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mikezito.jpgThe word ?community? is tossed around quite a bit these days. For some, the term is simply useful as a sales pitch. For others, it?s never far from consciousness because it?s part of their everyday lives.

By Mike Cosentino
Larson Newspapers
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The word ?community? is tossed around quite a bit these days.

For some, the term is simply useful as a sales pitch. For others, it?s never far from consciousness because it?s part of their everyday lives.

One of six children, Michael Zito has been steeped in community his whole life. His wife, Betty, who grew up in a family of 13 children, shares similar roots.

Zito?s Melrose Park neighborhood in Chicago ?had 39 kids in the space of 250 feet of the city block,? Zito said.

Some were actually not related.

It was in this neighborhood that Zito?s dad served as a fireman for 30 years.

?Then he spent another 30 as an arson investigator. He spent 60 years in fire service,? Zito said. Hanging around that firehouse was another of Zito?s lessons in community.

In those days, Zito said he developed a working-class appreciation for wealth.

Then there were the highly structured experiences under the tutelage of the Dominican nuns and the Franciscan priest at Fenwick Catholic High School.

That was followed by a stint in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Zito?s response to the call of community is multi-faceted, widespread and understated until now.

He has committed $4.2 million from his business to be returned to this community.

He has spoken to nonprofit groups and pledged to ?cover their nut? so they could concentrate fund-raising for their various missions and purposes.

He has already given more than $200,000.

From the time his grandmother climbed out of the family car to look upon the 400-acre family farm in Galena, Ill., proclaiming ?bella terra,? meaning good land, Zito thought about that connection between the land and community.

So, when no other group seemed to want the property that Fred E. Schuerman was marketing — not the Sierra Club, not the Sedona Historical Society, not the U.S. Forest Service — Zito saw a chance to make the dream a reality and the ?Bella Terra? west was begun.

?I think people of the community will enjoy sipping a wine at the end of the day that they helped create,? he said.

?I see a community where residents will want to participate in the vineyards and the orchards that will be on the property,? he said.

Forty-five percent of Bella Terra is intended to be open space.

Zito?s business plan seeks to honor the four defintions of capital that he advocates: community capital, intellectual capital, cash, of course, and natural capital.

He acknowledged that the natural capital was simply something he was benefiting from, as all people do.

?Green development makes economic sense. It doesn?t cost money, it makes money in the long run,? Zito said. ?It is an economic deal — the model for the future.?

?It is all about doing well while doing good,? Executive Vice President Donna Michaels said.

The duo has before and after pictures to show that, at least in its Bella Terra development, they reclaimed what was a mess on a beautiful location.


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