Angelo Tomasso, Sr.

Life was beautiful but challenging for Angelo Tomasso, Sr., as a youngster growing up in the Abruzzo Mountain village of Abbateggio, Italy, snow-capped peaks to the north, the Adriatic Sea to the east, Rome a distant two and a half hours to the west – and little more than stone beneath his feet in a mountainous region where making a living was difficult at best.

“It’s an absolutely beautiful place, but the land there is very hard to cultivate. It’s all rocks,” says his grandson, Michael Tomasso. “There are almost no trees, and the ones they have are protected because they are needed to hold up the sides of the mountain to prevent erosion.”

Given his roots, it’s no wonder that the resourceful Tomasso, a 2017 inductee of the Connecticut Immigrant Heritage Hall of Fame, found a way to turn stone into fortune – only doing so here in America. He arrived at age 17 in 1910, served his new country in World War I, and found work in the railroad industry – quickly moving up from day laborer to foreman – before managing to cobble enough resources together to start his own construction company, Angelo Tomasso, Inc., in New Britain in 1923.

He started his new company with exactly one piece of equipment – a steam shovel. And it was all he needed.

An industrious, driven and opportunistic man, Angelo Tomasso, Sr., was smart enough to know not to take opportunity for granted. His legendary stamina, work ethic and determination to succeed and provide for his family are captured by the tale of his winning one particular contract in his company’s earliest days.

As the story goes, Angelo got wind of a large contract being on the table to construct the foundation of a new Hartford County government building. The catch was, the contract would be awarded to the first contractor to arrive on site.

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Angelo proceeded to get in his lone steam shovel and promptly drive all night from New Britain to Hartford to arrive on site along with the sunrise – ahead of every other contractor, of course. Angelo won the contract, and the seeds of the Tomasso legend were sown.

For all his industriousness, a large factor in Angelo Tomasso, Sr.’s success was the role his wife, Nazzarena, played. “My grandmother was very bright and a very strong person,” says Michael. “And she was a big part of my grandfather’s success.”

Michael is fond of telling a story that demonstrates both his grandfather’s resourcefulness and his grandmother’s role in the family’s success.

“They made a great team,” he says. “She went to high school and could read and write, while my grandfather could not. Here’s a man who learned English just by listening, and he certainly did not know how to do math – yet he had a great business mind.

“So, when he would bid on a job, he would excuse himself from the meeting to go to the bathroom – only what he did was find a phone to call my grandmother,” Michael laughs. “He’d give her the numbers, she would do the math, he’d go back to the meeting with the requisite answers and he’d make the deal. A handshake and off he went.”

Early business success notwithstanding, Tomasso faced near catastrophe like so many others during the Great Depression. “Fortunately, he had built up some reserves and he owned some land,” says Michael. “He had his quarry in New Britain at the time, he was able to hang onto that, but he went through hard times and nearly lost everything. People would wait in his driveway in the morning begging him for work.”

It was Angelo Tomasso, Sr., who excavated the foundations for the Fafnir Bearing Company in New Britain, one of the largest employers in the bustling Hardware City. It was Angelo Tomasso, Sr., who built most of the roads in New Britain. It was Angelo Tomasso, Sr., who built the first section of New York’s Taconic Parkway. It was Angelo Tomasso, Sr., who was responsible for the original construction of Brainard Airport in Hartford. And it was under the leadership of Angelo Tomasso, Sr., in 1950 that the company set a record by transporting 797 tons of blacktop 25 miles in one day to the Bradley Field Airport.

Successful businessman that he was, Angelo Tomasso had a soft side, as well, and it was his generosity toward others and concern for his community that began a long family and company tradition of supporting charitable causes in New Britain and beyond.

“He was an extremely generous man, always helping others, always giving something away,” says Michael. “One winter he came home in the middle of the night, and my grandmother asks, ‘Where’s your coat?’ So, he says, ‘I’m not cold.’ To which she replies, ‘Wait a minute, I want to know where your coat is.’

