Rotary Minute: Connie Campanaro

photoconniewebConnie Campanaro fulfilled a lifelong dream with a trip to Italy, where she visited her grandmother’s village.

Unfortunately, she showed up on a holiday when virtually nothing was open. Fortunately, one of the restaurants was hosting a Rotary event. Though she spoke no Italian, she was able to convey that she was a Rotarian and was welcomed with open arms. Not only were she and her family fed well, this Italian Rotary Club helped her hunt down her ancestral home. “I realized, in that moment, that this really is a worldwide organization of brothers and sisters,” Connie said Monday.

It’s a positive reminder that, as Connie prepares to leave Durham after 14 years here – she’s headed back to Buffalo, N.Y. to become the executive director of the Western New York Grantmakers Association – she’ll always have a home wherever Rotarians are gathered. Connie values home, as she spent her formative years bouncing between California and upstate New York. She was married at 16, a mother at 17. “I had the stability I so craved,” she says.

But she and her husband split, and Connie had to figure out how to provide for her two children. She became the first person to attend college and then got into the business side of the arts world, making connections with everyone from “the Bolshoi ballet to L.L. Cool J.” In 1999 she came to Durham to run the flailing Carolina Theatre. “I’m a sucker for an impossible challenge,” she said. She helped the theater back on firm financial footing before stepping down a few years ago. She’s remained active in Durham, and was joined here by her mother and daughter. But her mom has passed, and her daughter is living in Dallas.

Now, it’s time for Connie to move on. “It’s hard to say goodbye,” Connie concluded. “But it’s even harder to mean it.”

Submitted by Matt Dees

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