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Pizza Entrepreneur Funnels Wealth Back To The Disadvantaged

December 29, 1985

DULUTH, Minn. (AP) _ Long gone are the days when Jeno Paulucci scoured the streets for coal to heat his family’s house. But the man who made millions selling frozen pizza says he’s still ″a kid from the Iron Range″ who turns guilt over his wealth into crusades to help the disadvantaged.

″There’s a part of me ... that only wants to make a buck, that wants to meet the challenge, spit in anybody’s eye that gets in his way,″ said Paulucci, who estimates his wealth at $500 million.

″And then there’s the Jeno from the Iron Range that was in the $5 flat with more cockroaches than lice in our hair. I never forgot that. Maybe it’s a feeling of guilt.″

Paulucci, 67, spent 18 years building Jeno’s Inc., the country’s second- largest maker of frozen pizza, which he sold this month to Pillsbury Co. Jeno’s had been one of the dominant industries in Duluth until he moved the business to Ohio four years ago to cut transportation costs and stay competitive.

Though the move saved money, the Hibbing native said it cost him anguish that hasn’t eased. Now he’s working to make good his promise to replace the 1,200 jobs the city of 100,000 lost in the transfer.

″The No. 1 objective is to employ people,″ he told the Minneapolis Star and Tribune. ″But, at this late date, I’ve got to be careful that I don’t get involved in something that’s not going to be a success. It’s bad enough that I had to move Jeno’s out of here; I’m not going to start something else and have it fail.″

In the last two years, six businesses have taken him up on his offer for free rent in his Duluth office building. As part of deal, the businesses must give priority in hiring to disadvantaged people, who he said made up 53 percent of his former employees.

″I made up my mind, back in the early 1940s, that not only would I provide unionized jobs, but that if I could, I would try to help people who normally would not be able to get jobs - the mentally retarded, people out of hospitals and prisons, alcoholics, drug addicts,″ he said.

He is working with the Oglala Sioux tribe on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, helping get a moccasin factory out of debt and into national production.

Last week, he said he would donate $10,000 toward a $1 million campaign to stock 270 food banks in Minnesota, and he’s looking for ways to raise funds for shelters for the homeless.

Paulucci was named U.S. Employer of the Year by the President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped and the National Association of Manufacturers in 1972. He also won the National Horatio Alger Award in 1965, and has turned down offers of government jobs.

Pulling out a yellowed newspaper clipping, he said quietly, ″This is what I regretted the most.″ Dated April 14, 1945, it tells of a 26-year-old Jeno Paulucci who chased a man down a Duluth street, ″wielding two butcher knives.″

″I was ashamed of myself, my mother was ashamed of me,″ he said. ″I quit drinking and decided I would help others. I decided since I was able to survive this kind of ordeal, in my own way, I had to help others.″

Still, he said: ″All my life I’ve always been reluctant to talk about how much money I’ve made, as if I stole it or hadn’t paid my taxes or was dealing in something illicit.″

″I don’t know. I think it’s because I’m ashamed in a way to have a lot money when there’s so many people who don’t have anything, and yet with the Paulucci Family Foundation, we’ve given out hundreds of thousands of dollars. But there’s only so much you can do.″

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