“So, he finally tells her, ‘There was a man who didn’t have a coat and he was freezing, so I gave it to him.’ Growing up, there were always stories like that about my grandfather.”

Angelo, Sr. was an influential leader within many ethnic organizations in the city, and was active politically, as well, in the Democratic party. He took great pride in his adopted hometown of New Britain and would regularly march in the city’s holiday parades. He even befriended Franklin D. Roosevelt when the future president was governor of New York.

The Tomasso family learned first-hand the dangers of the difficult, laborious business they had chosen when in 1949, at his new quarry in Plainville, Angelo was struck in the head by a large stone during a construction accident. While he recovered and continued to run the company with the help of his wife and four sons, Angelo, Jr., George, Victor and Bill, things were never quite the same. Angelo Tomasso, Sr., died three years later in 1952 at the age of 59.

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Though they never had a chance to meet their grandfather, Michael and his five siblings, Nancy, Paul, James, William and Carolyn, are deeply appreciative of the enormous legacy their grandfather left and the influence he has had on their lives and the lives of so many others. Asked about where his grandfather’s commitment to helping others came from, Michael says it was all rooted in his deep appreciation for the opportunities America provided to him.

“He knew he was one of the fortunate ones to realize the American Dream,” says Michael. “He experienced extreme hardship, and knew that he was blessed to have made it here, found work and built a family. It engendered a tremendous empathy on his part for others who struggle, and he wanted to share his blessings with others.”


Angelo Tomasso, Jr.

Following in the footsteps of one’s father who happens to be a highly successful businessman and iconic community leader is a monumental challenge for any son or daughter, one that few can meet. In the case of Angelo Tomasso, Jr., that only begins to describe the challenge he faced in August, 1952.

Angelo’s larger-than-life father, Angelo, Sr., had just passed away prematurely at age 59 after a brief illness, only three years after being badly injured during a tragic construction accident at the Tomasso Company’s Plainville quarry. Without a leader, Angelo, Sr.’s oldest son – at age 27 and only a few years removed from his decorated service in World War II – was named to head the company, and run it along with his brothers Victor, George and Bill.

“People see the Tilcon Company today and it’s hard to believe, but back then when our grandfather died, there was almost no money in the bank and my father, along with his brothers, had to take this company over,” says Michael Tomasso, son of Angelo, Jr., one of six 2017 inductees into the Connecticut Immigrant Heritage Hall of Fame.

“They’re basically all kids in their 20s and it was not an easy start,” Michael continues. “But the hard work, the ethics, the reputation my grandfather had built meant everything to the family and they were not going to let it fail. They figured it out and made it work.”

Making it work is an understatement. Led by Angelo, Jr., the Tomasso Company went on to achieve new heights in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, and assume a corporate community leadership role, that Angelo, Sr., could have only dreamed of.

Perhaps it was all destined to be in that tiny third-floor apartment at the top of Broad Street where Angelo, Jr., was born in 1925, only two years after his father started his construction company. He was born prematurely and not expected to live, but even then, the Tomasso family determination emerged as Junior not only lived, but went on to thrive and succeed in life beyond anyone’s imagination.

Like many youngsters inspired to defend their country during World War II, Angelo, Jr., enlisted in the U.S. Navy – without his parents’ knowledge – at the age of 17 following graduation from New Britain High School. He was a communications officer in the Amphibious Corps aboard the USS LST 925, serving in the South Pacific, and earned the Military Order of the Purple Heart for his valor.

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“They were in the Leyte Gulf during the liberation of the Philippine islands, when their ship was hit by Japanese kamikazes that crippled the ship,” says son Bill Tomasso. “He was fortunate.”

Having displayed leadership qualities, Angelo, Jr., was asked following the battle to attend officer’s training, and upon arriving back on the west coast he boarded a train and rode cross country to Auburn University in Alabama.

