Rosemarie Ermilio P’77,’80,’85
Ask Greater Worcester non-profit organization leaders of recent decades to compile a “Top Ten” list of exceptional community volunteers and you will likely see the late Rosemarie Ermilio’s name on many of the lists.
The daughter of Joseph and Jennie (Villano) Ravalese, Ro was born and raised in West Hartford, Connecticut, where she attended the Edward Morley Elementary School, Sedgwick Junior High School, Mount Saint Joseph Academy, a private high school for girls, and LaSalle Junior College in Newton.
Rosemarie met Francis G. Ermilio, an up-and-coming Worcester attorney, through a blind date in 1954 arranged by their sisters. Ro’s life revolved around her family. Amid the demands of raising the six Ermilio children and serving as a gracious hostess for her husband’s professional and community engagements, Ro was also a tireless, savvy fundraiser and volunteer for numerous Worcester area charitable organizations including the Seven Hills Foundation, Memorial Hospital, and the Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research.
Tending to the needs of her children, fostering their athletic and extracurricular interests, and supporting the schools they attended were Ro’s top priorities. Daughters Candy, Margie, and Janine were educated at Notre Dame Academy where Ro chaired the publication of a cookbook fundraiser. The three Ermilio sons – Francis ’77 (known affectionately as “Bud”), Jim ’80 and John ’85 – attended Saint John’s. The Ermilios were active parishioners at Immaculate Conception Church in Worcester.
All three Ermilio boys rowed for the Saint John’s crew team, which found its most ardent supporter and cheerleader in Rosemarie Ermilio. So significant were Ro’s contribution to the rowing program and the school as a whole that this consummate “crew mom” was the first woman to be accorded Saint John’s Pioneer Award. A crew team boat was christened in her memory.
During her 1976-1977 tenure as president of the Mothers’ Guild, Ro convinced Headmaster Brother J. Conal Owens to hold an auction fundraiser. John Ermilo recalls as a nine-year-old riding up and down the hills of Worcester in a pickup truck with his dad, retrieving donated auction items that his persuasive mother had garnered. This fundraiser launched by Ro Ermilio in the back of a pickup truck blossomed year after year. The annual auction remains a vibrant part of Saint John’s today, woven into the fabric of the Gala.
Savvy and boundlessly energetic Ro Ermilio earned the great respect of and an enduring friendship with Brother Conal. Appreciating her extraordinary talents and tireless dedication to Saint John’s, Brother Conal asked Ro to serve on the board of the Centennial Fund in 1994. Ro was instrumental in securing financial support from numerous area philanthropic organizations such as the George I. Alden Trust. During her tenure on the Board of Trustees, Ro’s common-sense approach made her an invaluable member of the Board’s Development Subcommittee.
Ro bravely battled breast cancer not once, but three times – first in 1977, again in 1984, with a final recurrence in 1997. She lost her lengthy battle with the disease in 1998. That year, as the Saint John’s community joined the Ermilio family in mourning their great loss, Notre Dame Academy recognized Ro’s dedicated service by posthumously conferring on her its Saint Julie Award, which honors individuals who have demonstrated devotion to the ideals and values of Saint Julie Billiart, the foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.
Devoted wife, beloved mother, cherished grandmother, treasured volunteer extraordinare – Saint John’s celebrates a life well lived: Lady Pioneer Rosemarie Ermilio.
The Lady Pioneers
Merilyn Bambauer, Rosemarie Ermilio, Kathryn Fox and Maryjane Walsh, the first four women to serve on Saint John’s Board of Trustees, represent the quintessential embodiment of grace, passion, savvy and dedication.
Former Headmaster Bro. J. Conal Owens greatly admired the formidable foursome who impressed him with their professionalism, tireless work ethic and character. He jokes that his appointment of Lady Pioneers to the Board of Trustees finally allowed talented women in the Saint John’s community to “break the glass ceiling and enter Saint John’s longstanding ‘boys’ club.’”
The pioneering efforts of these four dynamic women transformed Saint John’s former Mothers’ Guild into a Parents’ Council and ultimately the Parents’ Association of today. Brother Conal appointed them to Saint John’s Centennial Fund Capital Campaign Cabinet in 1994, and they were instrumental in staging Saint John’s historic Inaugural Centennial Celebration held at Worcester Memorial Auditorium on September 11, 1994. Over 900 guests attended this signature event; the campaign eventually raised $6 million, allowing substantive renovations to Conal Hall, construction of the state-of-the-art Ryken Center, and funding for Saint John’s endowment.
Following the landmark success of the Centennial Fund, Brother Conal appointed the four Lady Pioneers to Saint John’s Board of Trustees. Rosemarie, Kathy and Maryjane were appointed to three-year terms in 1996. Sadly, Rosemarie did not complete her term, losing a courageous battle with breast cancer in 1998. Kathy and Maryjane served three consecutive terms, completing their service in 2005. Merilyn served on the board from 1997 through 2000.
Lady Pioneers Merilyn Bambauer, Rosemarie Ermilio, Kathy Fox and Maryjane Walsh each left her own indelible mark on Saint John’s High School. Their legacy of wisdom, insight and dedicated service inspire those who follow in their footsteps as Pioneers in the new millennium.
From the “Celebrating Our Pioneer Spirit” Gala Program Book, 2011.