“Hi, grandpa, can I help you?” an energetic young boy calls out. “Can I help grandpa?” Another anxious young voice asks. The pleas are from the two young children of the fourth generation of the Marco DeStefano family. They’re hoping that their grandpa, Louis Rago, the Columbus Day Parade Marshal, will let them be a part of putting the Columbus Day Parade on paper.
Since 1952 this has been a family tradition. Marco and his son-in-law Louis, who joined in 1967, was followed by Louis’ sons, Joseph and Anthony, who have become an active part in the parade preparation. Now, Gabriella, Mia Louis and Michael are awaiting their turn to put their mark on the map. This is far more exciting than Christmas, the grandchildren will tell you. For the entire community it is an exhilarating day where we display our passion for our heritage.
Well before 7 a.m. on that day, carloads of participants will pull into the Casa Italia parking lot, making sure they are ready for the 7:30 a.m. departure for the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii. Busload after busload will arrive in time for a cup of coffee prior to the 9:00 a.m. Mass. Father Fragomeni and his staff will welcome all at the magnificent bronze doors of this historic church of our childhood. There is nothing more awe inspiring than the coming together at Pompeii for this special day.
The Mass begins with the Knights of Columbus outfitted in their plumed regalia, followed by the Italian American War Veterans Color Guard and the celebrants and the concelebrants. When the Mass is over, the Marist Marching Band, pulsating with the music of “God Bless America,” will lead us to Arrigo Park for the Sons of Italy Wreath Laying Ceremony. There will be enough time afterward for a cup of coffee and a donut before the buses reload for Columbus Drive. Meanwhile, a second caravan of buses will depart from Casa Italia and go directly to the parade route.
Our theme this year — “Unity of Italy/Unity of Community” — will honor Consul General Alessandro Motto as Parade Chairman. What a fitting recognition for a truly exemplary individual! Joining him in leadership roles will be Honorary Parade Marshal Josette Mentesana Weber, who has been instrumental in the creation of the Sicilian Museum and the Italian language summer camps at the Casa, and Celebrity Parade Marshal Buddy Valastro, the star of TLC’s popular “Cake Boss.” All three will walk in the front line with our president, Antonio Romanucci, followed by dignitaries, elected officials and presidents of affiliated organizations wearing their red, white and green sashes. The Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, carrying Queen Isabella and Christopher Columbus, will sail down Columbus Drive, with Columbus Day Queen Bianca Scola and her court — Elisa DeFeo-Romanucci, Vittoria Martello, Marisa Panzarino and Tessa Sassolino — floating proudly in their wake to the roar of the crowd.
Hundreds of bands, marchers and units will strut their stuff as they pass the reviewing stand. Leading the way will be Coro Presanella, a 40-member all-male choral group from Pinzolo from Pinzolo in Val Rendena in the Trentino/Aldo Adige region of Italy. In the ABC-TV booth, televised live on the World Wide Web, Mark Giangreco, Janet Davies and our own President Emeritus, Dominick DiFrisco, will be announcing the parade from the script written so carefully and so articulately by our Past President Joanne Spata. It’s all done to perfection. Marie Palello, our Executive Secretary, has been working on parade logistics for months and the final product reflects hundreds of hours of planning.
After the last float has passed the reviewing stand, it’s back to Casa Italia for a post-parade reception of epic proportions. The Festival Center at the Casa will be brilliantly decorated in red, white and green for the return of thousands of parade participants. All are welcome. An array of delicious Italian specialties will be presented by food chairmen Tony Turano and Domenico Gambino. Everyone will eat, drink and be merry! The Italian choral group will share the stage with local talent for a beautiful finish to a marvelous day.
Just like the fourth generation of the Marco DeStefano family, let us all don our red, white and green and come together on Balbo Drive on Oct. 10 to share our pride!