Sandra Forosisky, Robert Penza named Italian heritage award winners
Deborah Marko, Vineland Daily Journal
VINELAND – Longtime friends, Sandra Zagari Forosisky and Robert A. Penza, will share the spotlight Saturday when they are awarded the Spirit of Achievement Award, presented by the Italian Cultural Foundation of South Jersey.
The honor, given to those of Italian heritage known for their cultural pride, community involvement and professional achievements, will be presented during the 31st annual gala ball to be held at the Greenview Inn at Eastlyn Golf Course.
Winning the accolade sparked a renewed interest in family histories for both recipients and they discussed it over a recent dinner.
“We were trying to figure out what we’re going to do about our speeches and what are we going to say,” Penza said, recounting his family history that he traced to various regions in Italy including his great grandparent’s hometown of Salandra that currently boasts of a population of just over 2,700.
“I look at him and said, ‘Salandra, in Matera,”’ Forosisky said. “Oh my God, that’s where my grandfather came from, it’s a little village in the mountains.”
Years back, both families apparently set out in search for new opportunities that landed them in Vineland.
“Generations later, our families are friends,” Penza said.
Not only co-recipients, the winners laugh they may also be related.
“That’s what I love about our culture, everybody is family,” Penza said, even if the bloodlines are blurred.
The honorees also share a strong work ethic, a commitment to community service and are both are supporters of vocational education.
Forosisky, 59, along with her two sisters, were encouraged by their father, Joseph Zagari, to set goals for themselves.
“He was Italian in the sense that he was king of the castle, he was boss,” she said. “At the dinner table, it was always, ‘You are going to college, you are going to be independent and you are going to have an education;’ he was very progressive that way.”
A Vineland High School graduate, Forosisky earned a bachelor’s degree with a double major in math and economics from Rutgers University and started her career in the casino industry as an analyst. She later swapped “I dos” with Gary Forosisky, who launched his own mechanical contracting company, GE Mechanical Inc.
Forosisky turned her attention to working full-time at her husband’s business and motherhood, raising two sons, while going to school at night to earn a master’s in business administration from Drexel University.
Her talents lead her into public service where she now serves as the Vineland Director of Economic Development.
“People always say, “When are you going to retire,’” Forosisky said, “Why, I love working in this administration and I love what we’re doing, it’s fun.”
Penza, 61, is also not interested in slowing down after a lifetime working at the business founded by his grandfather, the Samuel Coraluzzo Co. in Vineland.
“My grandfather started the business during World War II, there was a need for trucks,” Penza said. “They got these jalopy trucks and delivered to Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force Base and that’s how they started the trucking business.”
Penza’s interest in mechanics lead him to Cumberland County Technical Education Center where he studied diesel mechanics. He won a scholarship to attend a diesel technical school where he earned a degree in diesel mechanics that he applied at his family’s business.
About two years later, Penza enrolled in Cumberland County College and earned a marketing degree. He moved from the garage to the office where he worked in every department from billing to dispatch.
When his father, Robert V. Penza, died in 2007, he became company president and grew the company by acquiring Torrissi Transport Systems in Hammonton. It’s grown from three terminals in the New Jersey/Maryland regional to 16 terminals, stretching down to Florida, and employing more than 700.
“I’m a doer, I love challenges,” Penza said. “I get interested in topics and then the next thing you know I’m driven until I achieve it.”
In the 1980s, Penza pursued his interest in music forming the band, VEGAS, that performed at social hot spots including the Sweetwater Casino, Copsey’s and The Savoy Inn.
“If I wasn’t working in the shop, on the weekends I was playing parties or weddings,” he said. “I was always doing something, I have a hard time sitting still.”
Penza joked he will not be performing at the gala ball.
When his father took over the business, Penza joked his grandfather turned his attention to horse racing and moved to Florida to be near the Gulfstream Race Track.
“My grandfather loved Florida so much,” Penza said. “When Wawa went to Florida, because we do so much work with Wawa, we went to Florida.”
“To see the Coraluzzo trucks in Florida for me and my brother (Michael) was a very emotional,” he said. “My grandfather would have just loved to see his trucks in Florida and now they are all over.”
Realizing the American dreams of their families, both Forosisky and Penza shared a wish that those who made it possible could be there so see them accept the Italian cultural honor.
The looking back made them think about the future and their desire to connect with family.
Not one to sit still, Penza turned to Forosisky telling her, “I think we should go to Salandra.”
Deborah M. Marko: 856-563-5256; email@example.com; Twitter: @dmarko_dj
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