A Major Force in the Industry,’ Gino Zavarella Passes at 92

We decided to report this article of 3 years ago from the Awards and Personalization Association (March 2020) around the anniversary of our founder's passing.  Gino knew every aspect of the awards industry.  He knew acrylic trophies, plaques, walnut, glass awards and glass trophies.  He was the originator of the Salesman of the Month and Employee of the Month award programs.  

‘A Major Force in the Industry,’ Gino Zavarella Passes at 92

(March 2020) Gino Zavarella, founder of Gino’s Awards, passed away March 10, 2020. The longtime Recognition Roundtable member, whose business was just outside of Cleveland in Warrensville Heights, OH, was 92 years old.

A veteran of the US Navy, Gino received his first glimpse of the industry while receiving jeweler’s training in Newcastle, PA, on the GI Bill after returning from tours in both World War II and the Korean War. He started a small jewelry engraving business, primarily catering to other jewelers, before founding a jewelry shop with his childhood friend turned business partner, Charles Siracusa.

At that time, many trophies and awards were provided by jewelers because they had the equipment and engraving skill to create finely detailed personalization work. But during his years in the business, Gino found that the awards and personalization side of the industry appealed to him more, and eventually, the shop broke into two operations: Gino’s Awards and Gino’s Jewelry, which was eventually taken over by longtime employees Michael Auletta and Gary Koster in 1997.

The Beginning of a Legacy

Gino’s passion for the industry never subsided. Into his 90s, Gino still came into the office 6 days a week. He pioneered new and inventive business practices that still affect the way people work today.

This included designing his own unique plaques and medallions, and even engraving fonts to sell to local car dealerships as part of an “employee of the month” program, ensuring that even if competitors wanted to use his idea, they couldn’t replicate the products he provided. Gino also was known for his innovative work with engraving and oxidizing brass.

“He was extremely clever in what he did,” said Brian Martin, president of Recognition Roundtable. “He made things that basically other people couldn’t copy. I was always familiar with Gino just because he was a major force in the industry. He had all the dealers in the country trying to horn in on his business, and we couldn’t do it.”

Gino’s Awards still designs and produces many of its own offerings in a nearby factory—even cutting their plaques from 8-ft-by-4-ft pieces of wood, according to his son, Gino Zavarella, Jr.—and caters to customers in all 50 states, Europe, Canada, and South America.

This legendary reputation led to many accolades from the industry. Gino was named a member of the Awards and Personalization Association’s Hall of Fame in 2009 and was inducted into a member of the Recognition Roundtable Hall of Fame. “Gino would be the true definition of hall of fame in how he impacted the industry,” Martin said.

Even in his 90s, Gino was flying alone to the International Awards & Personalization Expo to share his wise words with newcomers to the industry, Martin said. “At trade shows, he would be at every booth. He wouldn’t miss one,” he said.

“He Couldn’t Have Been More Humble”

Although Gino was known for his business acumen and incredible contributions to the industry, he may be even better known for his compassion, humility, and willingness to help other professionals.

“He couldn’t always be at all the meetings, but when he did, there would be a steady line of people coming up to him and greeting him and getting some words of wisdom. He couldn’t be any more humble,” said Martin. “As my wife said, he was the grandfather you’d want to have.”

And just like your favorite relatives, Gino wouldn’t let anyone who visited go hungry—he even had a kitchenette in his shop where he would prepare “Italian feasts” for his visitors.

Gino’s wife, Lillian, predeceased him. He is survived by his son, Gino, and four grandchildren.