A pair of Chicago-area titans and a compatriot in St. Louis have joined the ranks of the Cavaliere dell’Ordine della Stella d’Italia. Consul General Giuseppe Finocchiaro knighted Ron Onesti, Pat Capriati and Rio Vitale on behalf of Italian President Sergio Mattarella at an Oct. 18 ceremony at the consulate.
Entertainment industry powerhouse Ron Onesti is recognized as an innovative leader in the entertainment industry across the country. With a passion for his heritage, he is also renowned as the “go-to-guy” for entertainers from Italy who want to perform here in the States. He has provided enjoyment for countless lovers of the “Italian Experience,” from Las Vegas to Hoboken, New Jersey.
The son of a tailor and a seamstress, Ron was born on Taylor Street in Chicago’s Little Italy in 1962. He is the eldest of three children of Albert and Gabriella Onesti. His brother, Richard, his wife Kelly, and their son, Maximilliano; and their sister, Victoria, and her two boys, Ethan and Sebastian, round out the immediate family.
In 1987, Ron met the love of his life, Elena Chiesa, in the Columbus Day Parade Queen Pageant. With their marriage in 1996, Ron welcomed Elena’s parents, Giuliano and Iole Chiesa, and brother, Gabriele, into his growing family. In March of 2005, Ron and Elena were blessed with a princess by the name of Giuliana Gabriella. Ron’s many aunts, uncles and cousins are also a strong source of loving support.
Ron is the president of Onesti Entertainment Corp., which produces concerts, special events and festivals nationwide. A specialty of the company is the production of Italian festivals and concerts. In the Chicago area, he stages Festa Pasta Vino on South Oakley Avenue and the Little Italy Fest-West in Addison and coordinated and/or provided entertainment services for several suburbs.
In 2005, he took over the Arcada Theatre, a 900-seat vaudeville theater in St. Charles that was founded in 1926, restoring it to its original splendor and using it to showcase local and national talent in the far western suburbs. It is now the number one live music venue in the Midwest, with more than 200 shows produced annually featuring some of the biggest names in show business.
He has produced several projects for television, including a PBS special about kids against drugs and violence that garnered three Emmy Awards. He is currently a regular on-air host on the Chicago PBS station, WTTW Channel 11.
Ron has also appeared on numerous radio shows, including his own entertainment-based talk show co-hosted by his brother Rich on FM radio in Chicago, and an entertainment-based show on Chicago’s WGN radio.
An accomplished writer, he had a column in Fra Noi for more than a decade and served as editor-in-chief of the Sports Hall of Fame’s publication, Red White & Green. His weekly column “Backstage with Ron Onesti” in the Daily Herald is one of the newspaper’s most popular features.
Passionately involved in the Italian-American community, he donates his time and talents to countless organizations, including the Italian Consulate; the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, for which he currently serves as third vice president; Casa Italia; the Italian American Veterans Museum; The Italian American Police Association; and the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame. He served as president of the JCCIA’s Youth Division for an unprecedented five terms during the 1980s, he founded Villa Scalabrini’s St. Joseph’s Table, and he chaired the IANU Foundation’s David Awards for more than 20 years.
Ron has been awarded the prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor, one of only three civilian medals recognized by Congress, at an all-military event at the Statue of Liberty. He has also been honored by Casa Italia and the Italian American Executives of Transportation, both of which named him their Man of the Year. The Italian American Police Association presented him with its 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award, and he has been recognized for his business achievements on numerous occasions.
By bringing major Italian superstars like Zucchero, Laura Pausini, Il Volo, Orietta Berti and many others to the United States; producing hundreds of live performances on stages all over the country; and spreading the wonders of his Italian culture, Ron is living the American dream while honoring the memory of his grandparents who came through the gates of Ellis Island.
“This award really belongs to my mom and my dad,” Ron says. “They instilled in me a pride in my heritage that has grown stronger with each passing year. For the land of their ancestors to recognize me with such a significant honor is truly overwhelming.”
PASQUALE (PAT) CAPRIATI
Tireless cultural advocate Pasquale (Pat) Capriati has been a linchpin of the Chicago-area Italian-American community for over 40 years, devoting most of his life to strengthening the ties between Italy and America, both on a professional and personal level.
“I feel very proud to have been chosen to receive this prestigious honor, not only personally but on behalf of my family and my community,” Pat says, “I have always felt that the Italian-American community in Chicago is an extension of my own family, which is why I have worked so hard on our behalf.”
Born in Mola di Bari to Onofrio and Anna (Brescia) Capriati, he immigrated to the Chicago area with his family in 1967 at the age of 13. Fond memories of life back in Italy and pride in his Pugliese heritage have fueled Pat’s sense of commitment. “Preserving that spirit here in America has been a driving force for me.”
He has been married since 1979 to his high school sweetheart, Carmela Mallardi, who came to Chicago with her family from nearby Triggiano.
After earning a degree from Loyola University, Pat has spent the last three decades of his professional life in international business, first with the State of Illinois’ Export Development Authority, where he was appointed director of the Illinois/Italy Trade Initiative. He has been with the Italian Trade Agency for more than 20 years, most recently serving as marketing promotion senior manager, working with major supermarket chains to bring more “Authentic Italian” food products and wines to the U.S. market.
