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EX-IMMIGRANT RECALLS GIFT THAT LET HIM SAY THANKS

Of all the books in the Lockport Public Library, the little boy from Italy wanted just one, an Italian-English dictionary. He had moved here with his parents and two sisters, immigrants in a new land.

He checked out the dictionary and began to teach himself English. When it came time to return the book, he went to the library to renew it, but the book had to go back on the shelf for three days before being renewed. It was the only Italian-English dictionary in the library at the time.

The next day the library called the little boy's house and asked him to come over. On the front desk there was a small package wrapped in Christmas paper and a card with the boy's name on it.

The head librarian handed him the present. Inside was the dictionary. The card read: "Welcome to America, enjoy it. Merry Christmas. Mrs. Nixon, Librarian."

That was 44 years ago.

That little boy, Umberto Berardi, is now a successful businessman whose rental company has $5 million in inventory and 40,000 square feet of warehouse space in Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse. He lives in East Amherst with his wife of 30 years. They have eight children, six of whom are in college or have graduated.

With the original Italian-English dictionary tucked under his arm, Berardi on Tuesday presented the Lockport Public Library with a check for $5,000.

"I am living the American Dream," said Berardi. "I owe so much to Mrs. Nixon and the Lockport Public Library that I want to give back a small gift because of the big gift that was given to me 44 years ago."

Margaret W. Lynch, the current library director, said Berardi called her out of the blue and said he wanted to make a donation. "He didn't say how much," she said. "Then he told me the story about the dictionary and Mrs. Nixon."

The librarian who gave him the dictionary all those years ago -- Janet Nixon -- died in 1994, but Lynch arranged to have her sister, Esther Nixon, there for the presentation. Janet and Esther married brothers whose last name was Nixon. Esther Nixon was young Berardi's reading teacher when he was a student at DeWitt Clinton Elementary School.

"I never felt so good as that moment," said Berardi, who was at the library with his wife, Grace, and five of his children. "The library didn't expect it. Tears were in my eyes. This is inexpressible joy for me."

Library Director Lynch had her own share of emotions.

"It's the most heartwarming thing I've heard of as a librarian," she said. "We like to believe that libraries change lives. To know of a real case where it has, and for the person to respond so generously, means the world to us."

Esther Nixon said she remembered Berardi as soon as she saw him.

"We reminisced about those school days at DeWitt," she said. "I was amazed at how much he remembered. He's a brilliant man. Italy's loss is our gain."

Berardi presented her with a bunch of red roses.

How would her sister react to all this if she were still alive? "She would cry," Nixon said.

Berardi took a tour of the library.

"I showed him how the library has changed since he was a little boy," said Lynch. "He agreed it's a glorious facility."

Founded in 1893, the library moved to its current location on East Avenue in 1932 and was completely renovated in 1994. The $5,000 will become part of the continuing development fund.

Berardi's children showed great interest in the library, Lynch said.

"They are the most wonderful family," she said. "It's immediately evident how he has passed on to them his interest in language and the fine arts."

After graduating from Lockport Senior High School, Berardi served in the U.S. Navy. He received an honorable discharge and studied at the the University at Buffalo, receiving a master's degree in arts and letters. He taught Italian and Spanish at the university for a few years, but then founded his own business and went in search of the American Dream.

He found it, and Tuesday he said thanks to the Lockport Public Library and a former head librarian who gave him the words.

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