LOUDONVILLE — The good-natured joke became that Schenectady native Gino Turchi spent more days on the Siena College campus than those who worked there.
One day, he’d be at a sporting event on campus with his wife Willie. The next, he’d show up to check on golf carts he had gifted the school to see if they needed repairs. Other times, the builder of Northway Heights Golf Course — known now as Eagle Crest Golf Club — would be spotted roaming the campus for something else to fix or someone to help, his presence unannounced but appreciated once noticed.
“He was there every day, pretty much. It was certainly at least five, six days per week,” said Very Rev. Fr. Kevin Mullen, OFM, Siena’s former president who is now the provincial minister of Holy Name Province. “They both loved being a part of it all.”
“They both did everything together,” Siena athletic director John D’Argenio said of Gino Turchi and Willie Turchi. “The thing that comes up right away when you think of them, to me, is who they were as people. They were humble and grateful.”
Gino Turchi died in 2012 and Willie Turchi — a Schoharie County native — passed away four years later, but their impact on, and relationship with, Siena athletics continues. Most recently, a final monetary “significant donation” from the deceased couple played a key role in the $13.5 million renovation of the college’s Marcelle Athletic Complex, outside of which the school’s basketball summer ice cream social event will take place Wednesday evening.
Siena’s modernization of its MAC facility included adding a practice facility for the basketball teams, new strength-and-conditioning and sports medicine suits, an expanded fitness center area for students and staff, and more. Completed in phases, the project was concluded earlier this year, leaving the 2019-20 academic year as the first full one with the remade MAC.
That the bulk of the Turchis final gift to Siena was one that helped the overall campus and athletic department made sense to Dave Smith, Siena's vice president for development and external affairs who first met with Gino Turchi in 1997. At the time, the original offer from the couple was a $10,000 donation. Quickly, though, the relationship between the couple and Siena athletics grew to the point that the pair is recognized as one of the school’s “transformational donors,” which means the couple’s overall contribution to the school was in excess of a million dollars.
“They came to every game of every sport — and everyone just knew them as Gino and Willie,” Smith said of the couple, whose monetary contributions to the school were used for a variety of purposes beyond athletics, too. “Anything we were involved in, they were involved in.”
“You’d see them at basketball, softball, soccer, volleyball — everything we had,” D’Argenio said of the couple whose philanthropic efforts within the Capital Region extended beyond Siena. “It would be raining, and they’d pull up, jump in a golf cart and head off to our soccer field. . . . It was very meaningful to us. I know the players appreciated it, and the coaches appreciated it. To them, every sport was the same. They enjoyed it all and enjoyed meeting all the athletes. They knew players on every team.”
In particular, the renovated MAC’s improved space for strength and conditioning, and sports medicine has represented a significant upgrade for Siena’s athletes.
“The increased space alone opens up a lot of options for us, programming-wise,” said Ian Farrell, Siena’s strength and conditioning coach. “The last one, it was crammed and cluttered. We didn’t have the right spacing between the racks. Now, we have enough space; everyone has their own space to move and breathe.”
At a little less than 2,700 square feet, the new sports medicine area is approximately three times as large as the previous one Greg Dashnaw, now in his fourth decade as Siena’s head athletic trainer, used. The space increases Siena’s ability to do on-campus rehabilitation work for injured athletes, plus has hot and cold hydrotherapy pools — features the previous sports medicine area didn’t have at Siena.
With a laugh, Dashnaw remembered the time a decade ago that Gino Turchi gave him a pain-relieving product to use on Siena’s athletes. Turchi had traveled to Ohio with Mullen to watch the Siena men’s basketball team in the NCAA tournament, and had stopped at a farm on the way home to buy a topical substance meant to reduce pain.
“He swore it was the best stuff in the world,” Mullen said.
Turchi, Mullen said, used the substance — which was meant for horses — on his own legs. When Turchi gave Dashnaw a bottle of the substance, he did so with instructions.
“Greg,” Turchi told Dashnaw, “you’ve got to try this on the guys.”
Dashnaw, of course, never did. That story, though, is one Dashnaw said he cherishes as a memory that encapsulates the relationship between Gino Turchi and Siena athletics.
“That’s how he was. He cared about the kids, and he always wanted things to be better for them,” Dashnaw said. “Even though his finances helped us immensely, his spirit and attitude — how he cared about the kids — helped us that much more.”