Tireless community leader Jo Ann Serpico joined the ranks of the Cavaliere dell’Ordine della Stella d’Italia at a special ceremony at the Italian Consulate in Chicago on Dec. 11. The honor was bestowed by Consul General Giuseppe Finocchiaro on behalf of Italian President Sergio Mattarella.
“My parents [Joseph R. and Ella (Cataldo) Salerno] were born in America yet instilled a love of our Italian heritage in their daughters,” Jo Ann explains. “I am honored that Senatore Renato Turano and Commendatore Dominic Di Frisco support my position in the community, and I’m extremely honored that the president of Italy deems me worthy of this ultimate award.”
Jo Ann has been immersed in the activities of the community since birth thanks to the unwavering involvement of her father. “My father was a member of every Italian society, club and lodge in the Chicago area,” she fondly recalls. “It’s only natural that I followed his example of promoting Italian values and traditions.”
One of the founders of the Rosario D. Salerno Sons Funeral Homes, he was an early organizer of the Chicago-area Italian American community, a member of the Selective Service Board, the founder of the Roosevelt Loan Company and candidate for the Illinois Senate.
He was one of the founders of the Italian Welfare Council, the precursor of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, and he helped to create an Italian-American community center in McHenry where Jo Ann and her sisters, Rosaria and Theresa, spent the summers.
Jo Ann graduated from St. Mary’s High School, attended Marquette University, and graduated from Worsham College of Mortuary Science. She married Philip Serpico in 1961 and raised three children — Philip, Joseph and Christopher. Before long, Jo Ann became involved in Elmwood Park, where she and her husband made their home.
Over the decades, she has served as a village health inspector, Republican precinct captain and committeewoman and village trustee, and she has held leadership positions in the Elm School PTA and the Elmwood Park Women’s Club, Infant Welfare Society and Friends of the Library. She served as a health facility surveyor of the Illinois Department of Public Health for 25 years.
In 1990, she became a member of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans and rose through the ranks to become its second woman president. Jo Ann is also a past president of the Calabresi in America Organization and Maroons Ladies Club, past secretary of the Italo American Soccer and Social Club “Maroons” and the Italian American War Veterans Joseph Gentile Post #2.
A perennial attendee at dinner dances across the Chicago area and throughout the year, she is an active member of the Italian American Women’s Organization; Italian American War Veterans Guido Belmonte Post #4 Auxiliary; JCCIA Women’s Division and West Suburban Women’s Division; Società San Francesco di Paola; and an honorary member of the Italian American Executives of Transportation.
Jo Ann chaired the 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004 JCCIA Man of the Year Dinner Dance and the 2003, 2005 and 2006 Italian Cultural Center’s Person of the Year Dinner Dance. She is also an active member of the Casa Italia board of directors, and has served as the executive director of the JCCIA since 2010.
Over the years, Jo Ann has been honored by the Italo American Soccer and Social Club “Maroons,” Italian American Executives of Transportation, Cook County Board President John Stroger, Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, Illinois Department of Public Health, Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, JCCIA Women’s Division, Order Sons of Italy in America State Grand Lodge, Sons and Daughters of Italy in America, Italian American Police Association, Comune di Campofelice di Roccella, Provincia di Palermo, the Italian American Political Coalition and the Comboni Missionaries.
All that she has done, she has done for her father. “I imagine him looking down on me from heaven and feeling a sense of pride that his daughter was able to achieve what he once did so long ago.”