Senatore Renato Turano presented Shirley Fedeli with the Cavaliere dell’Ordine della Stella d’Italia at the Festa della Repubblica celebration hosted by Italian Consul General Adriano Monti on June 2 at the Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago. The award was bestowed by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano upon Shirley in honor of her enormous contributions to the cultural life of the Rockford-area Italian-American community.
“It was one of the most breathtaking feelings I’ve ever experienced!” Shirley exclaimed. “It was so wonderful to be there with my amazing Rockford friends and my entire family, particularly my husband, Gene, and my daughter, Lisa, who have always been there for me with total support.”
The only child of Peter and Catherine (Domino) Martignoni, Shirley was born and raised in Rockford, marrying Eugene Fedeli on Oct. 24, 1959. She earned a bachelor of arts in child development with a minor in history from Rockford College, teaching for nine years at Bloom School and 18 years at St. Peter Cathedral School.
Hailed as a tireless advocate for her heritage for nearly four decades, Shirley also has dedicated her passion, talent and time in the arenas of education and her faith. She helped develop the Atwood Outdoor Education Program for Rockford Public Schools and served as a key member in the development of the social studies curriculum for the Rockford Diocese among countless other accomplishments.
Her honors include the Bishop O’Neill Award for Outstanding Catechist, the NCEA Outstanding Catholic Educator (Honorable Mention), Outstanding Teacher of American History State of Illinois (DAR), Outstanding Teacher of Social Studies (Northwest Region of Illinois), Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in American Education, Who’s Who of American Women, and Woman of the Year for the Rockford Deanery of Diocesan Council of Catholic Woman.
On the Italian-American front, Shirley and Gene were a dynamic duo, spearheading innumerable projects and leaving behind an immeasurable legacy.
They were intimately involved from the inception of two major Italian-American organizations in Rockford: Festa Italiana and the Greater Rockford Italian American Association.
In 1985, they created Amici Italiani, an authentic folk dance troupe that has performed throughout the Midwest, and even took part in the opening ceremonies for the World Cup soccer event held in Chicago in 1994.
In 1989, Shirley was instrumental in founding the Ethnic Heritage Museum, which is dedicated to celebrating the lives and accomplishments of those Italians and other ethnic groups who settled in and helped to create Rockford.
In 1993, the couple established Pappagallo, a cultural newsletter that goes out to nearly 2,000 readers. In 2007, they were instrumental in establishing and organizing a cultural exchange program with the Rockford Sister City of Ferentino.
Shirley has served on the board of the Graham-Ginestra Historical Museum Home, co-chairing its Italian Christmas exhibit and St. Joseph Altar. She co-founded the Italian club La Vita Italiana and served as a board member of the Italian Folk Art Federation, co-chairing their annual conference when it was held in Rockford.
In 1994, they were inducted into the GRIAA Italian American Hall of Fame.
Shirley is particularly proud of the fact that she pursued and eventually attained dual citizenship in Italy as well as America. “Everything I did on behalf of the Italian culture was done with love and passion that will never end,” Shirley affirmed.
For coverage of the Festa della Repubblica celebration, click here.