Dario Cugini, a businessman, philanthropist and gentleman who advocated tirelessly for Auburn all his life, died April 23, just three days after celebrating his 93rd birthday. He was a devoted husband, son, father and friend. With his remarkable vibrancy, he left an indelible mark throughout the community he loved.
Dario and his wife of 72 years, Jo, owned and operated Cugini Florists and Gifts in downtown Auburn.
Dario was past president of Auburn’s Rotary Club, where he was a charter member, and in 2017 he received the lifetime achievement award for his 60 years of service. He also was a past president of Auburn’s Chamber of Commerce, active at the White River Valley Museum and a regular contributor to the Green River Foundation fund. In 2007, he and his wife established the Dario and Jo Cugini scholarship at Green River Community College, an education fund that remains active today.
He served on the board of directors of Auburn Valley Bank and Valley National Bank. He and his wife were honored as Auburn Hometown Heroes at City Hall in 2003 for their lifetime commitment to the community.
Dario was an entertaining and engaging raconteur, who stayed abreast of events near and far and relished a lively dialogue about almost everything. As an avid reader (history and nonfiction), he was thoughtful and curious about how the past and present intertwined — and how today’s dramas would play out in the years to come. He was a sensible and forthright man who cared deeply about a thriving Democracy and his beloved Auburn. With Dario, you could always count on the conversation being informative and spirited, peppered with wisdom, humor and grace.
Dario was born at the old Auburn General Hospital in 1926 to James and Josephine Cugini. He graduated from Auburn High School and attended the University of Washington. In 1946, he joined his parents in business at their Shurfine Grocery Store on East Main Street in Auburn. He married Jo Patanelli, of Seattle, in 1947. The family transformed the grocery into a flower and gift shop in the early 1950s, and in 1962, they relocated to their new store on Auburn Way South, where the business prospered until the pair, who worked side-by-side all those years, retired.
Dario’s business acumen and devotion to his community were kismet. In the early years, he knew all of Auburn’s streets and who lived on them. Everyone was on a first-name basis. He listened and learned what people needed and wanted. He worked hard, and he cared. As the community grew, so did Dario’s reach, as he strived to better serve them as a shop owner, business leader and advocate for his city and its residents.
Dario worked enthusiastically for his hometown because that was the kind of man he was. He had an easy smile and contagious laugh. He was comfortable in his own skin and clearly relished the life he and Jo had carved out for themselves.
He stayed physically fit and active well into his 90s, walking daily and playing tennis. From his parents he learned an appreciation of the arts. In addition to books, he enjoyed poetry, opera (he spoke fluent Italian), music and film. He could be found glued to the television on days the Seahawks, Mariners or UW Huskies sports teams played.
Although the Cuginis wintered in Palm Desert, California, in retirement, Dario’s heart was always in Auburn. He never lost sight of who he was, where he came from, those he loved and the noble principles on which he based his long, rich and happy life.
He is survived by his wife and seven nephews. He is preceded in death by his parents, children Dina and Paul and three sisters.
A private service has been held.