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  • Writer's pictureThe Hammonton Gazette

Graduates: Always remember where your roots are

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I really thought this would be the year my alma mater, Hammonton High School invited me to give a commencement address. Maybe my invitation was stuck behind the fence of the solar array. Here’s what I would have told the graduates:

President Mento, Superintendent Chieco, board members, faculty and staff, parents, family, friends and most importantly, members of the graduating Hammonton High School Class of 2023:

My great-grandfather—my father’s grandfather—was born 1872 in Longano, Italy. His name was Sabatino “Sam” Donio.

He immigrated to America in 1891. He settled in a mystical, magical unincorporated section of Winslow Township called Rosedale, located near the then-bustling railroad hub of Winslow Junction. Rosedale is right up Old Forks Road from the grounds of Hammonton High School where we are assembled today. If you make a right onto Egg Harbor Road, the house where he and his wife Anna lived is still standing, just on the left. They had 14 children, five boys and nine girls.

The oldest of them—my grandfather Frank Donio, born in 1898--eventually lived next door to his parents on Egg Harbor Road in Rosedale. That house is still standing too. Eventually Frank and his wife Millie Donio had three children: Annabel Donio Arena, Sam Donio and Frank Donio. Annabel was my aunt; Sam was my uncle and Frank Donio was my father. They are all right across Old Forks Road from here, in Oak Grove Cemetery.

You already know that the HHS library is named for Samuel A. Donio. I know my uncle and my great-grandfather would have been proud to have his name on it. Today, the trucks of Frank Donio Inc./Top Crop drive by that library and this school on their way to the company that my grandfather Frank Donio started. My direct roots to that company are through my father, also named Frank Donio, who was its former president. The company is owned and operated by my cousins now, and it is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. It’s also located in Rosedale, right up Old Forks Road from HHS.

One year, Dad took us all to Italy to walk in the footsteps of his grandfather and my mother’s grandfather, Joseph Falciani, whose hometown was Sarno. It was an amazing experience, and when I think of all the moments in time and all the directions my extended family members on both sides of my immediate family have gone in and the lives they have all touched during the era from the 1800s to the 2020s, it is overwhelming.

Graduates, each of you has a family. Each of you has a family story.

If there is one phrase you remember from my address to you today, it is this:

Always remember where your roots are.

That way, you will always be grounded in whatever you do, and wherever life takes you.

When I started The Hammonton Gazette in 1997, I was 23 years old. My family had no background in publishing or newspapers. The closest person actively involved in media was my cousin Jim Rodio, who had his own radio station for many years. But in my immediate family, there was no experience with it.

What my roots gave me was a business background and a strong work ethic. Also, my father was the single greatest salesman I had ever known. He was a leader, not a follower. My mother taught me about faith and community. My brothers provided examples. Most importantly, I met Gina Rullo, who had a great combination of business sense and common


So, while I was a first-generation newspaperman, I became a fourth-generation businessman (including Joseph Falciani).

Knowing where my roots were always helped me—in business and in life.

It will help you as well. Make sure you ask your parents the stories of their lives. My father and I often spoke of his family members. I would have to say his strongest bond from his youth was with his grandfather, Sabatino “Sam” Donio. He would often speak lovingly of him and tell wonderful stories of him. Late in his life, my Dad made sure he had a favorite old wooden chair of his grandfather’s refinished. He was sitting in it at the head of the kitchen table earlier on the night he passed away.

So, get to know your family’s history. Find your roots. Ask questions. Know the stories, because someday, you may be the one who is left with them. You will keep their flame lit, and their memories alive in the world.

Today you sit in caps and gowns at a moment in your life where everything is just beginning. In the years ahead, take some time and connect with your family’s past, because that past lives within all of you now, and will guide all of your futures. Congratulations to the Hammonton High School Class of 2023.

Gabriel J. Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.


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