BGSU alumnus at helm of America's 250th celebration

By Bob Cunningham ’18

The United States of America will commemorate the semiquincentennial (250th) anniversary of its founding on July 4, 2026. The country likely will be bathed in red, white and blue from sea to shining sea — and, perhaps, with a little orange and brown.

The preparation for the America’s next milestone birthday already has begun, as Tony Rucci ’72, ’76, ’78 was appointed president and CEO of the America 250 Foundation, and senior advisor to the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission. 

The Commission, which is composed of members of Congress, senior members of the federal government and private citizens, was established by Congress in July 2016, and is charged with the planning, design and execution of the nationwide programs and events that will commemorate the country’s 250th anniversary.

“Tony is a true leader, visionary and patriot,” said Dan DiLella, chairman, U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission and president and CEO of the national real estate investment company Equus Capital Partners, Ltd. “Tony has generously agreed to donate his considerable time and talent to serve his country and lead the America 250 Foundation. His contributions are invaluable as we look to create the largest and most inclusive commemoration in our nation’s history.”

Rucci, who addressed the BGSU graduate candidates May 5, 2017, during commencement, received a bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s and doctoral degrees in industrial/organizational psychology from BGSU. He is Professor Emeritus from Ohio State University, having retired as a Full Clinical Professor and University Distinguished Teaching Professor in December 2018. He has held a broad range of professional roles during his career in business, academia, consulting and community service.

“It’s an incredible honor and privilege,” Rucci said. “It’s just a spectacular opportunity to give back and to make a contribution at a level that I never imagined I would be able to be involved with. I have to say, it’s rather humbling.”

Through his research, Rucci said in 1976 there were “tens of thousands of programs and events around the country, in local communities, the original 13 Colonies, and some of the major cities around the U.S.” The America 250 Foundation, which will raise support primarily through private fundraising, has loftier aspirations.

“I think, without question, there will be well over 50,000 programs and events around the country,” Rucci said. “Some folks say that’s a conservative estimate and the number of events could reach 100,000. I don’t know about that, but I do know the Commission is going get all of the states and territories involved.”

“Tony Rucci is the perfect fit to lead the America 250 Foundation,” BGSU President Rodney K. Rogers said. “His dedication is a prime example of Bowling Green State University alumni performing public good and changing lives for the world. His wholehearted commitment and loyalty to the United States and BGSU cannot be measured.”

There’s a reason this project — one that Rucci has agreed to do pro bono — will take years of planning to achieve. This year alone, the Commission intends to meet with officials representing every state in the Union. States will be encouraged to create events and contests that are meaningful to their citizens. There’s also a signature programs committee that is responsible for creating programs that will be a national showcase of America and its people.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Tony these past few months and know him to be a masterful strategist, active listener and thoughtful leader,” said Rosie Rios, officer of the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission and the 43rd U.S Treasurer. “This skill set is critical as we seek to create a highly participatory process that will help us build the partnerships and programs we need to set the stage for America 250.”

Much of the focus will be at the community level, Rucci said. 

“Local communities will have sponsored programs, events, contests, bakeoffs, cooking contests, and things of that nature,” he said. “We’re also likely to sponsor events and contests at a national level in music, poetry, art and essays.”

The purpose of America 250, Rucci said, “is to inspire the American spirit among all Americans and each American, based on our founding principles, on our journey to a more perfect Union. “What does our journey to a more perfect Union suggest?” he said. “There are events and periods in our history where we have not fully lived up to our founding principles, and we cannot overlook that in the design of celebrating 250 years. The Commission has set a bold vision for programs and events that will promote a national commitment to human dignity, freedom and well being. Programs that will leave a legacy impact well beyond 2026.”

“As the French statesman, Alexis de Tosqueville said of America in 1835: ‘The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults,’” Rucci said. “I think that 2026 is a remarkable window in time to emphasize, reinforce and promote unity in America.”

In addition to the foundation’s purpose, Rucci said, through focus groups, surveys and information provided by the commissioners, three key themes have been identified:

1. Educate. National surveys and research reflect an alarming lack of knowledge of the history of the United States. How can our citizens understand the nation we are today without a basic understanding of our past?

2. Engage. Democracy works best when individual citizens are engaged civically. Give back your time and energy in your community. Vote.

3. Unite. The real power of America is when individuals come together around common values and idea. We have heard loud and clear that Americans want a more unified, civil nation.

“One of the three pillars we’re building of each event is the idea of education geared toward an understanding of America — who we are, how we got here, what we stand for,” he said. “We have a very simple vision to inspire the American spirit and to reinforce those three key themes.”

“America 250 represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to celebrate the American spirit and our common bonds as Americans,” DiLella said. “We envision a momentous commemoration focused on educating, engaging and uniting all Americans.”

Rucci has had a long and successful career in business and in academia, which helped prepare him for his current task of leading the America 250 Foundation.

During his nearly 30-year business career, he was a senior corporate officer for three Fortune 50 companies, including Cardinal Health, Sears Roebuck and Co. and Baxter International. His business roles have included extensive board of directors and governance experience, mergers and acquisitions, large-scale organizational change efforts and international responsibilities.

In addition to Ohio State, Rucci has held many high-level teaching and administrative roles, including at BGSU, where he currently is Executive-in-Residence; at the University of Illinois, Chicago, where he served as dean of the College of Business and was a tenured professor; and he was Interim CEO for Ohio State University Physicians and Senior Associate Vice President for Health Sciences. 

Rucci, however, said that none of that was possible without the foundation BGSU provided for his education after he left his hometown of Youngstown.

“When I came to Bowling Green, it was an inflection point in my life — I cannot overstate that point,” he said. “I ended up in Rodgers Quadrangle and started interacting with people who certainly were bright and motivated, and most of them were like me, a first-generation college student.

“I quickly acclimated to campus life and one of the people who I shared a dorm room with, Jim Loadman, is still one of my closest friends. Here I am 50 years later, and still one of my very closest friends in the world is someone I met at Bowling Green State University. Not to mention that my son Joshua (’05) earned his bachelor’s degree at the University. BGSU really opened my eyes to the endless things you can choose to do with your life if you have the will to do it, you’re motivated and you’re willing to work hard.”

Hard work is a hallmark in which everything Rucci has been involved.

“If you’re going to do something that you’re passionate about, you’ve got to give 110 percent commitment to the task at hand. If I’m going to do it, then I have to give it my absolute best shot. Bowling Green really instilled all of that awareness in me. My willingness to be committed and work hard and do whatever it takes, I think that’s the thing that’s enabled me to have some of these opportunities.

“That’s Bowling Green. That’s what it did for me and that’s why I am loyal to the University. When I’m on campus, I find many Bowling Green students who have that same profile that I did. They’re just trying to do a little better in life and I have all the time and energy in the world for young people like that. That’s why I have established scholarship funds here and why I’ve gotten involved with how Bowling Green can create an experience for our students that causes them to not just be successful in college during their time here, but give them a toolkit that allows them to be successful in life.

“I've led an absolutely charmed life. I am the first-generation son of an Italian immigrant father. Neither my father nor mother ever finished high school, and like so many other Bowling Green students, I am among the first generation in my extended family to be able to go to college. And yet, I have had opportunities in life I could never have envisioned because of Bowling Green State University.”