Angelica Berrie, a Remarkable Woman, Leader and Difference Maker
Angelica Berrie is awesome. Petite in stature, she projects a giant intellect. New Jersey resident Angelica Berrie is smart, passionate and compassionate. In her early 50’s she heads two successful companies while leading a very major, high-impact foundation started by her husband, Russ Berrie who passed away on Christmas day, 2002. The Russell Berrie Foundation, with assets above $200 million, was started by her husband in 1985 with a philosophy based on entrepreneurial, creative, transformational giving. As if that is not enough to keep her busy, Angelica has her own Angelica Berrie Foundation with its own ambitious goals and plans.
Angelica was born and raised as a catholic in the Philippines. Her journey from the Philippines to New Jersey is one of accomplishments. Leaving the rural area where she grew up, she went to Manila for an education. It was there that she met her future husband. Russ who was on a buying trip for his Russ Berrie company, a publicly traded NY Stock Exchange global gift company, he had started from scratch.
In the Philippines Angelica, one of 6 children, had been a marketing executive with a leading global marketing firm as well as heading a paper Mache exporting company. She has always had a passion for elegant paper products.
Settling in the States and married to Russ, Angelica became involved in the management of his company and the Russell Berrie Foundation that he established in 1985. She remained heavily involved in both organizations well past Russ’ passing from a diabetes-related heart attack until the company was eventually sold. She continues concentrating on heading the Russell Berrie Foundation while pursuing some of her other areas of interest.
Under Russ’ and Angelica’s joint leadership and for the past 8 years exclusively under Angelica’s stewardship the Russell Berrie Foundation has been having a global impact as well as making major contributions to life in New Jersey. For details about the Foundation’s mission, vision and activities visit www.russellberriefoundation.org.
In summary, the Foundation has some key focus areas which include: finding solutions and better treatments for diabetes, community giving, Jewish Renaissance and support for the growth of selling as a worthy career every bit as important and prestigious as being a lawyer or doctor.
One of Russ’s ambitions was to live long enough to have Italian and Jewish mom’s refer to their sons as “my son the salesman.” To this end Russ, a consummate salesperson, and Angelica put real teeth into this vision by providing the funding to create and develop the Russ Berrie Institute for Professional Sales at New Jersey’s William Paterson University. This is the only academic Sales degree program of its kind in the world. Fifty percent of the students are women! Unbelievably Russ had to approach several universities, including some of the Ivies, before finding William Paterson University where the need for education re: professional selling was recognized and embraced.
A diabetic himself, Russ and Angelica used (and continues to use) their Foundation’s resources to fund and support major diabetes’s related research and education at the Naomi Berrie ( Russ’s mother) Diabetes Center at Columbia University. As part of the Center’s work the Foundation is helping to fund cellular therapy research that one day may lead to a cure for diabetes.
In their community Russ and Angelica, through the Foundation, have provided leadership and funding for the Bergen Performing Arts Center, a performing arts facility at Ramapo College, the Russ Berrie Home for Jewish Living in Rockleigh and facilities and programs at both Englewood and Holy Name Hospitals. Annually, in partnership with Ramapo College, the Foundation honors exceptional New Jersey men and women who have made a difference in the lives of others through their Russ Berrie Award for Making a Difference. Past recipients are an amazing group of people in their own right.
The Award celebrates New Jersey’s unsung heroes—everyday people whose extraordinary volunteer efforts have made a real difference in the lives of others. Created in 1997, the annual award program honors nineteen individuals who have performed outstanding community service or an act of heroism. A selection committee comprised of New Jersey business leaders and professionals chooses the unsung heroes from a pool of several hundred nominees and awards the top three with cash prizes of $50,000, $35,000 and $25,000. Sixteen other finalists are distinguished with cash prizes of $2,500.
"Russ wanted to create an award specifically for unsung heroes—people who really make a difference by dedicating their lives to improving life or helping others," said Russell Berrie Foundation President Angelica Berrie.
Last year, the top honourees included a patient care technician whose quick thinking likely saved the life of a truck driver whose gas tanker overturned and exploded, the founder of a project to help Kenyan schoolchildren and an EMT who has been volunteering on her township’s ambulance corps for more than 35 years.
Nominations closed for this year on March 26, 2010. Additional information and nominating forms are available on the Internet at http://www.russellberriefoundation.org/initiative_cg_makeadifference.php or www.ramapo.edu/news/events/berrieawards/nomination.html. Start thinking about those you might want to nominate for next year’s awards.
Angelica has remained steadfast in the Foundation’s financial and leadership efforts to contribute to the ongoing successful, peaceful development of Israel and the Jewish culture. In Israel the reach of the Russell Berrie Foundation is too extensive to cover adequately here except to mention the $26 million grant that it provided to fund state-of-the art nano technology research in Israel. There was an important catch to this “gift” which was that the Israeli government and Technion had to each match the Foundation’s grant. Today Israel is on the cutting edge of nano technology developments world-wide.
Several years after Russ passed and the company was sold Angelica had the opportunity to pursue some of her own passions and interests. Since then she bought Kate’s Paperie consisting of 5 retail locations, one in Connecticut and four in New York. For any appreciator of quality, creative, extreme quality paper products this is the flag ship of that industry with a world-wide following and reputation. Subsequently Angelica purchased controlling interest in a distributor of party goods.
Recently Angelica established her own Angelica Berrie Foundation which will be a resource for supporting and leading the kinds of philanthropic efforts that are close to her heart. One of the early initiatives was to partner with Kate’s Paperie to organize Slash – Paper Under the Knife, a paper art exhibit at New York’s Museum of Art and Design. Growing up in the Philippines, which is predominately Catholic, Angelica frequently quotes Mother Theresa. Angelica believes that philanthropy is much, much more than writing a check. She has reached out to other women philanthropists for input as she paves the way for giving back.
Russ and Angelica have both been fierce believers in the entrepreneurs’ spirit and creativity. In the way they applied their Foundation’s resources to the causes they championed they brought the entrepreneur’s mind-set. Both have been dedicated to the philosophy of collaborative, transformational giving and constantly looked for creative ways to leverage their own ideas and efforts. Both Russ and Angelica have prided themselves on the high level of due diligence they have always done to ferret out exactly the right, best way to use their resources to benefit mankind.
Angelica may be one of the most serene people we have ever met, apparently at total peace with herself. But behind the calm exterior it is easy to see the mind working, the ideas forming, the dreams taking shape and the efforts being planned. With the benefit of a strong financial base supporting all of her efforts, Angelica obviously is thinking through all the possible opportunities and challenges ahead for her personally and for her two companies and the two foundations she heads. Angelica’s visions are ones that will benefit all of us. We should all wish her great success on her journey ahead.