Catching Up with Tony Minella '94
When a family chooses Avon Old Farms, it’s often for a very specific reason: football scholarship, nationally-ranked hockey team; close to home, or far away. For 15-year-old Tony Minella, the decision to travel cross-country to attend boarding school was three-pronged: first, as a Boston transplant living in California, he wanted to get back to the east coast to play hockey. Second, both his parents and his extended family lived in Bristol, so the Farmington Valley was a bit of a second home. Third, as a predominately ‘B’ student at Campolindo High School in Moraga, California, he and his parents felt the structured environment Avon could provide would be academically beneficial.
“Initially, the catalyst for me to explore boarding school was to play hockey – we did some researching and I ended up applying to Avon, Westminster, and Taft,” explained Minella, now the president of Eldridge Industries and a resident of Darien, Connecticut, where he lives with his wife Sage and their three sons. “Luckily, I felt the most comfortable at Avon, because that was the only school that accepted me outright. I was waitlisted at Westminster.”
Minella recalled his visit with then director of admissions Frank Leavitt as warm and welcoming.
“Mr. Leavitt’s word choice, in retrospect, was brilliant – he spoke without any conditionality - when you come here, you’ll have a school job, you’ll be a part of the community, this is where you’ll play hockey, football, this is your mail room, this is just how things will work, etc. I remember it being a very welcoming feeling."
“And just being on campus, out in the woods, Beaver Pond, the physical plant, all felt fantastic. Students went out of their way to make eye contact and say hello when you passed them. Hopefully boys are still doing that today, not drowned in their phones.”
And so, the choice was made. Minella transferred from his public school in California and enrolled at Avon as a sophomore. From day one, Avon was a challenging and highly rewarding experience.
“I arrived on campus in August 1991 for pre-season football practice and, after an incredibly intense introductory speech from Coach Driscoll, I thought ‘what have I gotten myself into?’” he shared. “The next morning, my buddy, David Nelson, a junior football player came to Eagle 308, knocked on the door at 5 a.m. to wake me up. We stumbled to the athletic fields to run perimeters. Wow, that was a shock. I intermittently cried myself to sleep the first few weeks - I was homesick, the environment was intense, and as a ‘B’ student at Campo, I was anxious to see if I could keep up academically. It was a whirlwind. But quickly enough I discovered friendships with both students and teachers, and the structure started to create a great routine.”
As a young boy away from home, Minella wanted to make his parents proud and do well in school. That desire to do well motivated him to take full advantage of the mandatory study halls.
“At home I thought of myself as an athlete who got okay grades. Good enough to keep my parents off my back, but nothing remarkable. At Avon I learned that if I applied myself great grades were achievable. I ended up developing a tremendous sense of confidence academically, and ultimately excelled and earned Cum Laude honors. In the third trimester I remember my advisor Bill Kron telling me, rather succinctly, that as a junior I was to enroll in honors courses for the fall. I was struck by how matter of fact his statement was. It was the first time anyone had put significant stock in my academic ability. It felt good.”
But not everything went according to plan. While Minella became a stronger and quicker athlete over his Avon career, and excelled on the gridiron (perhaps thanks to Coach Fizanno screaming Vince Lombardi quotes on the sidelines), he was repeatedly cut from the Varsity Hockey Team.
“My sophomore year I came out of fall football season excited to get on the ice, but within 40 minutes in the rink, I was cut. And I was devastated,” he shared. “I dropped down to JV, and then to Thirds. I had come to play hockey, and that was a big part of my identity at the time.”
Minella stuck it out and worked hard. That same season he was called up to play JV, and was the last cut his junior year, but had a blast playing for Coach McCarthy on Varsity B. As a senior, he was offered a spot on Varsity.
“I realized that I could ride the bench on Varsity my senior year, or actually have fun and be on the first line with Varsity B. So, I decided to drop down. The overall hockey experience at Avon helped me redefine how I saw myself and how to find opportunity in challenges.”
It’s that character-building that Avon prides itself on to this day, and we’d like to think that it is a community effort. Minella recalled many friends and faculty who influenced his time at Avon.
“From Kevin Driscoll’s opening speech to us the first night of pre-season registration, to Coach Gardner’s algebra classroom, to being a waiter at table D-3 with Sid Clark, each person helped me to see the tenacity and toughness the Avon experience develops in young men.”
He went on to recount the lasting effect of his history classes with Peter Evans and Art Custer, and biology with Christine Demusz. And important time away from classes, too, spending time with friends; he laughingly remembered dormitory antics with his freshman roommates Jake Ryan and Alfred Negron, and friends Corey Sheldon, Pete Sperger, John Brennan, Tom Funk, John McAuliffe, Austin Sperry, his brother Marc Minella, and Jeff Hamilton. Hamilton has coached two of Minella’s sons, Declan and Cameron, on the ice.
Minella also commented on building friendships with fellow Avonians Mike Mullin and Danny New, and the fact that Jeff, John, Danny, Minella and a host of others play hockey together as often as weather permits.
After graduating from Avon in 1994, Minella went on to Bowdoin College, where he majored in economics, with a minor in American history. He attended Bowdoin at the same time as fellow Winged Beavers Billy Austin, Mike Treat, John McAuliffe, and Mike Fish.
“I developed strong relationships at Bowdoin – I met my wife Sage there and still interact weekly with a number of my classmates. I owe Avon a debt of gratitude for helping me get there – I certainly wouldn’t have been accepted coming from Campolindo, and, in particular, I think both Art Custer (a Bowdoin grad), Kevin Driscoll, and my college counselor Peter Evans, each played a huge role in my acceptance. Thank you. Overall, Avon developed in me a strength of mind and competitiveness which has served me well in my career.”
After starting out as an investment banking analyst at Merrill Lynch in 1998, Minella spent 18 months at Penske Capital, then joined Guggenheim Partners in 2001. He spent 12 years there, rising to co-head of corporate credit at Guggenheim Investments, and co-chair of the Investment Committee, before becoming the chief investment officer at Security Benefit, a 126-year old insurance company. In 2015, Minella co-founded Eldridge Industries, a private investment firm headquartered in Greenwich, Connecticut, which manages businesses in finance, real estate, media and sports, and insurance, including Security Benefit. He is president at Eldridge, and is actively involved across the firm’s businesses.
Regardless of how busy his career is, Minella’s priority is his family. Sage teaches honors chemistry and AP and honors biology at Greenwich Academy. They are both busy raising their three boys, Jake, 13, Declan, 11, and Cameron, 9, all hockey players like their dad, and students at Brunswick School.
“Sage is a remarkable person, she truly loves teaching, and embraces the challenges of mothering boys,” Minella said. “Brunswick and Greenwich Academy have a coordination program, and as a high school teacher, her classes contains students from both schools. Now it’s unlikely that she’ll teach any of our sons, but I’m excited to see how her relationship evolves with the boys’ friends – from Jake, Dec and Cam’s mom – to their bio or chem teacher. I think she is too.”
The Avon family is important to him, too.
“It was hard to stay in touch with classmates in the 90s after graduating - certainly not as easy as it is now. But I plan on being there for at least part of our 25th Reunion this spring, and I’d love to see a great showing for the class of 1994.”
Avon’s Reunion Weekend is scheduled for May 17 - 19, 2019. Details can be found on the Avon Old Farms School website in the alumni section.