“Che Bello!”—Raymond Geraci locates family in Italy, supports Italian studies at Rowan

Raymond Geraci was only three years old when his aunt Margaret came into the kitchen and handed him a glass of water as she said, “acqua.”

It was that moment, succinct in its simplicity, that was the beginning of his love for the Italian language—and it was just one of many moments that led to his recent establishment of the Raymond Geraci Endowed Scholarship for Italian Language and Culture.

Geraci, a father of four, comes from a large, very close Italian family where inspiration was rarely hard to find. His father Frank was skilled in porcelain and carpentry, while his uncle Gene who worked for RCA “could fix anything."     

“I wanted to be just like both of them,” said Geraci. “I have had a lot of inspiration in my life from my family, but they were huge for me.”

Geraci’s mother Josephine was also the “top at everything she did” he described. She persevered better than anyone he’d ever known, and it was that same determination that set Geraci’s own professional dreams in motion.

He became one of the first in his family to attend college, earning a bachelor’s degree from then-Trenton State College and holding leadership positions throughout his decades-long career, including RF designer and applications engineer, lead electrical engineer, and engineering technical director. Additionally, Geraci spent over 10 years adjunct teaching engineering courses at The College of New Jersey.

“I was able to visit a lot of remarkable places through my work,” said Geraci. “But I went to Italy on business in 1981 and I felt so at home. I traveled to the major cities and listened so attentively to everyone speaking. I didn’t want to leave.”

Geraci had always been mesmerized by his father and various family members speaking fluent Italian. Although the passion was always in his genes, it wasn’t until a backyard party in 2016 that finally pushed him to formally learn the language.

“My wife Jan and I had a huge group of family and friends over for an Olympics party,” said Geraci.  “I loved getting everyone together, but my takeaway from that night was that so many people were speaking Italian and I wanted to speak it too!” 

Cue Rowan University.

In January 2017, Geraci, now a retired engineer, registered for an Italian 101 course and began the journey to earning his certificate of undergraduate study with a minor in Italian studies.

“I couldn’t wait to go to class,” said Geraci. “It was a thrill to learn every new word and finally start studying Italian language and culture. All of my professors were amazing. They brought excellence and endless energy to the classroom.”

Geraci credits his education at Rowan for the extraordinary experience he later had in Italy discovering familial roots and reconnecting with relatives in Casteltermini and Villalba, Sicily.

Program mentor and professor, Alessandra Mirra, advised Geraci to visit the local corner stores if he was looking for knowledge. And it’s safe to say, he found much more than that.

“A gentleman in his eighties pulled me by my shirt out of the store,” said Geraci. “Uninvited, he sat in my car, shut the door and began giving me directions in Italian. He took me to the town hall and that’s how I discovered unbelievable information about my family. I thought, ‘I have never had a dream as good as this.’” 

geraci“I was able to trace my family in Casteltermini and it just set a fire. I didn’t need my passion pushed any further. Seeing my grandfather’s name in the 1898 birth journal was the jewel of the trip. I used everything I learned at Rowan and was actually speaking Italian. I found cousins who have the same name as my grandparents. I was invited in to have coffee with them! And again, I didn’t want to leave.”

While Geraci’s special time overseas was more than he could ever have prepared for, his gratitude to the program and professors at Rowan didn’t stop there.

“I heard about specific funds for the program that ended up falling through,” said Geraci. “I struggled in my college years. I had to work my way through and take out loans, so I had no idea there were funding opportunities like that. It was kind of a magic moment for me when I realized there were ways I could help.”

The Raymond Geraci Endowed Scholarship for Italian Language and Culture will annually support an undergraduate student looking to make a deeper connection with Italy’s language and culture.

“I believe that lot of people are like me,” said Geraci. “They have the capacity to help but aren’t aware of opportunities to support higher education. I would like to get that message out there, and if I could inspire just one person to establish an endowment and support students, it will be well worth it.”

A long way from “acqua,” Geraci’s ability to speak and understand Italian is a testament to the professors at Rowan, a tribute to his late father and mother and a beloved experience he can now share with members of his family.

“I’m very close with my mother’s sisters, my aunt Clara and aunt Rosie,” said Geraci, “and one of the things I say with the most passion every day is: “Ciao, zia Clara (zia Rosie), mia zia meravigliosa!”

It means: “Hi, aunt Clara (or aunt Rosie), my wonderful aunt!”

Geraci and his family have made a tradition of visiting a local park where there are memorial bricks in honor of his parents and other family members.

“We often go and say a prayer,” concluded Geraci. “Next time, I think I’ll encourage them to say it with me in Italian.”