Recently, one of the staff here at Breastfeeding Outlook asked why I named our scholarship after a man, and, specifically, why I named it after Felix.
Felix was my father. He had a few core values and characteristics that influenced me. I want to recognize those people who have similar ambitions and characteristics.
Felix was born in 1915 in a small village in western New York. His widowed immigrant mother neither spoke nor read English. At age 9, he started work every morning at 3:30 AM on a nearby farm. He finished chores in time to go to school. When he was 12, he began working after school at the local grocery store, owned by a kindly Italian gentleman. He continued there until he graduated from school, since he was the main wage earner for his mother and four older siblings.
Rising long before dawn as a youngster, and working long past dusk as a teenager, he continued that work long hours for the rest of his life.
Willingness to take risks
I think my father was the only one of his siblings to graduate from high school. He spoke and wrote exceptionally well, and he was a whiz with numbers. (I seem to have inherited the former talent, but not the latter!)
After completing high school, he was employed at a car repair shop where he was, as nearly as I could figure, a masterful mechanic. Dad’s motto was, “I’ll either fix it, or fix it so nobody can fix it!”
In 1939, he told his employer that he was leaving to start his own business. The employer warned, “You’ll starve to death on that corner!” And Felix replied, “Maybe so. But there’s only $19 a week difference whether I starve here, or there!”
World War II had already begun, and my mother was pregnant, but he was willing to take the risk.
Determination and stubbornness
When Felix set his mind to do something—or not do something—he never reconsidered. Sometimes, this characteristic served him and his family well. Sometimes, not so much so.
Admittedly, there are many times when I’m bull-headed. When I lower my horns and dig in my heels, I realize I’m acting just like my father. (And not infrequently, my mother reminded me of that!) Yet I try to ask myself—is this determination, or stubbornness? There’s a fine line between the two.
A passion for learning—and independence
My father was a good conversationalist. No doubt. As a kid and as an adult, we often had hours-long conversations. But no matter how late it was, he always took time to read something new. He was a voracious reader.
While in high school, my father had wanted to become a lawyer. An elderly woman offered to finance college tuition for him, but he declined. He didn’t want to accept charity.
Like most people who have a deep passion for something, he had an independent spirit. In the 1950s, became a franchisee with Ford Motor Company. I remember the day he and my mother boarded a plane in Rochester NY for a flight to Detroit. He went to headquarters to accept an award. The photo of my dad and Henry Ford II still hangs in the foyer of our home.
Beliefs about the cost education
When we were growing up, very few girls went to college. Many people asked my father, “Why are you paying money for your daughters to go to college? They’ll just get married anyway.” My father had a standard reply. He insisted, “Maybe so. But I believe that education is cheaper than ignorance.”
My father never went to college. Yet, he was well-educated because he never missed an opportunity to read and learn. For him, learning was a life-long endeavor. He was passionate about his work.
Actions and giving
Felix did more than “give back,” which implies a reaction, or perhaps a set of debits and credits. Felix gave of his time, talent and treasure to help anyone who needed his help. He expected nothing in return.
Felix worked, gave, and learned until the day he died at almost 82. On May 19, he will have been gone for 21 years. We can all remember him through the Felix Biancuzzo Scholarship. This merit-based scholarship is offered annually to those who are seeking to become an IBCLC. Anyone may apply for the scholarship.