Frank J. DeSantis, a Renaissance Man, sadly left us on April 25 at age 87.
Frank J. DeSantis was a long-time Villa Park resident since 1965 with his wife Eileen and family. In the early Villa Park days, he became involved in the community, helped to save the one-half-acre lot zoning, participated in the boat parades, annual picnics, fought fires to save structures and, for years, chaired the largest Boy Scout troop in Orange County.
In his professional career, Frank DeSantis was a true entreprener, a pioneer in many businesses, and an expert administrator. It was well known that Frank would get the job done without a doubt.
Frank and Eileen owned and operated a chain of pizza restaurants called “Pizza Pete’s” originating in Glendale in 1959 and later in Santa Ana. After growing up in the pizza business, two of Frank’s three sons, Frank Jr. and Joe started to oversee the restaurant corporation in 1982.
Frank was also the the first President/CEO of Harbor UCLA Research and Education Institute, a medical research facility, the largest of its kind in the west, and where most of the world’s research, advances and scientific discoveries are tested for medical innovations. Frank retired in 1997 from this position after 45 years, but never fully quit working.
Concurrently, he and Eileen founded Medical Association Management Company in 1965, a family business now known as DeSantis Management Group (DMG), that manages large nonprofit profit medical associations. Frank remained instrumental in this business up to his last days. He was happy to work where his other three children, Kathy, Chris and Jeannie, conducted the management of the business. Frank made use of his time concentrating more on his other passions, civic and community activities.
Frank’s love of Italian culture and heritage was ingrained in him. Last year, he aggressively advocated to preserve Columbus Day. He co-founded the Orange County American Italian Renaissance Foundation in 1981, with the mission to preseve the Italian cultural heritage. In 1992, he and foundation members raised funds to establish a permanent monument of Christopher Columbus and fund a new wing at the Bowers Museum. Frank had been organizing Columbus Day civic ceremonies for over three decades. At the Bowers, he initiated cultural programs and classes, Italian festivals, and brought in world class exhibits from Italy at the Bowers Museum for 29 years.
He was, since 1972, an active member of the Order of Sons of Italy Lodge in Orange, his leadership abilities and tireless service on many committees and boards gained him recognition with the local, state, and then national president roles.
The Italian government awarded him the highest honors, called “ Commendadore“ and “Cavalieri “ for his contributions. He is forever remembered by many people who attended the three-day Orange International Street Fair: seeing Frank there each day making pizzas and running the Italian Street booth, along with the lodge members and his family.
In 2011, Frank was entrusted by close friend George Graziadio to re-establish the Italian Studies Program at Cal State Long Beach. In 2012, at Chapman University, Frank was instrumental in the fundraising efforts, along with good friend Jim Doti (then president) to launch the Italian Studies Center and the Italian Heritage Leatherby Library to forever commemorate the contributions of Italian Americans in Orange County. Recently, Frank established a student scholarship in his name at Cal State University Los Angeles, his alma mater.
Frank was also an avid gardner, with a bountiful crop every year which included tomatoes, fava beans, garlic, artichokes and his favorite Italian squash called “Cucuzza” which won first place at the Orange County fair three years ago.
Frank leaves behind his wife Eileen (of 63 years), his five children, Kathy, Frank Jr. (Penny), Joe (Michele), Chris (Ginger) and Jeannie (Dean) and five granddaughters, Christina, Chiara, Jaquelina, Daniela and Laurel. He was much loved and will be missed greatly.
Frank J. DeSantis
1932 - 2020