantastic grown children who are all married to very nice spouses, and we have five wonderful, beautiful grandchildren. Like many others, my wife and I have had a few marriage bumps. But, we never thought of anything but staying together and holding the family as primary, just as we were brought up. Today, we're still very happy, in love and are always celebrating occasions together and as a family unit. I am so fortunate to have Elsa do all she does for me and our family!

Please talk about your children.

As I mentioned earlier, I (we) have three children, Luciano, Diana and Robert ages 38, 36 and 34, respectively. They grew up in New Hyde Park, attended Notre Dame School to get a Catholic education, then all three attended Memorial High School in New Hyde Park. They were bright and good students, participated in academic, sports and community service programs. They also did what teenagers do later on by getting mischievous and in some trouble. Our family environment however, is what I feel kept all of them at a stable and level place, surviving any obstacles or challenges that arose. Luciano married Kristin in 2007, and they have a daughter named Zoe. Luciano is a chef and owner of a restaurant in Babylon, N.Y. Diana married Luis in 2010 and they have two boys named Oscar and Luca. Diana has two masters, is an educator and serves in so many other positions while working at a Manhattan high school. Robert married Hayley in 2013 and they have twins, Ethan and Charlotte. Robert works for an insurance firm in Jericho, N.Y., handling large volume corporate insurance. I am most proud of them as people, parents and their accomplishments as well!   

What drew you into the profession that led me to you?

While in college, I worked part time for a duplicating department for a big corporation, American Home Products in New York City. Someone with a printing firm in Ridgewood, Queens, that did business with the company, noticed me and asked me to work part-time for him. With the extra money involved, I said yes, and when I graduated college, was offered good money to remain with him. I ran his business in many different facets. I continued there, but five years after college, he was forced to close and abandon the operation. After six months of company inactivity and since the small operation was just sitting there, I asked if I could use his place and equipment to start my own business. 

Then, later on, when he decided what he was doing, we could negotiate; he agreed immediately. However, my ex-boss went to work for someone else and was not interested in the operation any longer, and basically left it to me to do as I pleased with it. It prompted me to get a head start in my business, and he paid back the loyalty and hard work I'd given him for 10 years by giving me the opportunity to start my own business and with no capital input. It was his gesture of appreciation and care for me since I had a wife with three small children. I'm so indebted to him that I still keep in touch to this day with him. A year later, in 1982, I moved my business to a small building in Glendale. Working there I became community-minded, joining the Glendale Kiwanis Club. This enabled me to meet many other business people locally and around the five boroughs.

Now you work on Long Island. That's where I discovered you.

True. When I purchased a larger printing plant name Arland Printing in New Hyde Park, which was near my home, one of the accounts was the Sisters of Mercy! It is from this affiliation that led Sr. Camille and me to each other. I quickly recognized that I just met a wonderful person, woman and humanitarian. Although a nun, she was not a pushy religious zealot! (I'm laughing). But it was the friendship and comforting type of spirituality that drew me closer. I needed to have her in my life as things in general seemed topsy turvy!

Your work has you designing and printing other people's words -- their projects, sales, goals and dreams. Please say something about your own wishes.

The way this industry has turned the last 15 years due to the computer age, has made business change drastically and become more difficult. It crossed my mind quite often that I wished it may have been best if I had not started in the printing industry after college. Although for many years it was financially fruitful, and producing nice work was gratifying by giving me a sense of self pride, it also became very challenging. However, as I look back and even today, I accomplished quite a bit. I've worked on projects that I learned from, I have interacted with so many different people that I enjoy, learning their cultures, religions, personalities and business ideas. It created a desire for me to satisfy the clients' needs, and be rewarded not only financially, but with gratitude and trust! I value the latter two reasons very much.                                                             

How important is your Catholic faith to you?

This question will be answered with honesty. I was brought up Roman Catholic and attended catechism classes at Mt. Carmel School in Astoria. The nuns in those days were not all easy going and discipline was mandatory, sometimes physically done not to me much, but to many other students. It made me afraid and dislike going to the classes. In all fairness, disciple was similar in PS 7, the public elementary school I attended. Sadly, it was generally a sign of the times, unfortunately. But getting back to the faith question, Mass was said in Latin, Fridays had to include a meatless diet, and clergy was highly respected. My faith was very important at the time, as my mother and many in our family were devout Catholics. Holidays like Easter and Christmas really showed what our Catholicism meant. New Year's Day, the Immaculate Conception, Good Friday, All Saints' and All Souls' Day, the Assumption etc. were days of attending church.

