Family members who knew and loved the late William T. Papagna, a Las Vegas businessman and Youngstown native, traveled from across the country recently to celebrate their “Uncle Bill’s” $200,000 gift to Youngstown State University.
Papagna, through a family trust, designated the funds to benefit YSU’s Ward Beecher Planetarium and to purchase a memorial bench in support of the Campus Beautification Initiative.
“William Papagna was a philanthropist, and his two most valued causes were education and family,” said YSU President Jim Tressel, addressing the donor’s family during a recent ceremony outside the planetarium in Ward Beecher Hall to celebrate the gift.
“Youngstown was his hometown, and we are so grateful that he provided this tremendously valuable gift to YSU.”
In all, 27 Papagna family members traveled from as far off as California, Utah, Nevada and Georgia for a family reunion that included the ceremony at Ward Beecher Hall announcing the gift. YSU alumnus Ken Papagan, a nephew of the donor, was among those who eulogized Papagna.
Martin Abraham, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, said the Papagna contribution is “incredibly important” for the university and for the Ward Beecher Planetarium, which he said is considered one of the best university-based planetariums in the country and one of the first to be used as a classroom.
Papagna was born in Youngstown in 1919, a first-generation Italian American whose mother, Rosa Papagna, actively campaigned for women’s voting rights in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Growing to adulthood in time to serve in the Air Force during World War II, Papagna was a contract specialist on the staff of General Douglas MacArthur. He never attended YSU but he was known for his generosity. As a successful businessman, he supported youth programs in Las Vegas and helping several of his nieces and nephews to fund their educations.
“Our Uncle Bill made it possible for three generations to go to college,” said Becky Rose, a niece of the donor and co-trustee for the family trust.