Lambertis Lift BVU Drive
Don Lamberti studied accounting for two years at American Institute of Business in Des Moines. He always intended to finish his degree at Drake but life got in the way.
“I would have been a terrible accountant,” he said.
His mother and father, Gina and Dominic, needed Don’s help at their store out in the country north of Des Moines. Gina ran the store while Dominic delivered coal and ice. Don had been reared in the store.
“It was a pretty rough area, close to the coal-mining,” Lamberti recalled.
His father fell ill from the pressure of trying to make the place go.
Don married his sweetheart when she was 17; he was 19. They set up residence and shop with his parents. By age 23, Don leased the store from his parents and took over the hauling and gasoline duties. His buddy Kurvin C. (Casey) Fish, who worked for an oil company, told Lamberti that an elderly gent from Boone was looking to get out of his six gas stations.
“I’ll buy ’em if you run ’em,” Lamberti told his friend.
In 1983 Casey’s General Stores went public. Each shareholder got 290,000 shares of the new public company for every share they owned in the private company.
“That was a pretty good deal,” Lamberti said.
LAMBERTI ANNOUNCED Friday evening that he was laying $3.5 million on Buena Vista University to create an endowed chair in applied ethics. His contribution, among many others, has helped BVU raise $21 million of its $27.5 million capital campaign goal announced just after the William W. Siebens American Heritage Lecture featuring former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Lamberti, 74, is a familiar face. He donated $3 million to build the Lamberti Recreation Center in 2002. He served on the BVU Board for 18 years. During a nearly six-year stint as chairman of the board, Lamberti led the campaign to match a Siebens family grant to build the new Estelle Siebens Science Center.
In total, he has donated nearly $9 million to BVU.
But he had no connection to the place. None of his children attended. He was a Des Moines guy.
Lamberti had a chief financial officer at Casey’s, Doug Shull, who was from Sac City.
“Do you know this Keith Briscoe?” Shull asked Lamberti. “You should. He’s quite the colorful character.”
Lamberti said he knew nothing of Briscoe, now retired as BVU president.
“So I met him. Doug was right. He is a quite the character,” Lamberti said.
Briscoe invited Lamberti to speak at a business class at BVU.
“I was impressed with how attentive they were. You know, there were no heads nodding off. I was amazed at how interested they were in learning about Casey’s,” Lamberti said in an interview with The Storm Lake Times on Monday.
“I thought, ‘These folks were a different breed of student than I had seen around Des Moines.
“Keith being the salesman that he is, he saw an opportunity,” Lamberti said.
He was invited to hear Sir John Templeton, the famed investor and friend of Harold Walter Siebens, deliver the American Heritage Lecture. Templeton’s address was on ethics in business.
Casey’s was 7% owned by Templeton. So Lamberti listened to the speech.
He still pores over the speech after all these years, it so resonated with him.
“About 10 days later, Keith Briscoe set the hook,” Lamberti said.
He was on the board of trustees and well on his way to becoming a historic figure in Storm Lake.
Lamberti was asked to help build a new rec center. “It didn’t take much to talk me into it,” Lamberti recalled.
“Once he got involved and saw the vision it intrigued him,” said Don and Charlene’s son, Jeff, an attorney in Des Moines who runs the Iowa Barnstormers arena league football team and was former president of the Iowa Senate.
“I could never see him sitting on the Iowa Board of Regents and putting up with that. Buena Vista was a great fit for him, where you could make a real difference,” Jeff Lamberti said.
THE UNIVERSITY SAYS this is the most ambitious fundraising effort ever at the school.
President Fred Moore said the campaign aims to emphasize enhanced faculty development, more resources for financial aid and to increase their access to “high-impact” learning experiences such as studying abroad. It also will endow chairs for faculty widely known for their excellence as teachers and scholars.
Doug and Joanie Clausen of VT Industries in Holstein gave $1 million for an endowed chair in the business school. Jim and Gretchen Haahr of Meta Financial in Storm Lake gave another $1 million. The McCorkle Family Trust will donate $2 million. Cordell and Sandra Peterson gave $1.1 million for the renovated football stadium now called “Peterson Field.”
“Serving this institution for 18 years was one of the most personally fulfilling experiences of my life,” Lamberti said.
He means it.
Lamberti became fast friends with Briscoe and loved watching the brick and mortar go up. Yet he said that Fred Moore brought different strengths, with more of an emphasis on academic growth. His son, Jeff, says his father was thrilled to be a part of it and studied BVU inside and out.
He means what he says about ethics, too.
“One of Mr. Templeton’s statements that really hit home was, ‘The market economy depends for its survival on the personal integrity of those acting within it.’ How true this is.
“Buena Vista does a good job with ethics. But we could and should do more. I think we’ve kinda entered into this era of relativity: I’m okay and you’re okay. No, I’m flawed and you’re flawed. The 10 Commandments are not suggestions. I like Judeo-Christian ethics. It has built a rather successful culture,” Lamberti said.
He wants ethics to permeate the entire curriculum, in every college. He understands that Buena Vista will “put somebody in charge who is accountable, to make sure that we have those ethics in place.”
Lamberti said we wouldn’t have the financial problems we do these days if financial players acted out of an ethical framework.
“There are two emotions on Wall Street: fear and greed. You go from one to the other. I am someone who firmly believes in the function of the derivatives market. But anything can get out of hand.”
Lamberti says he “absolutely” does not trust government, especially when in a crisis. That’s why he thinks a strong set of ethics is essential for American success.
DON LAMBERTI WAS born the grandson of Italian immigrants in 1937.
It was in the midst of the Great Depression. “That’s all I heard about. My mother and father did not know how to spend, just how to save. After we got Casey’s running, I told them that my sister and I were doing fine, they could loosen up. But it didn’t get through to them.”
His grandparents on each side were from a rural community in Italy called Piandelagohi. The Lamberti family farm was 10 acres where his ancestors herded sheep and goats. So he has a fondness for immigrants and is keenly aware of the Storm Lake experience because he dwells on the immigrant experience.
“You have an exciting city,” Lamberti said. “You have Buena Vista, the lake and meatpacking. Remember: The greenest people are always the entrepreneurs. You seem to have things working in the right direction.”
That humble enterprise where he was reared, and where he started his family, grew into 1,700 stores in three states. Last week he rolled up to the pumps on the old family stead at 14th and Broadway about four miles from Casey’s headquarters in Ankeny.
The devout Roman Catholic who attends daily Mass was driving the St. Vincent DePaul Society truck loaded with wares for the poor last week. Lamberti may have looked like one of the customers of the society.
He walked up to the cash register and told the clerk:
“I was born in this place.”
“You must be Mr. Lamberti,” she replied.
“Guilty as charged,” he told her and walked out.
He did not say whether he used debit or credit. Surely he paid.