Then things seemed to change. Latin was no longer "the local church language," Fridays were open to any food, and Mass did not seem as important on the lesser known Catholic holidays. I think as much as some things changed in the church to attract more people to the faith, the looser guidelines may have distanced others. It should not be an excuse, but I believe our hectic lifestyles have not helped people stay closer to their religious practices. Although not the center of our lives anymore, I still feel the Catholic faith is important to me. Privately, I still pray. I feel the religion in various ways as taught, I practice and continue the sacraments, and when I visit church for Mass, weddings or funerals, I pray and am there quietly but emotionally connected. It's not a social gathering for me, if you will, but a time to pray and reflect.

Where and with whom do you pray?

Besides when I'm in church, I pray mostly alone, in bed, or immediately when I see and hear of something suddenly good or bad happening, or for children and people in need of hope, especially the injured, impaired or ill. 

Has the presence of Pope Francis had an effect on your thinking?

This is a great question. Pope Francis was first introduced to me by you, Sr. Camille! I had no idea really what he was about, but during your birthday dinner, and this is not exactly verbatim, you spoke of how he was a more liberal pope, a pope who did not like the glitz, the glamour and the pomp. You mentioned that he was a real down-to-earth man, someone who connected with the real people no matter who they were, and how he had an embracing, loving way about him for everyone.

You said he would bring more people back to the faith. You had only affection for him!  Well you were absolutely correct! I saw it briefly after our meeting, but I really witnessed it closely when he visited the United States. I watched the events carefully and felt so connected and loved by him, and sent my love back to him. He was genuine, sincere and yes, not showy! There were a few times that I saw, when he touched, blessed and prayed with several physically impaired children, that made me cry. It was then that I felt his presence so strongly and made me proud of him, the faith and humanity! Yes, he has had a great influence on my thinking. 

If so, what have you learned from him?

I've learned that although times change, the pope has changed with the times as well. Yet, he is still performing his tasks and teachings in the way Jesus did. He seemed like he was in Palestine of old, within this modern era. When viewing him, it felt like I was watching a movie about small parts of Jesus Christ's life. He carried himself in the same manner, to represent and help mankind.

You are a leader in UNICO, an Italian professional organization. What position do you hold in it?

In UNICO National, I have held the position of district governor of New York, and chaired and or participated on many national program committees. I was also the president for two years of the Glendale chapter, as it was named in the past. In the UNICO National Foundation, I am a board member, acting as a trustee representing New York. On the local level and presently, I am secretary for the North Shore Long Island chapter.

How would you describe its goals and activities?

The goals and achievements of UNICO National are important to me. The organization started in 1922 by Dr. Vastola in Waterbury, Conn. He started this Italian-American service organization because as an Italian-American, he could not join other community service organizations. It was plain discrimination. Today, UNICO helps Italian-Americans as well as other ethnic groups. It still fights discrimination of Italian-Americans, but also promotes and protects the positive contributions of Italians and Italian-Americans, donates to find cures and research for Cooley's Anemia, mental health and cancer victims. It funds scholarships in many fields of study, donates to armed forces, Italian Studies and to St Jude's Hospital along with many other charities. This is all done while raising funds with good camaraderie and promulgating our heritage, culture and language at the same time.

How many members make up the local chapter?

The local North Shore Long Island chapter has 35 members, varying in ages, gender and professions. And we are fortunate and proud to have you as our chaplain.

What has it accomplished?

The chapter started only six years ago, and has accomplished both financial and a unification of people as a success. The chapter has made money through fundraisers and given away donations to The Cooley's Anemia Foundation, Jimmy "V" Foundation for Cancer Research, The Make a Wish Foundation, The Headway Foundation for Brain Tumor Fund, The Spinal Muscular Atrophy Fund, The Whit Fund, many other charities, along with scholarship awards. It also has brought together a wonderful group of people to work together and raise funds while acting and behaving wonderfully. It feels like an extended family, with care and respect. This feeling of success through unity alone is an accomplishment!                          

How do you relax?

I relax by working with my hands, mostly around the house by making repairs, building or organizing things. I also relax by gardening and doing lawn work, making wine, marinating and jarring vegetables. Non-hand relaxation is listening to music in the genre of rock, Motown, reggae and Calypso, early-mid 20th century Italian popular and folk music, classical and opera.

Is there anything else you would like us to know?

I've said so much, but want to add that after family, faith, job and community service, friendships are paramount. If you recognize good friends, hold on to them and avoid nonsensical reasons to lose them. Quality friends are difficult to find but are important for happy times, times of need and healthy memories!

Thanks Lou, for this rich sharing.

[Mercy Sr. Camille D'Arienzo, broadcaster and author, narrates Stories of Forgiveness, a book about people whose experiences have caused them to consider the possibilities of extending or accepting forgiveness. The audiobook, renamed Forgiveness: Stories of Redemptionis available from Now You Know Media.]

Editor's note: We can send you an email alert every time Sr. Camille's column, Conversations with Sr. Camille, is posted. Go to this page and follow directions: Email alert signup.

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