Accountant Lisa Perkins took charge of the Calabresi in American Organization at its annual installation dinner in November. Joining her as 2018 officers are First Vice President Mario Salerno, Second Vice President Angela Morrone Incandela, Third Vice President Christopher DeSanto, Recording Secretary Gia DeCicco, Corresponding Secretary Laura Clementi, Treasurer Frank Salerno, Assistant Treasurer Mary DeSanto, Legal Adviser John Spina and Sergeant-at-Arms Carmine Russo.
Directors are Albert Belmonte, Rosemarie Caiafa, Alberto De Cicco, Frank M. Palermo, Fred Pincente, Carmel Ruffolo, Charles Salerno, Rosario Salerno, Pina Stefanelli and Egidio S. Turano.
Directors emeritus are Gino Bartucci, Joseph Bruno, Mike Molinaro, Carmine Naccarato, Frank Ricchio, Aldo Sorrentino and organization historian Anthony Spina.
Advisers are Gina Badagliacca, Jo Marie Belmont, Nick Caiafa, Phyllis Menako and Theresa Paterno.
Past presidents are Frank Belmonte*, Richard E. Belmonte, Angelo N. Castanza Jr., Frank Cesario, Frank DeCicco, Emilio Morrone, Joseph A. Russo, Beniamino Russo*, Anthony Scola, Ferdinando Scola, Jo Ann Serpico, Umberto A. Turano, Silvana R. Turano and Sen. Renato G. Turano.
(* indicates deceased)
The full transcript of Perkins acceptance speech follows:
I am grateful for the honor and responsibility that the Calabresi in America Organization has bestowed upon me. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Society of San Francesco di Paola and the Italian American Executives of Transportation for being here tonight, and thanks to all the organizations and individuals who supported us through tonight’s program book, including Rich Belmonte for pulling it all together. I would like thank Mario Salerno and Angela Morrone Incandella for organizing such a wonderful celebration. I salute tonight’s scholarship recipients and thank Silvana Turano and her team for the daunting task of selecting these worthy students and organizing their presence here tonight. I wish to thank JoAnn Serpico and her fundraising committee in providing the funds to support the scholarships as well as to our generous donor, Vince Naccarato for continuing to match our fundraising efforts towards the benefit of tonight’s scholarship recipients. And to Tony Turano and his committee, thank you for your true labor of love, organizing our Calabria trip every year which further provides both the means and the ends for our club in achieving its goals. I would like to thank Frank DeCicco and his family for their technological expertise in promoting this event and the Calabresi in America Organization in the Cloud. Finally, I would like to thank Albert Belmonte for the flowers this evening as well as at many events during the year. Albert, the flowers are beautiful and I wish to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you donate to the organization, be it with your flowers, your leadership or your warm friendship.
I would like to share with you my story because I want to make a point…
My parents, William Csolkovits and Virginia Basile, were both born in Chicago. They grew up as typical American teenagers of the 1950’s getting to know one another while dancing at sock hops and attending high school football games. My father’s parents were born in Chicago, and their heritage was from Hungary. My mother’s parents were born in Marano Marchesato, Cosenza, Calabria. Their nationality was Calabrese.
I was born Lisa Ann Csolkovits. While growing up, if anyone asked, I was half Italian and half Hungarian. I was fortunate to have lived the first 17 years of my life knowing my Italian grandparents, Francesco Basile and Gelsomina Barbieri. My grandfather was a tailor and seldom would be seen wearing anything other than a well-tailored suit and tie. My grandmother was the personification of Calabrese hospitality, humor, and culinary expertise. I hold dear to my heart fond memories of Sunday afternoon dinners with aunts, uncles and cousins and my grandma’s lasagna with tiny meatballs, slices of hard-boiled eggs and pomodoro sauce that began as simmering tomatoes and fresh herbs before the sun rose from the horizon.
After my grandmother joined our Almighty Father, followed by my grandfather and other aunts and uncles who came from Calabria, the exposure to my Italian heritage dwindled.
I graduated from Loyola University of Chicago with a bachelor of business administration and married my husband Peter. Now my name is Lisa Ann Perkins. Since Peter’s ancestry is predominantly Irish, if I do the math correctly, our children Natalie and Benjamin can say that they are half Irish, a quarter Hungarian and a quarter Italian.
I paint this picture for you not because I think it is necessarily interesting or remarkable, but rather to emphasize that the dilution of my own Italian nationality epitomizes the future membership of our organization. Not every Calabrese daughter or son is going to marry another person of Italian descent, let alone another Calabrese.
So how do I keep the Calabrese heritage alive for my children and future grandchildren? How do we as an organization instill the desire for “half” or “quarter” or “eighth” Calabrese to embrace the culture of a grandparent that they may have never known?
To attempt an answer to this, I can only draw upon my own personal journey that brought me to tonight’s event. How did I, a half Italian/half Hungarian/all American woman come to be named President of our wonderful club, the Calabresi in America Organization?
