Italian Consul General Adriano Monti presented Josette Mentesana Weber with the Cavaliere dell’Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana at the consulate’s Festa della Repubblica celebration on June 2 at the Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago. The award was bestowed by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano upon Josette in honor of her contributions to the preservation of the Italian language and culture in the Chicago area.
“This honor would have made my parents very happy and proud,” Josette said. “To me, it is both an exhortation and a responsibility to do more for our community, especially for the children.”
A woman of many interests and talents, Josette is a high-energy person who has had an enormous impact on the cultural landscape of her community. Born in Campofelice di Fitalia, a small town 20 minutes away from Palermo in Sicily, Josette came to Chicago with her parents, Giuseppe and Benedetta Mentesana, when she was 15 years old.
A graduate of Mundelein College and the University of Chicago with a master’s degree, she taught Italian for 20 years both in high school and college, and was instrumental in devising and implementing the first Italian curriculum in the Chicago Public Schools.
In 1970, the Rev. August Feccia called upon Josette and a small group of individuals to cofound the Italian Cultural Center. There she implemented the Italian curriculum for adults and children and taught Italian for about 10 years. Today, the ICC at Casa Italia teaches Italian classes to adults and children at more than 10 locations throughout the Chicago area. In 2006, she was honored by the ICC as Person of the Year.
Josette is a member of the board of directors of Casa Italia, and the chairperson of the Casa’s Italian language program and cultural programs and activities. Over the years at the Casa, she has founded the Sicilian Heritage Museum, the Fall Festival, the Italian Film Festival and the Italian Music Festival.
Seven years ago, Josette established the Casa’s Italian language immersion camp, a four-week, six-hour day camp for children ages 4 to 13 years old. The purpose of the camp is to teach and promote the Italian language and heritage to children of our community as well as other ethnic groups. The campers play bocce and soccer; learn Italian through games, songs and skits; dance Italian folk dances; learn to bake and cook Italian food specialties; plant a traditional Italian garden; celebrate the Venetian Carnevale; and have a toga party while learning about the history of ancient Rome, among countless other activities.
“The children are our future. Giving them the opportunity to learn the language and the culture of their forebears and promoting all that is good and positive in our heritage will make them proud of their country of origin,” she explains. “Investing time and resources educating them must continue to be our top priority. In doing so, we will be able to preserve our culture and traditions for future generations.”
Josette is involved in various endeavors of a philanthropic nature and is also a member of Women of Vision and the Sicilian American Cultural Association. Additionally, she manages the family real estate business and is on the board of the Family Consumer Finance Company.
She shares her successes with her husband, Alberto; and her children, Mario and Adriana. She dedicates all of her efforts in loving memory of her parents, sharing the credit for her accomplishments with many others.
“I praise all the individuals and organizations who continuously and tirelessly sponsor all cultural programs for our youth,” she says. “They have the gratitude of the entire community.”
For coverage of the Festa della Repubblica celebration, click here.