by Jo Ann Serpico
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. After too long an absence from State Street, our community was longing for a return to our original parade route.
“State Street, That Great Street” was the staging ground for one of the most fabulous Columbus Day parades in Chicago in years. The Carnevale characters, the man on stilts, the clowns, the marching bands, the procession of floats teeming with men, women and children happy to be a part of our phenomenal display, all made for a celebration beyond compare.
Giovanni Gullo, this years exceptional Parade Chairman, led the front line with JCCIA President Frank Cerrone, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Governor Pat Quinn, Consul General Adriano Motti, Teamsters Joint Council 25 President John Coli, the Grand Marshal, Roberto Ruffolo, and the Honorary Grand Marshal, Francis Ferrone. Ron Onesti of Onesti Entertainment took it up a notch with local entertainers interspersed on floats singing songs of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. What an appealing addition to the festivities!
The Queen Pageant, choreographed by Marilyn Cusimano Fredericks, selected the Columbus Day Queen, Regina Chelsea Clementi Latoria Baker, and her lovely court, Maria DiPrizio, Nikkie Porcaro Haines, Bianca Vitucci Lev and Elizabeth Romano. They were pictures of poise and beauty. The rain added another dimension to our extravaganza as it was totally ignored by thousands of participants and the thousands lining the parade route.
It was 1492 all over again, with the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria came sailing down State Street carrying Columbus, portrayed by Anthony Reboletti, and Isabella, portrayed by Ashley Marcheschi Samata.
Parade Marshal Louis Rago and sons, Joseph and Anthony, kept every marching band, float and marching unit moving in order and sequence past the reviewing stand, where Elmwood Park president Angelo “Skip” Saviano, DuPage County Board Commissioner Peter Di Cianni and Richard Pellegrino read the script identifying the line of march. Dominic DiFrisco, our President Emeritus, was in the sound booth along with Janet Davies and Mark Giancreco, both of ABC TV, announcing for the live coverage on the World Wide Web and on ABC’s cable station.
The day started in our traditional fashion with Mass at the Shrine of our Lady of Pompeii. Fr. Fragomeni officiated and Fr. Belmonte delivered the homily addressing the “Italian Heroes of the Holocaust,” the theme for the parade this year. This was a much-delayed recognition of the heroes and humanitarians in Italy during World War II.
The Knights if Columbus, the Italian American War Veterans, the Order Sons of Italy, community leaders and representatives of all Italian American organizations filled the shrine. The Marist High School Marching Band, led by Andrew Craigh, entered in all their glory playing “God Bless America.” At the end of Mass the band led everyone to Arrigo Park for the wreath-laying ceremony led by Marie Marsalli, president of the Order Sons of Italy in America’s Illinois/Wisconsin Grand Lodge.
With all of the ceremonies at Pompeii completed, everyone was invited to the church basement, which in itself is a landmark of our community. Everyone enjoyed a continental breakfast provided by Mariano’s and served by the Ladies Guild of Pompeii before proceeding to the Parade route.
When the last float passed, the last band sounded and the final cheers were heard on State Street, we all proceeded to Casa Italia. Reception Chairperson Domenico Gambino and a host of committee members and volunteers planned and executed the perfect Abbondanza Buffet that was delicious, plentiful and so fulfilling after our long day of celebration. What a grand display of camaraderie!
Ron Onesti had even more entertainment for us in store, featuring the Bronx Wanderers. Everyone danced and enjoyed the day. What a grand finale to the most Italian day of the year.