By Pete Kennedy
Before Ron Oronzio deployed to Vietnam as a teenager in 1966, he spent 18 months at Fort Wainwright, an Army base north of Fairbanks, Alaska.
“In the summertime, that far north, you were dealing with 23 to 24 hours of light. In the wintertime, you were dealing with maybe three or four hours of light, and the rest dark,” Oronzio said. “So it was interesting soldiering, being out in the boondocks at 35 below zero with the wind chill for a couple weeks at a time.”
He experienced a wholly different climate when he arrived in Vietnam. He was there for a year, serving in an infantry squad that provided security as military infrastructure was installed.
After three years in the Army, Oronzio left as a sergeant and took advantage of the GI Bill, earning a business degree at the University of Iowa. The education paved the way for an impressive entrepreneurial career. Today, at 70, he lives with his wife of 49 years, Anna Marie, in north Wilmington and runs an international consulting firm, Oron Marketing Group.
Around this time of year, Oronzio’s attention turns increasingly to Vendemmia, Societa da Vinci’s annual wine and food festival celebrating Italian culture, which will be held Oct. 9 at Bellevue State Park.
Oronzio, who holds a master’s degree in organizational dynamics from the University of Pennsylvania, has served as chairman since the event began 12 years ago. He oversees nine committees and about 30 volunteers.
“This is an all-inclusive event. People buy a ticket and have the opportunity to sample really good wines from every region of Italy. They get to sample restaurant specialties from probably 25 full-service and specialty restaurants, and enjoy hours of great entertainment. It really is a tremendous value proposition,” he said.
Providing the entertainment this year will be Delaware-based opera standout Andrea Arena, crooner Steve Silicato, and Paul Cullen, a guitarist who toured with English rockers Bad Company.
Vendemmia has grown by leaps and bounds over the years as a direct result of the organizers’ efforts to make it a regional festival. The inaugural festival was held at Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park in Wilmington and drew about 800 people. This year, organizers anticipate at least 2,500 people will come to Bellevue. It was recently named Best Outdoor Festival by Delaware Today magazine.
The festival has raised about $30,000 annually in recent years, and Oronzio points out that all profits go back to the community. This year, one student will receive a $10,000 scholarship on stage during the festival. Other educational
grants fund things like trips to Ellis Island. The funds have also been used to assist military families. A few years ago, proceeds helped produce a documentary called “Prisoners Among Us,” about the mistreatment and internment of hundreds of thousands of non-naturalized Italians in America during World War II.
The executive skills that Oronzio puts to great use in orchestrating Vendemmia have been honed over decades of running his own businesses. In 1980, he founded Hose Central Corporation, a wholesale distributorship of automotive and industrial products, supplying mainly industrial hose and tubing.
“Kind of a boring thing, but when you get into the guts of America, every chemical plant, every refinery, every utility company, every industry uses tons of this kind of material,” he said.
In 1998, he sold that business to a publicly traded company. But he drew on the network of contacts he’d created in the Asia Pacific region when he launched a new venture, offering consulting services to firms looking to do business overseas, namely in mainland China, Taiwan and Korea. He even speaks a little Mandarin.
Outside of Vendemmia and his work, Oronzio enjoys spending time with his wife, whom he met in fifth grade, their two grown children and six grandchildren.
He has no plans to retire, but he said he is incrementally finding more time to smell the roses. For example, he and Anna Marie enjoy ballroom dancing.
“My wife has put some really wonderful hobbies in front of me,” he said.