It’s hard to imagine what Johnson & Wales University would look like today if it weren’t for Vilma (Gatta) Triangolo '36, '88 Hon., who passed away on Monday, January 6, 2014. She was 96.
“She was part of every single generation of the university,” says JWU Chairman of the Board Emeritus John Yena '06 Hon. “She’s the single person that represents the past as well as the future.”
Vilma played many roles in JWU’s history — from student to teacher, staff member, co-owner and honorary trustee.
Linking JWU’s Past and PresentThroughout the decades, she served as a link between JWU’s past and its present, as well as a quintessential champion who helped nurture Johnson & Wales Business School into a globally recognized university. “When you’ve been in a place so long and have seen it, a little seed, keep growing, and growing, it’s very gratifying,” Vilma said in 2012.
Her 80-year connection to JWU began in 1934, where she received on-the-job training from the school’s founders, Gertrude Johnson and Mary Wales.
She quickly became their protégé, teaching classes, organizing the office and putting in 80-hour weeks. “I even worked Saturday mornings,” she recalled.
Transforming a Business School into a UniversityThe lesson she learned from her iconic teachers — “Work hard and never ask how long it will take” — would become the mantra that guided Vilma, her husband Edward Triangolo '80 Hon., and dear friends Morris “Mose” Gaebe '98 Hon., and his wife, Audrey Gaebe '88 Hon., when they purchased the school in 1947.
Triangolo and Gaebe turned the school nonprofit, broadened the curricula, achieved accreditation and grew enrollment exponentially — always continuing the standard set by Misses Johnson and Wales.
“[JWU] grew and it gained a reputation because they gave their students their money’s worth,” a tradition carried forward, she noted. “As big as we are right now, the student is still the most important part.”
Vilma Triangolo, 1917-2014
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