Anthony Manganaro, devoted champion of education, benefactor of the Torch Scholars program and former Northeastern trustee, dies at 79

Anthony Manganaro speaking at convocation
Anthony R. Manganaro was a lead supporter of Northeastern’s Torch Scholars program. Photo by Northeastern University

Anthony R. Manganaro, a first-generation Northeastern graduate who served on the university’s Board of Trustees, and a versatile entrepreneur who rose to the heights of the horse racing world, died Aug. 20 in Saratoga Springs, New York. He was 79.

A compassionate leader who drew from his blue-collar upbringing in Everett, Massachusetts, Manganaro was an active investor in his defining belief that dreams can come true when community support is combined with opportunity.

Manganaro and his family were the founders and lead supporters of Northeastern’s Torch Scholars program, which he helped fund to identify and offer educational opportunities to highly motivated first-generation students who have overcome significant obstacles. The program eliminates barriers to admission created by difficult life circumstances while offering experiential learning and faculty and staff mentoring.

“Anthony was a truly extraordinary person in every facet of his rich life. He was also a dear friend and a role model,” said Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern University. “Anthony leaves many legacies, particularly his passion for changing lives. He was the visionary behind Northeastern’s transformative Torch Scholars program, which has lifted countless students to new heights. I will miss his laughter, friendship and wisdom.”

Speaking in 2016 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Torch Scholars program, Manganaro became emotional when reflecting upon his life’s journey. “The Torch Scholars program is effective altruism at its best,” he said.

Nicoleta Khalife is among the many Northeastern students who have benefited from the Torch Scholars program.

“It allowed me to pursue my education in a place I always dreamed of being, without the financial stress which I have always been accustomed to,” says Khalife, who plans to graduate with degrees in mathematics and business administration in December. “It gave me the opportunity to start my professional career and become financially independent earlier than I thought I would ever be.”

The Torch Scholarship program enabled Samuel Ortega to graduate in 2012 with an international business degree. He is currently an assistant vice president and financial analyst at Banesco USA and has started a small business that helps teach people in underserved communities to manage their finances, pay off debt and develop wealth.

“I only hope to continue to embody what it means to be a Torch scholar,” Ortega wrote in a letter to the Manganaro family. “Day in and day out, I try to stay true to my roots, contribute to my community, and be a good citizen of the world. Thank you for your kind heart and for your incredible generosity. You have genuinely had a generational impact and have transformed our lives.”

Manganaro, a 1967 civil engineering graduate, received an honorary doctorate of public service from Northeastern in 2008. He and his wife Michele celebrated as their three children — Todd M. Manganaro, Renee D. (Manganaro) Enright and Nicole F. (Manganaro) D’Amore — also graduated from Northeastern.

Anthony Manganaro served as a Northeastern trustee from 2009 to 2013, and thereafter as a trustee emeritus. Todd Manganaro serves as a trustee today.

“What I learned and experienced here made a lasting impression,” Manganaro once said. “I am a better person because of my years at Northeastern.”

Manganaro was a co-owner of the aptly named Always Dreaming, which won the Kentucky Derby in 2017, and Flightline, the 2022 Breeders’ Cup champion and horse of the year.

While he accompanied his father to races at Boston’s Suffolk Downs as a young man and maintained a lifelong passion for horses, Manganaro didn’t enter the thoroughbred industry until he had achieved success in a variety of other businesses.

The “ex-drywall contractor,” as Manganaro often referred to his younger self, would go on to prosper in commercial real estate (via Siena Corp., his firm in Baltimore and Washington, D.C.), self-storage (ezStorage became a regional leader in the self-storage industry) and medical supplies (Boston Medical Corp.).

He applied lessons from those businesses and other life experiences to the horse racing industry, according to colleagues who referred to him as a creative thinker who combined hard-earned wisdom with the ever-evolving tools of technology.

In 2007 — 10 years before winning the Kentucky Derby — Manganaro launched his efforts to transform what he called a “rundown cattle farm” in Paris, Kentucky, into Siena Farm, a cutting-edge boutique breeding operation in the racing-rich state.

“Our goal at Siena Farm is simple: breed and raise superior, world-class racehorses by melding hundreds of years of traditional horsemanship with leading-edge technology,” reads the farm’s website.

As chairman and owner of Siena Farm, Manganaro partnered in a number of championship thoroughbreds.

“The Manganaro family is grateful for the outpouring of support we have received from the thoroughbred racing community,” his family said in a statement. “It was Anthony’s lifelong dream to be a part of international horse racing. Hearing that he had such a positive impact on so many people in the sport has warmed our hearts and brought us happiness in the face of this immense loss. Thank you to everyone for their kind words and heartfelt condolences.”

Manganaro shared a memorable anecdote that affirmed his humility, wisdom and sense of humor in 2012 when he received the presidential medallion, Northeastern’s most prestigious honor.

“We are all the product of learning — be it in the classroom or on the street,” Manganaro told his audience that day. “Someone somewhere taught us the things that are important.”

One of those profound lessons came from Paolo Pasante, a European immigrant who worked 15 hours per day for four decades at Pops Variety, the convenience store that became a hangout for 10-year-old Manganaro and his friends.

Pasante, a stout curmudgeon who loudly sang to “Volare” whenever it came on the store radio, was known for offering free groceries to families in need and giving away candy and baseball cards to Manganaro and his pals — even though “we were smart alecks,” as Manganaro recalled. “But he loved us and we loved him.”

Manganaro was about to attend Northeastern when Pasante became too sick to run the store and moved into a makeshift nursing home in the neighborhood, thanks to the efforts of Manganaro’s friend, Bob Milley, a fellow Northeastern graduate.

“We’d visit Paolo quite often,” Manganaro said. “Each time he’d do the same thing — ask us to hand him the cigar box on his nightstand that contained all his worldly possessions.”

Each memento inspired Pasante to share with Manganaro a remarkable story.

“When you added all those items together, you had the most tangible, meaningful and moving moments of a man’s time on earth,” Manganaro said. “From those visits to Paolo I learned an important lesson. Whether you are 17 or 80, whether you are rich or poor, famous or infamous — what counts most in life is a memory or an item that will fit into a cigar box.

“Not your yacht, your big house or your fancy cars,” Manganaro added. “They are just temporary possessions. But your cigar box moments are permanently yours.”

His presidential medallion from Northeastern would be going into his own cigar box, Manganaro said.

“So thank you for this cigar box moment,” Manganaro concluded.

Ian Thomsen is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @IanatNU.