Story by Erin Foley for Springfield Catholic Schools
Gina Pecori chose not to change her name after marrying. Perhaps this was decidedly modern. But more likely it was prompted by her desire to hold onto, not abandon, tradition.
Gina is part of an ongoing American Dream success story. During World War II, her grandfather Carlo lived with his family in Trieste, Italy, near Venice. When their house was reduced to rubble during wartime bombings, Carlo sought a safe haven for his family and emigrated to the United States with his wife Giovanna and his sons Satch and Claudio (Gina’s father). After being processed at Ellis Island, they met a Catholic priest who encouraged them to move to Springfield. None of them spoke a word of English. However, the sisters and teachers at St. Joseph School welcomed the boys and they learned quickly. Claudio was in the first graduating class of Griffin High School (1960) and earned a degree from Springfield College. He worked as a civil engineer at Hanson Engineering for nearly 40 years before retiring.
“I am so happy to be a first-generation American” Gina says, acknowledging her family’s sacrifices and what they mean to her.
Gina is proud of her roots and of a culture that embraces family. She is equally proud to be the wife of Greg Robinson, who has good-naturedly adapted to his role in this tight-knit, loving Italian-American family.
“He had no choice” jokes Gina.
They call themselves the Pecori-Robinson family, whose members also include sons Antek, age eight and Niko, age six.
Greg was born and raised in Iowa and graduated from National University. He served in the U.S. Army for fifteen years in Special Operations, Delta Force, and the CIA. He currently works for the Illinois State Police SWAT.
Gina and her sister Nicki were born in Springfield and attended St. Joseph School and Ursuline Academy. Nicky graduated from Bradley College and then earned her MBA at Loyola University in Chicago, where she has resided for 25 years. She is married to former Chicago Alderman and candidate for State Senate, Bob Fioretti.
Gina graduated from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana with a degree in Applied Health Science. She was the first Wellness Coordinator for the Illinois State Police, and has worked as a personal trainer in Boulder, Colorado and as an exercise physiologist at Cape Fear Valley Hospital in North Carolina. She currently works as a teacher’s aid in the Pre-K program at St. Agnes, in addition to being a yoga instructor.
The Pecori-Robinson family has been at St. Agnes School for four years. Antek (third grade) says math and science are his favorite classes. He enjoys being with the good group of friends he has made, and attending the school’s fall cookout. He also likes all of his teachers.
Niko (first grade) likes English and math the most. He is also fond of his teachers and enjoys recess, Trick or Trunk, and especially the school’s annual book fair.
"It makes me so happy as a parent that every day the boys are so excited to go to school” says Gina.
Gina and Greg chose St. Agnes after attending several open houses when the kids were very little.
“St. Agnes was the most welcoming” Gina says. “It has been a perfect fit for our family. We are all very happy here; even the grandparents are a part of the school community.”
Volunteering is a family affair, with Gina’s parents pitching in when needed. Gina has served as the Parents’ Club Co-Social Coordinator, Co-Director of last summer’s Vacation Bible School, room parent, library volunteer, and cafeteria volunteer. Her mom, Sandy Pecori knits about 100 sets of mitten, hats and scarves each year and donates them to children in need.
“I’m so proud of her” Gina says.
Last year, as part of the fifth grade mission, St. Agnes Principal Sr. Joan Sorge coordinated with the Sisters of the Sacred Heart -- who reside across the street from the school – to distribute Sandy’s creations among the children of Mexican immigrants living in Beardstown.
“G’Ma” Sandy (nee Orback), went to St. Aloysius School and graduated from Ursuline Academy. She worked as the secretary at St. Joseph Church for ten years and later retired from the Department of Children & Family Services. She was also the former president of the Old State Capitol Foundation and has a penchant for dressing up as Abraham Lincoln for the school’s Trunk or Treat event, a safe alternative to trick or treating that features 50 to 60 decorated cars in the school parking lot.
In addition to serving on the board of directors for both the Salvation Army for over 20 years and the Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago -- which gives scholarships to needy children – for over 30 years, Claudio participates with his wife in numerous activities at St. Agnes.
Sandy and Claudio put their money where their hearts are, too. For the past three years, they have been Magic Match sponsors, donating funds that help teachers cover extra classroom expenses. Their generous donations have so far helped in the library, the art program and in individual classrooms.
Gina and Greg chose Catholic education for their sons because “we believe that it instills great values and is a wonderful foundation for the rest of their lives. Our family is grateful to be a part of St. Agnes School. It feels like a big family, and we have met some amazing people who have turned into lifelong friends” Gina says.
Their long-range plans for Antek and Niko include finishing St. Agnes, graduating from SHG and going to a good college.
“We are encouraging them to consider University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, or University of Colorado. We both lived in North Carolina and Colorado and would one day very much love to live back in the mountains with the kids” says Gina.
In the meantime, they are quite content at St. Agnes. Gina’s grandfather would be proud to see his dream of a better future unfold so perfectly in a place where his children’s children – and their children – continue to thrive in faith, friendship and famiglia.