Michael Starvaggi's story is that of an Italian immigrant's pursuit of the American Dream. And while it may read like a classic rags-to-riches story, those who delve beneath the surface will find the true treasure revealed - the pure heart of a humble man.
In 1912, alone and unable to speak the language of his new country, a 17-year-old Michael "Mike" Starvaggi stepped off a ship in New York Harbor with $5 in his pocket. He headed for Weirton, W.Va., where his aunt, Rosalie Ballato, lived. Once in Weirton, Mike settled down to his first job - carrying water to workers at the Weirton Steel Co. Within a few weeks Mike opened his first business, a grocery store on Main Street.
Despite the store's success, Mike thought he could better serve his customer's needs by going to them. He made a decision to sell the store, buy a horse and wagon and take his goods to them. Soon Mike was peddling his fresh fruit and produce door to door.
Blessed with a keen business sense and a willingness to work hard, Mike constantly explored other avenues of customer service. He hit upon the idea of a home delivery service that would bring ice to the doorstep in the summer and coal in the winter. He purchased more horses and wagons and in 1919 Mike opened the Weirton Ice and Coal Co. Other businesses followed including bus companies, a construction firm and more coal companies.
Through hard work, Mike parlayed his humble home delivery business into Starvaggi Industries, Inc., which at one time employed 400 and had an annual payroll of $4 million. Despite his immense success, Mike never lost his humility, his willingness to help others, nor his appreciation for the natural beauty of the earth. He took great care and pride in restoring strip-mined land to a condition that was as good as or better than when he first went in.
Although he and his wife Angeline never had any children of their own, they occupied a special place in his heart. Mike donated reclaimed land to be used for Little League and Termite baseball. He donated a 12-acre plot of land for construction of a new high school and church at St. Joseph the Worker, $200,000 toward the construction and furnishing of the Hancock County Children's Home and a $125,000 gift to the College of Steubenville for a new library.
Mike built an empire with his willingness to work hard, his good word and good will. He died in 1979.