Cafaro Family Donates $1.75M to YSU Campus; University Renames Two Buildings in Family’s Honor

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — J.J. Cafaro has an innate fondness for the Youngstown State University campus – seeing his daughters Renee and Capri begin their collegiate journeys here.

Friday, the university renamed Lincoln and Phelps Buildings in honor of the Cafaro family, which donated $1.75 million to the university. The buildings will now be known as Cafaro Hall and Silvestri Hall.

“I think it’s a real honor for us to be able to contribute here at Youngstown State,” J.J. Cafaro said. “It has been in the forefront, has been an engine of economic development here in the Valley. 

“To be a small part of that and to be able to assist in a small way is truly an honor.”

Paul McFadden, president of the Youngstown State University Foundation, said these philanthropic donations go beyond the monetary value, but the monies are very impactful. He adds these endorsements bring meaning to YSU and its student body – letting them know the community believes in them. 

“These two gifts specifically are going to enhance these buildings, which could use some attention,” McFadden said. “These two gifts will bring two buildings back up to par for us and make sure they’re here for our students for many, many years to come.”

YSU President Jim Tressel echoes McFadden’s sentiments – saying the Mahoning Valley community believes in the campus as a whole.

“It’s one thing to have a name of a street on a building, but to have a family that came through here, Mr. Cafaro and his brother, Tony, both went to school here,” Tressel said. “They believe in Youngstown State, and they could live anywhere in the world. They believe in here.

“These people didn’t wake up and were famous. They worked their way into extraordinary things. Any time we can have those names in front of our students, faculty and staff is special.”

Capri Cafaro said she and her sister, Renee, would not be prepared for their further education at Stanford University and beyond if it were not for their base learning at YSU. 

“We give a lot of credit to Youngstown State University for our success, both academically and professionally,” Capri Cafaro said. 

Cafaro’s middle name is Silvestri, along with her mother’s, Janet’s, maiden name. Capri Cafaro’s grandfather, George Silvestri, was the founder of Silvestri Brothers Contracting – the site contractors for the former General Motors Lordstown plant. They were highway contractors as well. 

The former Ohio state senator went on to say her uncle Ronald Silvestri, whose namesake is on one of these buildings, continued his father’s company in highway contracting and commercial real estate. Capri Cafaro went on to say he lived to work.

“I think Ronnie would think this is way too much, but it’s certainly fitting,” Capri Cafaro said. 

There have been many people making their marks across the world, getting their foundation at YSU, Renee Cafaro added, including herself. Her uncle would ask her about her schoolwork and later exploits, so proud of his niece, who now lives in New York City.

“The first thing he’d usually ask me is when am I moving back to the Valley because it was his heart and soul as it is for both sides of my family,” Renee Cafaro said. “Education was so important to him. He was always trying to learn something new. 

“He had a business mind and was known for all the things from shale to construction, but he was also self taught in everything from mechanics to music. He was a very diverse person who had many talents and hidden skills.”

J.J. Cafaro said Friday’s presentation is a desire to help. Whether it’s his wife, Janet, being chairperson of the 60th anniversary Red Cross Ball in Florida or dealing with the Arthritis Foundation in New York, his family feels they are fortunate to help those in need.

Other area businesses should lend their support to YSU as well, he added.

“I think they should understand when you’re able to help, especially an institution of this nature, it goes a long way,” J.J. Cafaro said. “They get the feeling of being able to see that help.

“It’s kind of selfish to give, if you want to know the truth. You don’t give for the public adulation like today. You give because of what and how it makes you feel inside.”

Pictured: On hand for Friday’s check presentation were J.J. Cafaro, his wife Janet Cafaro, daughters Capri and Renee Cafaro, and YSU President Jim Tressel.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.