Born in 1885 in the small village of Bolagnano in Italy, Fileno DiGregorio first ventured to the United States in 1901 with dreams, like many Italian immigrants of the time, of fortune in America.
He toiled tirelessly, night and day, in the stone quarries of Pennsylvania, determined to save every penny to one day open his own business. Returning to Italy to fulfill his military obligation, Fileno married and after his 18 month stint was over, took his wife and newborn child back to America where he settled in Southbridge, Massachusetts, a small manufacturing town aptly named “The Eye of the Commonwealth” as it was a burgeoning center for optical manufacturing and home of the American Optical Company.
Fileno worked at American Optical in various capacities, still saving his money and maintaining his focus on starting his own company.
In 1916, with $450 saved, he and his brother, Sabatino, rented space in a machine shop and began molding lens blanks with one furnace. Fileno peddled the blanks to local opticians and the soon the business began to expand.
Sabatino left the company to return to Italy but Fileno, now father of a daughter and seven sons, employed his son-in-law and three of his boys to help grow his business.
The United Lens Company soon became the largest manufacturer of molded lens blanks in the world. Along with his business success, Southbidge’s own ”Horatio Alger” had now become a well known respected member of the community.
Fileno saw his own success as an opportunity to better the lives of those around him. He was always fiercely loyal to fellow immigrants and staffed almost half of United Lens with new Americans, endowing all of his employees with salary and benefits commensurate with the largest of manufacturers in the country.
He always gave freely of his time and wealth and, over the years, was inducted into dozens of charitable organizations, locally and nationally. In 1964 he was selected “Man of the Year” by the Don Orione Home in East Boston.
In presenting the honor, Leo Barbo, Chariman of the home, paid eloquent tribute to Fileno, “In this man we have truly found a friend of the poor and abandoned, a pillar of human kindness, and a shining example of Christian virtues.
He has dedicated his time and energies for ever so many years in works of charity and has illuminated his road of life with hundred of friends and countless acts of benevolence.”
Over his life, which spanned 95 years, Fileno was endowed with hundreds of awards and honors and despite his rise to prominence never forgot his native Bolognano.
In thanks for his many generous contributions to the town the residents named their Sports Society “Fileno” along with the soccer stadium that also bears his name. In his travels his reputation for philanthropy preceded him and thus, he was allowed a private audience with His Holiness Pope Paul VI in 1963.
Fileno was an advocate for physical fitness and could be seen riding his bicycle around Southbridge well past his 90th birthday.
But despite his awards, honors, and business success Fileno’s proudest accomplishment was his family, and it is his name that they continue the tradition of innovation, hard work, quality and customer care he established at United Lens.