“He loved it there, he was with a lot of other veterans and there was a great camaraderie amongst them,” Bill says. “They had that commonality of having experienced war. He met my mother there, earned his engineering degree, and he wanted to become an architect when he got the call.”

The “call” was from Connecticut in 1949. Angelo, Sr.’s quarry accident meant that Junior was needed back home to help run the company, and his life changed forever. In the ensuing years under Angelo, Jr.’s stewardship, the company was ideally positioned to reap the rewards of the growing American Baby Boomer economy. It was the ‘50s, suburbia beckoned young families and the automobile was king. Someone needed to build all those highways, and the Tomasso Company was happy to oblige.

During this period of rapid growth Angelo’s penchant – like his father’s – for working hard paid off as opportunity after opportunity arose. The company became legendary for its highway construction expertise, and it was the Tomasso Company that was largely responsible for the building of Interstates 91 and 84, and Routes 2 and 9.

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In 1968, the Tomasso Company received wide acclaim for laying a mile of concrete each day on over three miles of Interstate 84 in Plainville, Farmington and New Britain. In 1972, a joint venture led by Angelo Tomasso, Jr., set a world record by laying 18,300 tons of bitumen in 18 hours at Bradley Airport, repaving a major runway in record time with only a small window of time available to accomplish the job and using 171 pieces of equipment.

The airport project was something Angelo Tomasso, Jr., took great pride in. For him, it was always about accomplishing the impossible, about pride in one’s work, delivering a project as promised. As his father would always say, “Get there early, work hard and make the product of the highest quality.”

 “It was a challenge that went beyond profits and business,” he said at the time.

Eventually the company branched out into redevelopment and site projects, including corporate headquarters projects for such large enterprises as Emhart, Stanley Works, Aetna and Bristol Myers. The company was sold in 1972 to Ashland Resources, and in 1979 a British concern took over, creating Tilcon Tomasso and, eventually, Tilcon. Angelo, Jr., served as President and CEO until 1991, retired as Chairman in 2001 and, in 2015, passed away at the age of 90.

Today, the Tomasso legacy is carried on by the third generation of Tomassos – Angelo, Jr.’s sons Michael, William, Paul and James. The Tomasso Group includes real estate management company Tunxis Management, TBI Construction and TBI Development.

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Angelo, Jr., became as renowned in New Britain and beyond for his philanthropy and community involvement as for his business success, taking the seeds of community engagement his father had sown to a new level. In 1996, he was named Man of the Year from the New Britain Press Club. In 1978, he received the National Jewish Hospital and Research Center Humanitarian Award. In 1986, he was named Citizen of the year from the New Britain Lodge of Elks. In 1988, he received the Golden Lion Award from the Order of the Sons of Italy. In 1996, he was honored by the Connecticut Association of Street and Highway Officials and received the Royal W. Thompson Lifetime Achievement Award. And in May of 1990 he received the Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from CCSU.

Retired Hospital of Central Connecticut President and CEO Larry Tanner, who considers Angelo Tomasso, Jr., one of the most influential people in his life, fondly recalls his mentor who served on the hospital’s board for decades.

“Angelo Tomasso, Jr., was part of a very small, unique group of incredibly philanthropic and civic minded leaders who make their communities better,” Tanner says. “He was somebody who touched almost every organization in town – and you usually didn’t hear about it. If some non-profit needed a new driveway put in, it just got done. That is the kind of man he was.”

At Angelo Tomasso, Jr.’s funeral service attended by hundreds, Michael Tomasso fondly recalled his father.

“Dad was deeply committed to equal rights for all people, He loved his hometown of New Britain and was proud of this community for welcoming anyone to realize the American Dream.

“In Italian, there is a Renaissance term ‘l’uomo completo’ – the complete man.  Angelo Tomasso, Jr., was a complete man as a husband, father, uncle, grandfather, member of his church, community and in business. This was my father.”