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8/19/2011 3:15:00 PM
'Going like a house on fire'
Good Samaritan Hospital photo
Mario Pastega visits guests at home for family of patients at Good Samaritan Hospital in Corvallis.
Good Samaritan Hospital photo
Mario Pastega visits guests at home for family of patients at Good Samaritan Hospital in Corvallis.
Ed Langlois
Of the Catholic Sentinel

Mario Pastega scored high in the soft drink bottling business. He rose to national leadership in the industry and even made it into the Bottlers Hall of Fame.

But this Italian-American's favorite accomplishment, aside from family, is a trim home for saddened out-of-town family who want to be near patients at Good Samaritan Hospital in Corvallis. He and his late wife, Alma, donated $350,000 for the 12-suite building, named the Mario Pastega House. He visits the house daily, chatting with guests or slipping into the chapel.

The house is one of dozens of charitable projects he's marshaled.

Pastega, a 94-year-old member of St. Mary Parish in Corvallis, says he's been "going like a house on fire," even into his 70s, 80s and 90s. Heritage may have something to do with it.  

"Italians have an aura about them," he explains.  

Though he recently sold his bottling company — with plants in Tillamook, Medford and Corvallis — Pastega maintains an office in Corvallis, just to stay involved.

Each Christmas, he decorated the Corvallis plant decorated in spectacular fashion, with characters of angels, choirs and cute beasts painted by Alma. It became an annual tradition for crowds, night after night. The display will continue because Pastega wrote it into the sales contract.

He's served on the Good Samaritan Hospital Foundation Board of Trustees since 1981 and in 2002 helped lead a fund drive for a new heart health center, followed by the donation and fund drive assistance for the guest house. His children donated $50,000.

Pastega sponsors six awards for students at Mount Angel Abbey and mentors Corvallis High School students in philanthropy.  

He's a serious Oregon State sports fan, especially keen on basketball, and an usher at St. Mary's.   

His credos include having faith in the task, being honest and working hard. He also suggests cultivating resilience.

He had good role models for it all.  

His mother, Giuseppina Cunial, grew up desperately poor and worked as a maid for years. His father, Romano, immigrated to the U.S. in 1907 from a town at the foot of the Italian Alps. He laid railroad tracks through the Sierra Mountains then landed a job in Weed, Calif., later to become a shoe repairman.

Mario was born in 1916 and raised in Weed's large Italian community. When he went to school, he could not speak English, but caught on fast.  He learned the value of hard work in his father's shoe shop and was later a court clerk and a court reporter.

"There was a lot of clinging to the old Italian customs," he says. "The strong Catholic faith was definitely something that was passed along and that we want to keep passing along."

Mario married Alma Solari and they had five children. One daughter, Emilie Jo, died unexpectedly in 1968, a time when Pastega sought what an possible meaning and comfort in faith.

Their three sons are Gary, Ken and Denny — each managed one of the bottling plants — and one daughter, Lisa. Son Ken has begun a line of bottled Italian soda, naming it after his grandfather, Romano.

Alma, recalled for an outgoing spirit, died in 2008. Pastega's heart still aches.  
"Mario Pastega is a giant, not only in stature but in kindness, compassion and in his concern for others," says Father John Henderson, pastor in Corvallis until recently.

"When Mario has a dream, a vision, he does all he can to make it happen."

Father Henderson notes a deep spiritual life. Each week at church, Pastega lights a votive candle before a statue of Mary. He donated a cross and crucifix for the sanctuary.

"Mario is a man of wisdom, a man of vision and truly a man of faith," the priest says. "He is a good friend to so many and certainly a friend of mine."

 
 

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• Social clubs promote Italian culture
• Italian immigrants became key part of Portland life
• An ancient sport bonds young and old
• Festival celebrates 'la vita dolce'



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