Ralph & Barbara Papitto
Growing up in Providence, Rhode Island Ralph Papitto watched his immigrant parents struggle to provide for their family. Everyday his father would go to the small bar he owned in the Silver Lake section and his mother made food to attract the regulars who stopped by. Carrying oil up three flights of stairs to heat the triple decker they lived in, Ralph knew he wanted more in life, and when his father died while he was a teenager and his mother had to work on the looms in the textile mills of Providence to feed the family, he was more determined than ever to do something else. Education would be the key and the bond that drove him and his wife Barbara to lead far different lives than the generation before them.
After attending what is now Bryant University, Ralph would lean on both his formal education and street smarts learned growing up in the heavily Italo-American Silver Lake area of Providence, to become an entrepreneur businessman.
At the age of 29 Mr. Papitto founded Glass-TIte industries, the maker of glass-to-metal hermetic seals for the emerging semi-conductor industry. By 1959, the company employed 300 people and Ralph took the company public as one of the few Rhode Island companies to make such a financial leap. In 1967, he founded perhaps his best-known company, Nortek, a manufacturer and seller of diversified home products. Listed on the New York Stock Exchange, Nortek employed 14,000 people in thirty-four states. Ralph retired as chairman of this highly successful firm in 1990. After retiring from Nortek, he acquired American Flexible Conduit Company in New Bedford renaming the company AFC Cable Systems and executed another successful initial public offering.
Barbara, meanwhile, was working in accounting for an engineering and architectural firm that was heavily involved in building government-assisted housing in greater Providence and the Blackstone Valley. Always inquisitive and asking questions, Barbara’s thirst for knowledge led Ralph to encourage her to do more, and she too attended Bryant where she received both graduate and undergraduate degrees in accounting.
For all of his success in business, Ralph Papitto was as well-known for his commitment and passion to educating children. Beginning in 1969, he joined the Board of Trustees of Roger Williams University, becoming Chairman in 1987. During his tenure, the small liberal arts college transformed into a university with the creation of School of Architecture, Art, and Historic Preservation; a School of Engineering, Computing, and Construction Management; the Gabelli School of Business; and Rhode Island’s only School of Law.
Over the last 40-years Barbara has given her time to organizations and causes where she believes she can make a difference. She is currently on the Board of ReFocus, Inc., a non-profit human service agency which serves adults with differing physical and developmental needs and is a supporter of St. Mary Academy-Bay View. Barbara has also been active with St. Gabriel’s Call, an organization operated by the Diocese of Providence, that supports single mothers and their newborn children. Barbara’s prior involvements include serving on the Board of Trustees of Bryant University and was president of the former Nickerson Community Center in Providence.
In 2008, Ralph and Barbara, founded a program to help inner-city children improve their reading skills and earn scholarship funds. The Read to Succeed program’s mission is to improve literacy for Providence underserved students by encouraging them to address their learning loss over the summer with the powerful incentive of a $1,000 college scholarship awarded to them each year for five years. Since it began, Read to Succeed has funded more than $2.2 million in scholarships.
In December 2020, Barbara founded the Papitto Opportunity Connection as a continuation of the long-time commitment she and her late-husband Ralph have made to creating educational opportunities and supporting children impacted by systemic racial injustice in Rhode Island.
Barbara Papitto talks about why giving to and supporting others is so important to her.
Barbara Papitto and Arnell Milhouse have an honest conversation about mistakes and forgiveness.