History of WJU The William and Alyce Cafaro Student Center


William Cafaro is recognized as one of the pioneers of the American shopping mall industry. Mr. Cafaro built one of the first enclosed malls, the American Mall (in Lima, Ohio), and later developed one of the first super regional malls, the Eastwood Mall (in Niles, Ohio). Mr. Cafaro was a key player in laying the foundation for the entire mall industry.

Since its inception in the 1940s, the Cafaro Company has ranked as one of the 10 largest commercial real estate developers in the nation, and, to date, has built more than 70 commercial properties. Even after Mr. Cafaro's death in 1998 (at the age of 84), the Cafaro Company, under the management of his son Anthony, has continued to be a leader in the retail development industry. The company is currently the largest family-owned real estate firm in the nation.

William Cafaro was born in 1913, one of seven children, and raised in Youngstown, Ohio. As a youngster, he found employment as a pinsetter at a bowling alley and as a newspaper carrier. At the age of 17, he began work in the local steel mills, where he eventually became shift foreman. After a number of years working at Republic Steel, he, along with his brother and father, opened a bar and supper club that became a favorite local gathering place and a successful business venture.

Cafaro's real estate career began in the 1940's when he purchased property in his hometown, the sale of which provided capital for a car dealership in Warren, Ohio. In 1950, he built two supermarkets for the Cincinnati-based Kroger Company. These pivotal projects for Kroger led to his company’s first major undertaking, Sharon Towne Center, in Sharon, Ohio. From these initial business ventures, Cafaro's company continued to grow, and, at the time of his death, was worth 800 million dollars.

A staunch Democrat, Cafaro was very active in Ohio politics and was a frequent donor to political campaigns on both national and state levels. President Harry Truman recognized Cafaro's dedication to the Democratic Party with a visit to Cafaro's estate in Liberty Township, Ohio.

In addition to his political interests, Mr. Cafaro also supported numerous charitable endeavors, including the Youngstown Osteopathic Hospital, the National Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon in North Jackson, and the Youngstown Novitiate of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart.

Through a mutual acquaintance, Cafaro became close friends with former Wheeling Jesuit University president, Fr. Thomas Acker. Fr. Acker and Cafaro frequently ate lunch together in Youngstown, and, four days before his death in 1998, Cafaro pledged 1 million dollars to WJU for construction of a new student center. His son Anthony fulfilled that promise and, today, the building bears the names of both William Cafaro and his wife Alyce.

Information compiled from:

  • The Cincinnati Enquirer, May 21, 2001
  • International Council of Shopping Centers Website (www.icsc.org)
  • The New York Times, April 25, 1998
  • Wheeling Jesuit University Chronicle, Winter 1998
  • Wheeling Jesuit University Circular, August 21, 1998