One of the standout features of our Rotary Club is the Classification Talk, when new members take the podium and introduce themselves in a very personal way to the rest of the club. As members of the Rotary Club of Thomasville, we are a collection of more than 130 individual life stories and life experiences… each of them different and each of them interesting. It is our stories and experiences that we bring to Rotary, and it is the tapestry of our combined stories that makes our club both special and successful.
In his Classification Talk, Gerry Gilmer updated his life story, first told to club members in 1996, when Gerry was first inducted into our club. Gerry characterizes himself as a paid communicator, and his resume pretty well supports that characterization. Gerry has been a professor of communication, an administrator at TU, a newspaper man, a lobbyist, a manager of TV and radio stations, a quiz show host, and a full time Methodist pastor.
Gerry attributes his many life and career experiences to “winks” from God. The book, When God Winks, says that a Christian’s career path is a product of similar endeavors moving toward the final chapter in his life… those endeavors having been prompted by God’s nudging (God’s winks). Thank you, Gerry, for sharing your story with us… again!
The program speaker was Danilo Pistelli, owner of Mom and Dad’s Italian Restaurant in Thomasville. Danilo walked us through the incredible story of how his family made it to America and eventually established a small family restaurant that has survived for more than 40 years and provided livelihoods for two generations of the Pistelli family.
The Pistellis were initially sponsored to come to the U.S. in 1969, but their visa was denied because immigration quotas had been filled. It took another 4 years and some political help from their stateside relative to finally get an approved visa. The family – father Osvaldo (39 years of age); mother Tita (38 years of age); brother Massimo (13 years old) and Danilo (9 years old) – arrived here in 1973, speaking little to no English, with $47 in their pocket and $10,000 in debt.
Mother and father went to work at their relative’s restaurant in Tallahassee, busing tables and washing dishes. By 1977, Osvaldo Pistelli was planning to open his own restaurant in another Florida city, but on a random visit to Thomasville, he saw a ‘for sale’ sign on the old Singletary Flower Shop building, and that’s where Mom & Dad’s in Thomasville was born. Two years later, in 1979, they bought their current location on Smith Avenue, and built a commercial kitchen in the back of the building.
In 1985, Danilo graduated from college and returned home to work in the family business. In 1998, a bar was added to the building, and about two years ago, a bakery was added to the back of the property. Mom (Tita) passed away in 2001, and Dad (Osvaldo) died in 2012… but they left a solid foundation, and their legacy thrives today under Danilo’s and wife Anna’s capable direction.
Statistics tell us that, after 18 months of operation, the survival rate for small family restaurants is about 10%... making the Pistelli family’s accomplishment all the more remarkable. As the country and local area emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, Mom & Dad’s is open for business, and Danilo looks forward to welcoming his many Rotarian friends.