It’s a family affair! Whether speaking about his days at Gilmour as a boarder and the sense of camaraderie he felt with his classmates, the family business he now helps run, the business his wife runs and his daughter works for, or his interests outside of work, Carl Fontana ’62 values those important personal connections in his life.
In Bloomfield Hills, Mich., a suburb of Detroit, Fontana began his freshman year at a coed Catholic high school where his brother was a senior. The beneficiary of his older brother’s “tutelage,” Fontana saw and did some things that year that were a bit beyond his years. His parents decided he would benefit from an all-boys boarding school and, after an in-person interview with Br. William Geenen, C.S.C. and Br. Francis Englert, C.S.C., Fontana was on his way to Gates Mills, Ohio.
While he describes the experience as initially difficult, he and the fellow boarders became fast friends. Living together and really getting to know one another fostered a family-like feel and facilitated lifelong friendships. Fontana says, “Fifty years later, some of my best friends are my Gilmour boys.” In fact, a group of about 15 or 16 have been getting together each spring since 2004 for an annual trip. They always choose a destination with golf as well as other activities.
Fontana learned another important lesson during his Gilmour days. He says that living in the dorm “kept me away from making first impressions.” Because he got to know and understand his classmates by living with them, he realized that what initially rubbed him the wrong way about a classmate would often end up not bothering him once he understood the person a bit more. He has carried that important lesson into his adult life, hesitating to judge someone or something too quickly.
Fontana fondly recalls Br. Geenen, saying that he should be “next in line for canonization,” Jeff Morton, Vern Weber, Br. Ivo Regan, C.S.C. as well as the Tea Dances and the intense competition for dates to sophomore cotillion and junior prom!
After graduating in 1962, Fontana attended the University of Detroit. He seriously considered Villanova, where his good friends and classmates Bill Nook ’62 and Dick McSorley ’62 were heading, but his mother said that he had gone away for high school and she wanted him to come back to Detroit for college. A ROTC student while at the University of Detroit, upon graduating he spent a year in training in Kansas before being sent to Vietnam where he served for a year as a transportation officer.
When he returned home to Detroit, his father, who was in the packaging industry, was looking to start his own packaging company. So, Fontana went into partnership with him and the Michigan Box Company was born. They provide packaging for a number of different industries, but primarily the food industry. Fontana serves as president of the company and they have grown it to a $20 million business. They have several other companies within Michigan Box Company. Fontana runs Fontana Forest Products, the division that builds wooden containers used for shipping. With the increase in the size of the company has come an increase in the number of family members working at Michigan Box Company. Currently, there are seven. Fontana, his two brothers and his stepmother serve as the Board of Directors. While some describe working in a family business as difficult, Fontana says they don’t have those problems. He says that they have open meetings so everyone can air their grievances and no one lets egos get in the way.
Fontana’s wife, Mary Ann, also runs her own business, Fancy Feet, Inc., a wholesale shoe company specializing in imported European children’s shoes. While the market is becoming more difficult with the rise in popularity of cheaply constructed, non-fitted children’s footwear, Mary Ann loves what she does and loves all the international travel it allows. She also loves that their daughter Katie, 33, works with her.
The couple lives in Huntington Woods, Mich. and they have two other children as well. Their oldest child, Claire, 36, is a nurse in Asheville, N.C. Their youngest child, Jule, 26, is an apprentice learning the ropes of cinematography in Los Angeles. He has worked on such movies as “Alex Cross,” “The Ides of March” and a movie featuring Sean Penn titled “This Must Be the Place.” When not working, Fontana loves to travel. He also enjoys cooking as well as volunteering for and playing supernumerary roles in operas with the Michigan Opera Theatre. He enjoys sharing his love of opera with the couple’s many friends. They like to host a cocktail party beforehand and then take the group to an opera. This, of course, is after Fontana has delivered a recording at each couple’s house so they can listen to the opera a few times before attending.
Fontana describes his favorite hobby, though, as hockey. While at Gilmour, he would organize pick-up games on the pond after Mass on Sundays and his love of hockey has never wavered. He still plays three times a week year-round and plays in the Senior Olympics. Fontana fondly recalls when the Gilmour hockey team came to Detroit for a game and he attended. Coach John Malloy invited him into the locker room to speak with the team and presented him with a Gilmour jersey. He still wears the jersey to this day and plays on Gilmour’s rink every time he visits campus!