WEIRTON — From penniless immigrant to community benefactor, the story of Weirton's Mike Starvaggi is, to all intents, the American dream.
Starvaggi, who died in 1979, left behind a stable of businesses and a singular community legacy with his passing.
He was, as the story goes, just 17 with only $5 in his pocket when he arrived in the U.S. and set out for Weirton, home of his aunt, and began building his commercial empire.
He started out carrying water to workers in the city's steel mill, still in its infancy, and not long after opened a grocery store. Though successful, it didn't take him long to figure out he could make more money if he took his wares to his customers rather than wait for them to make their way through ankle-high mud to walk to his store. He sold the store, using the proceeds to buy himself a horse and wagon and began going door-to-door, selling fresh fruit and vegetables. Later, he hit on the idea of adding a seasonal ice and coal home delivery service and in 1919 bought more horses and wagons, launching the Weirton Ice & Coal Co.
He followed that up with a host of other startups — the P&W Bus Co., Weirton Construction Co. and a receiving yard for coal, sand, gravel, slag, cement and coke — and eventually formed Starvaggi Industries, which in its heyday employed 400 people and had a $4 million annual payroll.
Still in operation today, Starvaggi Industries has extensive real estate holdings along with a river terminal, a storage division, coal operations, trucking and equipment, and ready mix concrete division.
Well-known for his generosity, Starvaggi's largesse includes a 12-acre parcel where Weirton Madonna High School, St. Joseph Grade School and St. Joseph the Worker Church were built. He donated the 22-acre site for Weirton Medical Center, serving on its board of directors for eight years. He gave the city of Weirton $13,000 to buy property and then, together with Weirton Steel, provided materials, equipment and funding for construction of the Gilson Avenue Fire Station in 1965.
Though he and his wife, Angeline, were childless, he donated reclaimed land for Little League and Termite baseball fields and gave the College of Steubenville, now Franciscan University of Steubenville, $125,000 for a new library.
Decades after his death, the Starvaggi name is still revered in the community. He was inducted into the Lou Holtz Hall of Fame in 1999 and in 2009 was chosen to be part of the inaugural class of inductees to the Weirton Hall of Fame.