Pat has dedicated his entire life here in America to sharing his love of his Italian heritage with others. He founded the Italian Club and soccer team at his high school and co-founded the Italian Club at Loyola University. He is an elected member of the Consiglio Generale dei Pugliesi nel Mondo, the president of the Federazione Regione Puglia Chicago, one of the early leaders of Associazione Regionale Pugliese d’America and a founder and first president of the North American Confederation of Pugliese Organizations in North America. He was the editor of the Italian section of Fra Noi from 2008 to 2011 and a member of FUSIE, a federation of Italian journalists around the world.
Pat has also been sharing his love for the Italian language through music. In 1969, he founded and still performs with the band Diamanti. His weekly Italian-language radio show, Domenica Insieme — on the air since 1995 and streaming live on www.wckg.com — draws listeners from not only the Chicago area, but also from many parts of the U.S., Italy and as far away as South America and Australia. He has emceed many concerts showcasing legends the likes of Renzo Arbore, I Pooh, Gigi D’Alessio, Pupo, Ti Lascio una Canzone, Franco Bagutti, Orchestra Spettacolo, and Orchestra Spettacolo Patrizia from Piacenza. Currently, he and several band members and singers from the remaining Chicagoland Italian bands are planning a one-of-a-kind evening to celebrate “La Musica Italiana Anni 60-70.” The event is scheduled for Friday, May 19, 2017, at Altavilla Banquets in Addison.
His efforts have earned him a variety of accolades. U.S. Ambassador to Italy Peter Secchia presented Pat with a Special Appreciation Award in June 1991, St. Xavier University in Chicago recognized him for the role he played in facilitating the establishment of the MBA exchange program between St. Xavier and the Università Cattolica (del Sacro Cuore) of Milano, and the Italian Catholic Federation Branch 292 presented Pat and his wife, Carmela, with its Mother Cabrini Award in 2008.
As proud as he is of his contributions to Italian American causes and culture, Pat and Carmela consider their greatest accomplishments to be their daughters: Rosanna, a fashion director for Vera Wang in Beverly Hills, California, and Costantina, who earned her Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the University of Illinois Chicago College of Pharmacy.
“Both Carmela and I feel that one of the most precious gifts that we can pass on to our children is our dual identity as we are the byproduct of two great cultures,” Carmela says. “It has enriched our lives tremendously, not only personally but also professionally, and we want to pass it on to our children because we believe that it makes them more complete individuals who are better prepared to face life’s many challenges.”
St. Louis super-activist Rio Vitale one of the driving forces in the legendary Italian enclave in St. Louis known as “The Hill.” In fact, he wrote the book on subject, titled the “St. Louis’ The Hill,” and has lectured extensively about the neighborhood.
Rio became active in the Italian-American community in 1989 when he became a member of the St. Louis Chapter of UNICO National. He served one term as treasurer and another term as director. During his tenure, the organization raised money for local charities through an annual banquet and golf tournament.
The Italian American Bocce Club is one of the premier organizations in The Hill. Rio joined in 2004 at a time when the club was in some distress, serving as treasurer, social media chair, membership chair, president and director and contributing significantly to a dramatic turnaround.
He served the club by sending an email newsletter to the members, designing and maintaining a website, and instituting policies and procedures that boosted membership from 250 to more than 400 and turned a $50,000 deficit to a $200,000 surplus.
He is an active member of Hill 2000, a neighborhood organization, having served as a board member and strategic planning chair. He has served the organization by creating billing procedures that have improved cash flow, helping to launch a visitors’ center, and creating and administering a Facebook page.
The Federation of Italian American Organizations in St. Louis is an umbrella organization that promotes and teaches the Italian language and sponsors the Miss Italian St. Louis Pageant. Rio has served on its board and created a web page in 2000.
The Italian American Heritage Corporation is an umbrella organization that promotes Italian heritage and culture and encourages young people to become involved with the Italian-American community. This organization sponsors the Annual Columbus Parade in St. Louis, which is the oldest parade in the State of Missouri.
After serving on the board for several years, he was elected president in 2012. Under his tenure as president, the parade blossomed from a small event to a major one with an operating budget of $25,000, 300 parade units, a festival with food and music and a run.
He is a founding member of the Sicilian Cultural Association of St. Louis, serving one term as director. Dedicated to the preservation of the Sicilian culture, the organization has more than 150 members.
He is also a member of the Hill Business Association, Italian American Chamber of Commerce-Midwest, the Italian Club of St. Louis, and the Fratellanza Society.
Rio has also been extremely active in the economic and political life of the community.
In 2010, he purchased a building across the street from St. Ambrose Church that was in need of repair and performed a total restoration that was featured in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. He also worked with local and state officials and developers to redevelop 13 acres of abandoned warehouses. In 2012, he ran for state representative for the district that included The Hill.
Rio earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Webster University and an MBA from Fontbonne University, both of which are in St. Louis. In 1986, he was one of the founders of Scottrade. They started with one office in St. Louis Missouri and by the year 2000 there were over 100 offices nationwide.