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Renato ‘Ron’ Turano, leader of Berwyn’s Turano Baking Co. who also held seat in Italy’s Senate, dies at 79

In one busy year, he made 59 trips to Italy to represent expatriates in that country’s Parliament.

Ron Turano about to bite into a sandwich made with a rustic loaf of bread made by Turano Baking Co.
Ron Turano about to bite into a sandwich made with a rustic loaf of bread made by Turano Baking Co.
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Turano Baking Co. makes more than 250 bread products, supplies thousands of restaurants, grocers and mom-and-pop stores and provides hamburger and hot dog buns to fast-food chains.

With its challah, English muffins, French baguettes, German pretzel rolls and Italian focaccia, it also has offerings to satisfy yeasty yearnings for many ethnic varieties of bread.

Which was plenty to keep Ron Turano busy when he was president and chairman of Turano Baking Co. But he also served as an Italian senatore for about seven years, making 59 trips to Italy in one busy year to represent expatriates in that country’s Parliament.

Mr. Turano died Sunday of ALS at his Burr Ridge home, according to his daughter Lisa. He was 79.

Ron Turano at Turano Baking Co. of Berwyn.
Ron Turano at Turano Baking Co. of Berwyn.
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Based in Berwyn, the company now also has plants in Bolingbrook, Georgia, Florida and Nevada and is run by a third generation of Turanos.

His daughter said its stability can be traced to a rule Mr. Turano learned from his father, founder Mariano Turano.

Even in his final weeks, she said, “My dad counseled us that, if you take good care of people, they will take care of you.”

An immigrant from the “instep” of the ankle boot-shaped Calabria region of Italy, Mr. Turano was 15 when he arrived in Chicago with his family. He graduated from St. Mel High School and attended what’s now the University of Illinois Chicago.

He learned English by watching TV sitcoms and Colgate toothpaste commercials. His Italian never got rusty because he spoke it at home and stayed in touch with relatives in his homeland via phone and frequent trips.

It paid off when he decided to run for the Parlamento Italiano to represent the Italian diaspora in North America and Central America. He realized how far he’d come after being elected to a term that began in 2006, he told Chicago’s Italian American newspaper Fra Noi.

“When I was a young man, my father told me that I should maintain ties with Italy because I might go back to work there some day,” he told the paper. “So there I was, walking down the corridors of the Italian Parliament with the guards calling me by my name, and my eyes were filling with tears as I thought about how proud my father would have been. He was right. I did return to Italy to work. But he never could have imagined that I would be returning as a senator!”

Ron Turano in the Italian Parliament. He was twice elected a senator, representing expatriates.
Ron Turano in the Italian Parliament. He was twice elected a senator, representing expatriates.
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Young Ron grew up in the town of Castrolibero in the province of Cosenza.

His father Mariano was an espresso bean salesman and skilled baker. While being held by Nazi captors in a World War II prisoner-of-war camp for Italian soldiers, “He was treated better than most because he knew how to bake bread,” Lisa Turano said.

After the war, Mr. Turano’s father sensed economic recovery would take years and wanted more for his sons — Renato, Umberto and Giancarlo — that he thought they’d find if the family left Italy.

“He just felt there was more opportunity for his sons in the United States,” Lisa Turano said.

They settled in Chicago, where Mariano Turano worked underground, doing sewer construction. On weekends, he started baking bread at a food store owned by his brother Carmine.

At a time when squishy white bread dominated grocery shelves, Italian American families clamored for their familiar crusty loaves, Lisa Turano said.

Young Renato, who became known as Ron, was the oldest of the three boys and started out helping with deliveries.

After graduating from St. Mel’s, he studied engineering. But he put his education on hold to help with the baking business.

His father bought parts to MacGyver a bread oven and established a plant in the 6500 block of Roosevelt Road in Berwyn. The company still operates there on an expanded site.

In 1965, he married the former Patricia Filishio, a third-generation Italian American he met at a St. Mel’s basketball game.

They set off on a 62-day honeymoon to Italy, where, his wife said, Mr. Turano’s excited relatives picked them up at an airport, bundling him into one car and her into another. She didn’t speak Italian, so she couldn’t communicate with her new family during the six-hour drive to Castrolibero.

Mr. Turano, who held dual citizenship, campaigned for a seat in the Italian Senate by meeting with community leaders and ethnic organizations in places with sizeable Italian American populations, including New Jersey, Dallas, Miami, San Francisco and Toronto.

He represented 200,000 Italian expatriates in the United States and 150,000 in Canada, the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico, according to a commendation from the Illinois General Assembly in recognition of his win. He served as a senatore from 2006 to 2008, a posting that was made possible by the support of his brothers, who acted as co-chairmen of Turano Baking Co., his daughter said.

Mr. Turano later was elected to a second term, serving from 2013 until 2018. He focused on issues including the preservation of la bella lingua and dual citizenship and improving consulates, his daughter said.

In 1991, he got a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Chicago.

From 2004 to 2006, he was president of the American Bakers Association.

To unwind, he liked to visit a family getaway in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Raking leaves and power-washing the deck relaxed him.

He was “among the leaders, if not the leader, putting together Casa Italia,” a cultural center in Stone Park, according to historian Dominic Candeloro, curator of the center’s library.

Mr. Turano’s wife died in 2019. In addition to his daughter Lisa and his brothers, he is survived by his daughter Renee Novelle, son Mario and nine grandchildren.

Visitation is planned 4 to 9 p.m. Thursday at St. John of the Cross Parish in Western Springs, with a funeral Mass there at 11 a.m. Friday.

Brothers (from left) Renato “Ron” Turano, Umberto “Tony” Turano and Giancarlo Turano were the second generation to run Turano Baking Co., founded by their father Mariano Turano.
Brothers (from left) Renato “Ron” Turano, Umberto “Tony” Turano and Giancarlo Turano were the second generation to run Turano Baking Co., founded by their father Mariano Turano.
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