Christened with a Cumberland Farms old-time milk bottle, the Lily Haseotes Bentas Center was officially dedicated Saturday afternoon (Sept. 17) on Salve Regina University’s seaside campus in honor of the convenience store chain’s chairman of the board. Bentas, a Cumberland native, has been a university trustee since 2007.
The $8.7 million newly constructed 23,000-square-foot academic wing will house the university’s business and nursing departments. It is connected to the $28 million, 67,000-square-foot reconstructed O’Hare Academic Building, sharing a large university commons area overlooking Newport’s Cliff Walk and the Atlantic Ocean.
The dedication ceremony was attended by United States senators from Rhode Island, Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee, members of the Haseotes family and representatives from the Salve Regina community.
Following are excerpts from the speaking program:
Jane Gerety, RSM, Salve Regina president
We certainly do not have to beware of Greeks bearing gifts. In fact, we are grateful for Greeks bearing gifts. And we’re especially grateful to you, Lily, you’ve been a gift to us. And your family, you’ve made so much possible here at Salve Regina.
Lily, in business you learned the power of hard work, of reinvesting, of ethical practice and of being a good and generous member of the community. That’s what we want our students to learn at this center, we want them to be like you.
In recognition of the many achievements in her professional life and in appreciation of the generous spirit she shares with her family, friends and the Salve community, it’s now my pleasure to officially dedicate this building as the Lily Haseotes Bentas Center at Salve Regina University.
Janet Robinson, chairman of Salve Regina board of trustees
The naming of this wing in honor of you, Lily, sends a clear message that this university means business.
U.S. Sen. Jack Reed
Cumberland Farms is Rhode Island institution and is a national model. It is because of the work of Lily and her family that it is. It is because of three principles: respect for the customer, respect for the co-worker, and respect for the community. This is the spirit that Lily has always brought to her company and to this great university.
Daniel Regan, Salve Regina Class of 2017
It is my great honor and pleasure to stand before you today to express words of gratitude and appreciation to Mrs. Lily Bentas. You’re a role model for future leaders, demonstrating the highest caliber of leadership and generosity.
Ari Haseotes, chief executive officer, Cumberland Farms
I know it is Lily’s hope that her gift to the school will inspire and support those who benefit from its use to pursue their own dreams and success in life and business as our family has.
Lily has never forgotten where she has come from. Lily’s recognition of thse roots has instilled a very strong sense of humility. It’s her steadfast belief that it’s the many, many thousands of employees who we call team members who work with us every day that are so very much responsible for our success today as a company. Lily has such a keen focus on them and a desire to see to it that our people are well taken care of and that they, too, prosper along with our company. She views this as an enormous responsibility and she reminds me always to make sure I’m thinking of the livelihoods of the many thousands of people with whom we work every day.,
Lily Haseotes Bentas, chairman of the board, Cumberland Farms
I’m really kind of overwhelmed. For me it’s an honor and it’s a privilege to be associated with this beautiful campus, this beautiful university. Like Sister Therese said, our parents were immigrants, we were growing up in a country that helped us get ahead. My father was a farmer, her father was a cobbler. One of my father’s first milk customers was the Sisters of Mercy. They were up in North Cumberland and he used to deliver milk up there. I would go with him with my sister Joann and the nuns would give us cookies. We loved going there. So you know what, Sister [Therese]? I beat you to the convent! I’m sure today my parents would be very, very happy and very proud. I hope that many students get a great learning experience here.
About Lily Haseotes Bentas
A university trustee since 2007, Bentas’s leadership and generosity have helped advance the university mission in far-reaching ways. Her support over the years helped the university to build Our Lady of Mercy Chapel, to establish the Antone Academic Center and to raise scholarship funds for students. Her generosity also supported the establishment of the Nuala Pell Leadership Program in Public Service, which prepares future generations of leaders through specialized training. She established the Lily Haseotes Bentas Scholarship in Business Studies, which is awarded to a female undergraduate who aspires to a career in business and who demonstrates a commitment to building community through ethical practice.
“I have learned that one of the most important things you have in life is your reputation,” she told graduates as Salve Regina’s commencement speaker in 2006, during which she received an honorary doctorate in business administration. “You have only one reputation. Please don’t compromise it. Business, as life, has many ups and downs, good times and bad times. If your associates trust and respect you, they will be with you when the going gets tough, as well as in the good times.”
Bentas attended Cumberland High School, graduating in the same class as Salve Regina’s chancellor and former president, M. Therese Antone, RSM. “This is a joyous occasion for me, particularly as I reflect on my decades-long friendship with Lily and the relationship between my family and the Haseotes family that reaches back to our days in Cumberland,” Sister Therese said. Having the Lily Haseotes Bentas name grace our new Center in the academic heart of Salve Regina’s campus is most fitting and fills me with pride.”
Bentas is the daughter of Vasilios and Aphrodite Haseotes, who started the company as a single-cow farm in Cumberland, R.I. in 1939. Opening the first-ever convenience store in the northeast in 1957, Cumberland Farms has since grown into a multi-billion-dollar corporation that employs 8,000 people. Today it operates 600 retail convenience stores with gasoline in eight states throughout the northeast and Florida.
“An inspiration and role model for all business people, most especially aspiring young, professional women, Lily has been my most trusted business partner and mentor in addition to being my beloved aunt,” said Ari Haseotes, Cumberland Farms president and CEO. “Lily is the picture of humility and grace. Never forgetting the humble roots from which our family has come and always remembering that our success as a family in business is most heavily attributed to the many thousands whom we call members of our team and a commitment to continuously investing in our people and our business over the long term.”
Cumberland Farms was ranked by Forbes in 2016 as the 18th largest privately held company in the U.S. with annual sales of over $16.5 billion.
Still family-owned and operated, the company prides itself on a long heritage of giving back to the communities they serve, establishing programs to feed the hungry, serve the disabled, support local sports teams and raise funds for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, among others. Over the years, the company’s “Believe and Achieve Scholarship” program has awarded more than $1 million to more than 1,000 talented high school seniors with aspirations to attend college.
Bentas, who has served in a variety of leadership positions at Cumberland Farms for 40 years, is a former member of the board of directors for the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), Washington, D.C., and served for many years on the Boards of Massachusetts Eye & Ear Infirmary, a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts and the National 4H Council. She is also a member of “Leadership 100” of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America.