“Be the best and be generous”


Vishal Chandra, Contributor

“There was a time during the history of our school where if it weren’t for Rose Totino, we might have closed because of the finances,” said Mr. Ned Thompson, the longest tenured teacher at Totino-Grace High School.

Grace High School was founded in 1966, and by the late 1970s was struggling financially. Luckily for the high school, help was on the way.

“Rose was driving on Highway 100 and she was really moved by a story on KTIS, which is a Christian radio station. She always made the joke that Peter made his encounter with Jesus on the way to Damascus. Well she made hers on Highway 100. She was an older woman at the time, and at that point she actually pulled over to the side of the road on Highway 100 and decided to devote the remainder of her life to Jesus…And that’s when she found Grace High School. She was ready to become someone who dedicated herself to education and faith,” said Ms. Schwalen, learning lab teacher at TG and granddaughter of Jim and Rose Totino.

She always made the joke that Peter made his encounter with Jesus on the way to Damascus. Well she made hers on Highway 100.

— Ms. Liz Schwalen

It all started with this special couple that was credited for bringing the many traditions and tastes of Italy to form a business in the first place. But, who really were the Totinos?

The first major gift the Totinos gave to TG was a donation of one million dollars. Their hard work and dedication in achieving a successful business gave them the opportunity to express their unselfishness to others around them.

The Totinos achieved the American dream, and as the associate vice president for advancement Mr. Ben Lentz said, they went well beyond that.  “You can achieve that dream, but they set the bar high on what to do with that wealth. Not for personal means only, it was also to be given away, to invest in others.” This act really inspired people at the time because it demonstrated what it meant to invest in a community and how important Catholic education was to building a strong foundation.

Both Jim and Rose did not become the people we know today without facing struggle and sacrifice. When Rose was growing up, being the child of Italian immigrant parents, she was not as privileged as many other kids she knew. But, because she found joy in the little things, such as dressing up a milk bottle instead of playing with a real doll, she learned how to be content with what she had.

Whether the environment was studious or relaxed, the Totinos loved to bring an essence of happiness and joy. When Rose walked into a business meeting with pizzas to go around the table, people admired her. However, everyone knew that special occasions like this were the outcome of hard work.

The story behind the Totino name provides the students of TG with a rich history, and guides us on a path of dedication, education, and generosity. An underlying message through the work of Jim and Rose Totino seems to be that it doesn’t matter where you start, but how you get to where you want, and the type of influence you have on others around you that counts.

Rose Totino teaches us to have charisma, and more importantly, something that she always used to say to her granddaughter, “Be the best and be generous.”