The Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) Trust lost one of its most dedicated supporters July 11 when Gloria Garofalo died at age 76. Through her work as a volunteer and then later a member of staff, Garofalo became one of the driving forces behind the trust’s growth and success.
“I think she was probably one of the biggest cheerleaders Oak Park and the organization ever had,” said Joan Mercuri, former FLW CEO and board member.
Garofalo started her work with the trust as a volunteer in 1980 and participated in the restoration of Wright’s home and studio. She worked on multiple committees within the organization, including the education committee with Ann Marohn, who introduced Garofalo to Wright’s work.
“She really got into it and then there was no stopping her,” said Marohn.
Not long after she began volunteering, Garofalo joined the trust’s board of directors where she served for five years, including a three-year stint as president.
“As a board president, she was a wonderful mentor – to me, the organization and the community,” said Sandra Wilcoxon, former FLW executive director.
Garofalo joined the FLW staff in 1988 as tour center director where she helped cultivate greater appreciation for Oak Park’s collection of Frank Lloyd Wright-designed buildings and solidify the village’s status as a necessary pilgrimage for architecture aficionados.
“I used to tell her I made an honest woman out of her because she was volunteering so much, she was so professional and so integral to the programs that I said, ‘You know, we have to start paying you,'” said Wilcoxon. “We’re going to recognize the professionalism of your involvement by paying you.”
She worked as tour center director until 1995, ramping up the village’s tourism by drawing in crowds of international Wright fans and coordinating translators to lead tours.
“She just had such great positive qualities that were perfect for the job,” said Mercuri. “And I was always impressed by what she did.”
In 1997, Garofalo became the trust’s public programs director, where she coordinated the hiring, training and supervision of FLW tour and education department staff and volunteers for three years.
“She was always, always looking out for the volunteers and trying to make sure that they had a good time,” said Jack Lesniak, architect and FLW founding board member.
According to Lesniak, Garofalo was a great motivator, inspiring people to work hard.
“She could always call and ask for something and it would probably never be refused,” said Lesniak. “She meant a lot to the volunteers.”
From public programs director, Garofalo transitioned into the role of director of development where she spent four years spearheading the trust’s fundraising programs and grant writing initiatives.
In addition to all that she accomplished during her time with the trust, Garofalo will be remembered for her welcoming nature and friendliness.
“She was always happy, willing to find out how you’re doing and glad to see you,” said Lesniak.
Garofalo’s love of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture inspired her two children, both of whom work in the architectural field. Her daughter Christine Lussow is a certified architect and her son J.T Garofalo has worked as an architectural director and in corporate real estate as a project manager.
“I couldn’t have had a successful career in architecture and construction today without her,” said Lussow.
Garofalo was also a loving grandmother who helped take care of Lussow’s identical twin sons so her daughter could return to work.
While her heart was with the trust, Garofalo had a deep commitment to the Oak Park community. She volunteered with the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park and the Campfire Girls of Oak Park. Garofalo also served on the board of the Oak Park River Forest Day Nursery and was a member of the P.E.O. Foundation.
According to her obituary, funeral services are private but a memorial service will be held at a later date. Services are private. A Memorial Service will be held at a later date. Contributions made in memory of Garofalo to the P.E.O. Foundation would be appreciated by her family.
“She was a force to be reckoned with,” said J.T. Garofalo. “She was full of energy, very vivacious. Her life impacted a lot of people.”
This has been updated to correct a misspelling.