‘Iron Mike’ inventor’s golden values

Updated: 2013-05-02T13:09:27Z


The Kansas City Star

The Giovagnoli family buries their patriarch Thursday.

And as often happens, it is after a death that additional insight is gained about a beloved family member.

Paul Giovagnoli, 86, designed a baseball pitching machine later known as “Iron Mike.” The invention wound up being used universally by major league teams, at public batting cages and for children’s Little League teams. One of Giovagnoli’s sons (there are 10 children) is trying to get the Baseball Hall of Fame to recognize his father’s contribution to the game.

That much is a well-documented piece of this Kansas City family.

But it wasn’t until this week that eldest daughter Mary Giovagnoli read her father’s writings about his life, his influences. Educated as a mechanical engineer, he held many patents.

He credited the heavily immigrant community of his boyhood in Girard, Kan., for his determined entrepreneurial spirit. As the son of an Italian immigrant, he wrote with pride about how the German, Italian and Irish immigrants made the community stronger and better.

“I never really realized how true this was for my dad, but it’s everything that I’ve been advocating for,” she said.

Mary Giovagnoli is the director of the Immigration Policy Center, a key Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group watching legislation on immigration reform work through Congress. She has spent her career on these issues, much of it as an attorney with the immigration arms of the Justice and Homeland Security departments.

The Giovagnoli story is the quintessential American tale of immigration. Her paternal grandfather arrived in 1912 from Italy. He had been a shepherd, but he remade his life in farming in Kansas.

Childhood lessons in that diverse immigrant community built empathy in Paul Giovagnoli.

His daughter remembers being with her father on a business call as a little girl. Another man made a disparaging remark about African-Americans. Her father replied with a lesson on how everyone has something to contribute.

When she was older, father and daughter argued politics. They would go round and round on issues of the day, he being a lifelong Republican.

Yet they agreed on the need for immigration reform. As a businessman, her father had been upset the times he found out a valued employee had to be let go due to immigration problems that couldn’t be rectified.

In recent months, extended family members gathered at Giovagnoli’s side as he struggled with illnesses. With Mary, he would watch the news reports about immigration legislation just introduced in the U.S. Senate.

“He just grew up with this sense that it didn’t matter who you were,” she said. “If you were a good person and were trying hard, that is what mattered.”

To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to

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