Why I Am A Patriotic Millionaire: Fred Rotondaro

I am a fan of government and yes, that includes big government. 

I have seen first hand for most of my life how government has helped average Americans. 

Let’s take my father and his family as an example. Pop came to America as a child with his family at the turn of the last century. He did not stay a child very long. He went to work in the coal mines around Pittston, PA at age 11 and worked there for 45 years… that is until the Susquehanna River on Jan 22. 1959, crashed into the mines killing twelve men – none of whom were ever found.

Fortunately, my father was not one of those twelve. Pop and 24 others wandered in the dark for hours until they saw a light and scrambled to safety up a 25 foot cliff. I still vividly remember running to Pittston Hospital when I heard about the rescued miners. No one knew who was saved or who was dead.

The family decided right then and there that Pop was retiring. We didn’t know how much more he could take but we were worn out. 

At this time, I was in my third year of college and ready to become the second member of my family to be a college graduate. I was fortunate and did not have to drop out of school, thanks to the fact that the state of Pennsylvania had a Black Lung Pension program that gave families like ours enough to survive. Pop, more than qualified, later was to die of Black Lung and our family had to move forward. 

Uncle Fred, my namesake, was the first family college graduate. Uncle Fred graduated high school during World War II and immediately joined the Marines. He and millions of other GIs came home to a very grateful nation that helped them buy homes, find jobs, and in Unc’s case, sent him to college. The federal government worked with unions, churches, and other civic organizations that created a true American middle class.

I saw more of the government at work years later when I became an anti-poverty director in York, Pennsylvania. We gave food to kids and the elderly, helped the unemployed get jobs, and worked with drug addicts.

Pop, Uncle Fred, and their 11 siblings had kids and grandkids who are now scattered all over the country doing work that we hope will help others. We are teachers, lawyers, doctors, journalists, AIDs workers in Africa, medical researchers at Yale and John’s Hopkins, and one is now rebuilding a village in Sierra Leone.

My family and millions of others like us came to America during a time when America had an implicit social contract.

It was a time when key policy makers realized that the best investment that the nation could make was in its own citizens, so that those citizens would have the chance to lead decent and productive lives. It was a time of national wisdom, humanity, and humility. 

I treasure the work and goals of Patriotic Millionaires. It is powerfully reminding us that America is strongest when we live up to our highest ideals. We are working hard and effectively to help our nation again reach those goals of shared prosperity and opportunity. 


About Fred: Fred Rotondaro has had a varied career that includes journalism, teaching, anti-poverty and civil rights work, and national association management. 

He was a senior fellow from 2003 to 2015 at the Center for American Progress where he concentrated on poverty and inequality. 

He has written extensively for academic and popular publications. He holds a PhD in American Studies from New York University, an honorary doctorate from Wheeling College, and is currently Chair of the Board of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. 

Fred has been married for 41 years to Kathleen Mullan. They have two children, Cara and Vin, both of whom are journalists, and three beautiful grandchildren. 

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