My journey began in the 90’s when my passion for genealogy took hold. My early success in finding links to my Italian ancestry only fueled my desire to know more of how my Italian family came to America and what sort of life they left behind. At a personal level, I was seeking a connection to my grandparents, to understand their motives and desires; a connection that had been interrupted with their passing.
One day, in 2000, I vividly remember a phone call from my mother. She told me of a club that traveled to Calabria for two weeks every year, staying near my grandparent’s hometown of Marano. It sounded too good to be true, but alas, with my mother now at my side in this journey, we had our destination in sight, a trip into the past, to the hometown of my grandparents.
For two weeks I travelled through Calabria with a group of other Calabresi Americans. One of them was Joe Bruno who helped me find family who still lived in Marano. I was able to spend several days getting to know my distant relatives as they fed me in their home which was once the home of my great, great grandparents. It was a fantasy, but it did not end when I stepped on the plane back to Chicago.
The Calabria trip of 2000 catapulted my involvement with the people of the Calabresi in America Organization. After the trip, I began participating in wonderful events that celebrated my Italian culture, getting to better know my travel companions along with other members of the club. While my re-connection to my grandparents was reinforced with my trip to Calabria, these early experiences with the Club took this reconnection to a new level, as the Calabrese culture soon took firm root in my home here in America. Eventually I was elected to the board of directors where I served as both corresponding and recording secretaries before I rose to the offices of 3rd, 2nd and 1st Vice President.
So, for me, my motivation to join and stay active in the club was the desire to make a connection with my Calabrese heritage that had disappeared from my life before truly taking root. In this regard, my experience with the club has met my every expectation and fulfilled this longing desire to better understand my Italian heritage and my Calabrese family, which now includes many members of the club whom I have come to consider my extended family.
I now find myself President of this organization whose purpose is to preserve, adapt, promote, and disseminate the traditions, heritage, culture and language of Calabria. To that end, our club masters this purpose via its annual trip to Calabria, providing scholarships to students of Calabrese descent, supporting the Casa Italia and their numerous Italian language and cultural programs and cohosting the Festa della Famiglia in honor of San Francesco di Paola, the Patron Saint of Calabria. We host students from Calabria as they learn about life in the United States. We provide opportunities for Calabrese-American students to attend school in Calabria. We’ve celebrated with frittata parties, bocce tournaments, and St. Joseph Tables.
But what else can we do? How do we get people like me to want to join this club? How do we get other adults, who may have never known their Calabresi ancestors, to want to participate in an organization such as ours?
I believe that one answer is to support events that engage our members while disseminating our heritage. Engaging our members is more than achieving their audience. Engaging them is putting them into action that inspires them to keep going. For example, let us get our gym shoes on and as a team walk, bike or run for a cause. Let’s figure out how that game of scopa works. Let’s get off our feet and learn how to dance the tarantella. Speaking of feet, let’s take our shoes off and stomp on some grapes and drink them, or learn about curing our own sopressata. Let’s find ways for fellow Calabrese Americans to feel our culture and thereby embrace it and make it their own! Our Club offers this opportunity to the Calabrese-American community, if we only seize the moments that nurture our rich heritage here in America!
It is this rich heritage that we seek to preserve as part of the Club’s core purpose. When considering the dilution of Calabrese blood of future generations, this is more important than ever. Over the last 18 years I have had the pleasure of hearing stories from many of our members, those who were born in Calabria, and those who were raised in the US. Somehow we need to preserve their stories. Like those of Joe Bruno and Mike Molinaro describing why and how they enjoyed the frittata after Easter in Calabria. Or about the way Frank Salerno came to his first job as a young Italian immigrant. We need to smell and visualize the salami that once hung in the cool entryway in the childhood home of Joanne Serpico and Theresa Paterno. I wish our past president Frank Belmonte were alive to retell the story of how the kids in his neighborhood would chase the ice truck to scavenge ice chips on hot summer days. I wish I had recorded the conversation with Silvana Turano a few years ago as she described her preparation of her Christmas Eve Feast. More recently, I was blessed to be audience of a conversation with Rich and Albert Belmonte talking about how many of our members are all somehow related to one another.
Which brings me full circle to my complimentary passion, discovering my roots. I would like to see our club support genealogy related workshops and meetings, for how is anyone going to want to join the Calabresi in America Organization if they don’t know that they are Calabrese? Through this research, we can identify and create a network of Americans of Calabrese decent. We can further establish a means of outreach to draw them to explore and embrace our rich culture and make it their own! I pledge to focus on this over my presidency because I think this is important for the growth of our great organization.
In closing, I thank all the members of CIAO for allowing me to serve as your president over the next two years. I thank all of our friends and guests for supporting our club and joining us here tonight. I thank God for his blessings upon our organization and plea for his guiding hand in all that we do.