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20th Anniversary Retrospective

Sicilian American Cultural Association
20th Anniversary Retrospective

The 20-year-old entity, the Sicilian American Cultural Association (SACA), announces its 2015-2016 officers, elected at its regular meeting of its Board of Directors on August 14, 2014. Succeeding the wonderful year prominent family law attorney Samuel Cannizzaro had as president, beginning in January 2015, is long time member and director, Katherine (Amari) O’Dell. Other officers include Ro Pagano, 1st V.P. and retired Circuit Court judge, Gloria Coco, 2nd V.P. Continuing on as treasurer is Dino Porto, founding member, and as secretary, Martha Monastero. All were elected by unanimous vote.

Katherine (Amari) O’Dell

Katherine (Amari) O’Dell

O’Dell, the new president, will assume her responsibilities after the first of the year. “Following Sam Cannizzaro in this role will be very difficult; he kept us on track of our mission statement and promoted our usual and successful cultural events, with some innovative ideas and programs,” says Mrs. O’Dell. Katherine, past president of the Justinian Society of lawyers, as well as The John Marshall Law School Alumni Association, is a senior associate with the real estate tax reduction firm of Amari & Locallo. She has served through all the chairs of the association before assuming its presidency.

SACA, the Sicilian American Cultural Association, was incorporated in the State of Illinois on September 8, 1994, by a handful of proud Sicilians, leaders in their professions and in our ethnic community and all highly respected: Dino Porto, Alfred E. Gallo, Vincent Inserra, the Hon. Anthony Scariano, brothers Joseph and Salvi Monastero, Sr., Emilio Venuti and others. SACA’s mission has and continues to be to support, publicize and promote a greater public awareness of, and interest in Sicily–its art, history, traditions, culture and its people–and to increase the mutual understanding and friendship of its members and others.

It was the avowed purpose of these altruistic community leaders that SACA’s only mission was cultural and eleemosynary and with the only motivation to enhance the Sicilian experience. Since its inception SACA has worked very hard to demonstrate how much Sicily has contributed to the world culturally. It has become an important player on the Chicago’s cultural scene with its two extravaganzas over the years, and other noteworthy events, Vivitalia I and II, held respectively at the Arie Crown Theatre and Medinah Temple. Other events include trips to Sicily, Italian language classes, cooking demonstrations, book readings and reviews, opera, etc.

SACA also has an eleemosynary agenda, making charitable contributions. Just a few of the beneficiaries include Loyola University Chicago (the Italian Studies program, spearheaded by Prof. Dominic Candeloro), scholarship funds at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, and sending $1,000 each year to the Franciscan outreach program to feed the hungry.

In 1994, SACA welcomed friends from the Sicilian province of Agrigento, known as the Valley of the Temples. They traveled to Chicago to help celebrate the inauguration of the cultural association. This included Agrigento’s famous folkloric dancers and singers who performed the traditional dances and music of Sicily.

In 1995, SACA sponsored “Vivitalia Festival.” This included folkloric dancers and singers from eight different regions of Italy. This was an enormous undertaking. They performed at the Arie Crown Theater at McCormick Place before thousands of people. By proclamation, then Mayor Richard M. Daley declared that day as Vivitalia Festival Day. It was a great source of pride for all Italian Americans in the Chicagoland area.

SACA also sponsored a Champagne Brunch honoring all Italian American Appellate Court justices in Illinois, highlighting the significant career of the first ever Italian-American Illinois Supreme Court Justice, Moses W. Harrison II (his mother’s maiden name was Darfado). Until his passing a few years back, Justice Harrison always said the SACA award was one of the most appreciated of all the recognitions and awards of his distinguished career.

Another example of SACA events and activities is a spectacular program entitled “Impressions of Sicily.” This included Paul Simon, former U.S. Senator from Illinois; Abner Mikva, former Justice of the U.S. Court of Appeals and Anthony Scariano, former Justice of the Illinois Appellate Court, and their wives. They all had visited Sicily and they shared their experiences to this fun-filled and historic island of the sun.

Another is when they hosted a Sunday Brunch program entitled “Taste of Opera.” The renowned Mary Petro, a lyric soprano, and Mark McCrory, a baritone, gave a wonderful performance, presenting recognizable and beautifully presented arias.

In 2001, SACA celebrated the distinguished careers of Italian-American past presidents of the 37,000 member Illinois State Bar Association, including this writer, Ralph Gabric, Michael Coccia, Cheryl (Ippolito) Niro and the late Larry Pusateri.

Annually, this wonderful organization sponsors a Medal of Merit brunch, honoring various community leaders, contributors and folks of repute. The social events are usually held at the wonderful Monastero’s restaurant (3935 W. Devon Ave., Chicago), which serves magnificent food in tasteful ethnic surroundings – Sicilian, of course. Honored over the years were leading lawyers and judges, successful businessmen and entrepreneurs, actors, a Consul General of Italy, Presidents of universities and law schools–and from time to time, the folks that aren’t well known on a broader scale, but are to the leaders of our organizations. They’re the folks that do all the work to make the rest of us look better. Accompanying this article is a potpourri of brunch photos taken over the years, almost all of the honorees recognizable to us.

SACA’s agenda for the remainder of the year promises to be exciting. They meet about ten times a year for a monthly dinner meeting at Monastero’s in Chicago (Joe Monastero always plans a special Sicilian meal), which has long been the home of SACA. The dinner meetings are steeped in Sicilian/Italian culture and music. The dinners are open to all, not just members, and at very reasonable prices. They are educational and entertaining and the food as prepared by the Monasteros is exceptional. Everyone is invited to attend. SACA membership is open to all persons of good reputation, regardless of culture, origins or ethnic backgrounds, provided they are dedicated to the same principles, goals and objectives as embraced by SACA. For events, details, or for membership information, contact SACA secretary Martha Monastero at belcantojo@aol.com or 773-588-2515.

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Katherine (Amari) O’Dell

Katherine (Amari) O’Dell

About Leonard F. Amari

Leonard F. Amari is a founding, co-managing partner of Amari & Locallo, a law firm that focuses exclusively on real estate tax assessment issues. He is a J.D. recipient from The John Marshall Law School, with honors. Amari has been a John Marshall trustee since 2000 and was elected president of the board in 2007. He is past president of the Illinois State Bar Association, a member of the Chicago Bar Association’s State and Local Taxation Committee, and a member and past president of the Justinian Society of Lawyers. He has received numerous honors from many organizations recognizing his service.

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