The Italian American Executives of Transportation will honor Ron Onesti as Man of the Year and Sonny Nicotera as Humanitarian of the Year on Nov. 21 at Alta Villa Banquets in Addison. (708-212-1051)
“Ron and Sonny are cut of the same cloth,” says IAET President Vito D’Ambrosio. “They brings passion, skill and intelligence to bear on preserving our heritage and they’re extremely generous with their time, talent and resources. They represent the best that our community has to offer.”
IAET 2015 Man of the Year Ron Onesti
Ron Onesti is an entertainment industry powerhouse recognized as an innovative leader across the country. With a passion for his heritage, he has provided enjoyment for countless lovers of the “Italian Experience” from Las Vegas to Hoboken, N.J.
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 began as a busboy in a deli at the age of 12. As a marketing major at DePaul University, Ron he sold printing services after school, and donuts and coffee between classes. It was not long before he had his own print shops. From there, he expanded into a sign shop, a sporting goods store, a silkscreen operation and a marketing/PR firm. His brother, Rich, was with him every step of the way.
Earlier in the 1980s, Ron joined the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, serving as president of its Youth Division for an unprecedented five terms. He was chairman of the IANU Foundation’s David Awards for more than 20 years, an active member of Amerital UNICO, and founder of Villa Scalabrini’s St. Joseph’s Table.
Ron has been an important liaison to the National Italian American Foundation, a supporter of the Italian American Veteran’s Museum and a big supporter of Casa Italia, recently being named its Man of the Year.
For more than two decades, Ron has been an integral part of the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame on Taylor Street. He has produced its Gala for many years and was the lead designer of the museum’s exhibits. He continues to be a supporter of the JCCIA and the Columbus Day Parade as its Queen Pageant Chairman, and he was recently entrusted by the Consul General of Italy with the responsibility of producing the annual Festa della Repubblica in Chicago.
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.
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 on FM radio in Chicago, and an entertainment-based show on Chicago’s WGN radio.
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. In the Chicago area, he is 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 No. 1 live music venue in the Midwest, with more than 200 shows annually.
Ron was awarded the prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor, one of only three medals recognized by Congress, at an all-military event at the Statue of Liberty.
By bringing major Italian superstars like Zucchero, Laura Pausini, Il Volo, Orietta Berti and many others to the 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 bringing pride to his grandparents, who came through the gates of Ellis Island.
IAET 2015 Humanitarian Sonny Nicotera
Sonny Nicotera was the first child of Frank and Helen Nicotera, born and raised on 48th Court in Cicero. He is the proud brother of Denise Fratto and the dear uncle to Frank, married to Anastacia, and to Nick, married to Michelle. He is also the proud great uncle of Eliana.
While Sonny was still in his teens, he and his family moved to a house in Melrose Park that Sonny still calls home. His long and fruitful professional career began and ended in the food industry. He was the manager of dining car services for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad until his retirement about 13 years ago.
Sonny has continued the old family traditions handed down to him by his parents and grandparents. He has an open-door policy, welcoming anyone and everyone into his home. There is always room for one more at his table. It is not uncommon to see 25 or 30 people gathered at his home on any given Sunday. His relatives all say that he is the glue that holds the family together.
Cooking comes naturally to Sonny. This is not only because of his food industry background, but because he was fortunate to have a marvelous cook for a mother. “Mom always said, ‘If I have a pot of soup and a pot of gravy, I’m happy because I know I could feed anyone who walks in,’” Sonny explains. “And that is exactly what she did. She fed anyone who walked in.” Sonny is also the official barbeque chef of the IAET, cooking up a storm at our annual picnic during the feast of San Francesco di Paola and other IAET meetings and functions.
Sonny’s involvement with the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel began in 1960, when he was asked to sponsor a candle house for one of the societies. With the help of others, this candle house was designed and constructed in Sonny’s garage. That year, Sonny marched in his first procession, marking his initiation into the Feast tradition.
Over the years, Sonny’s dedication to Our Lady has been exemplified by marching annually, carrying various candle houses, and participating as a statue bearer of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. A member and past chairman of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Feast Committee, he is a Eucharistic minister, president of the Parish Council, and member of the Holy Name Society.
This great devotion to our Lady of Mount Carmel made Sonny the perfect choice for the Feast Committee’s 2012 Man of the Year. “Perhaps the greatest gift I received that holiday season was when the Feast Committee asked me to be their Man of the Year,” Sonny said.
Sonny has two passions in life. One is his yard, which is always filled with as many flowers as it can hold, and the other is Christmas. Sonny has acquired an extensive collection of Christmas decorations over the years, including more than 200 ceramic houses, which play a key role in his holiday celebration.
He and his nephews spend five long days creating an elaborate Christmas village each holiday season. They recently received great coverage of his village in a local newspaper and on ABC 7 news. “My parents would have been so proud,” Sonny says.
Sonny belongs to several charitable organizations. He is a member of the board of directors of the Calabresi in America Organization and the Italian American Executives of Transportation, and a member of the Veteran’s Park Senior Club in Melrose Park and the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans. In April of 2015, the Flowers of Italy Club honored Sonny as their Man of the Year.
Sonny pours a tremendous amount of time and effort into his volunteer work. He’s not at all interested in taking bows and usually likes to work behind the scenes. Sonny has assisted the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles, helped with the food pantry and homeless shelter in Melrose Park, assisted in the IAET’s clothing drive, helped secure school supplies for the IAET book bag drive, helped secure toys for IAET’s Christmas Toy Drive for Dreams for Kids, and runs the IAET’s Day at the Races to benefit Orchard Village.
The IAET is very proud to honor Sonny Nicotera as our 2015 Humanitarian and to have him as a board member. He is a great friend to all who know him.