Italian Heritage Month Events

Columbus Day Dinner

This year will mark the 40th anniversary of the renewed Columbus Day dinner. The event will be held at the Vittoria Lodge on Sunday, October 11, 2015. Doors open at 5:00 pm and dinner, catered by Pagano’s Italian Kitchen, will be served at 5:30 pm.

Pagano’s Italian Kitchen also catered this year’s St. Joseph’s Day luncheon to rave reviews. Click here to view the Columbus Day dinner menu.

After the dinner, a program will be provided including the presentation of the Outstanding Citizen Awards.

Advanced reservations are required. The reservations can be made by calling chairman Randy Prati at 515-321-8941 or the Italian American Cultural Center of Iowa at 515-280-3719. Tickets are $35 per person and can be obtained at the Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa. They will also be available at the September meetings of the Vittoria Italiana Lodge, the Society of Italian Americans and their auxiliaries.


Columbus Day Memorial Observance

At 11:00 AM on Monday, October 12, 2015, the 77th annual observance of Columbus Day will be held at Iowa’s Columbus monument, located on the south lawn of the Iowa State Capitol.

Participants will include the Bellizzi-MacRae American Legion Color Guard, the 4th Degree Knights of Columbus, this year’s festival queen Ms. Alexis Blonigan, and members of Gruppo Il Trattenimento Italiano Italian Folk Dancers.

Those who would like to walk in the short procession to the statue should meet at 10:45 in the parking lot immediately north of the area. Everyone is invited to attend and support the unity of the Des Moines area Italian-American community.

An Evening in Turin

torino_nightThe Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa is pleased to host “An Evening In Turin” fundraising dinner to be held Wednesday, November 11, 2015 at the Embassy Club West.

Dinner will be prepared by visiting chefs Antonio and Stefano Latini. Together, the father/son team own Villa Somis and Nove Merli restaurants near Turin, the capital city of the Piedmont region of Italy.

Tickets for the fundraising dinner are $150/each or a table of 10 can be purchased for $1,300. Please contact Paola Bartesaghi at or call the cultural center at (515) 280-3719 for more information.

This fundraising dinner will be the first of many events that the Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa will be organizing. The purpose is to highlight each region in Italy through their culinary history. All of the Italian regions will be showcased by a dinner prepared by expert chefs from the designated region.


Italian Ambassador Visits Cultural Center


The Honorable Claudio Bisogniero with Cultural Center Director Patricia Civitate (left) and President Jo Anna Schmeling (right).

The Honorable Claudio Bisogniero, Italian Ambassador now serving in Washington, DC, was guest of honor at a reception held December 4th at the Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa. Ambassador Bisogniero officially took the reins as Italy’s ambassador to the U.S. on February 6th.

Born in Rome, Italy on July 2, 1954, Claudio Bisogniero earned a degree in Political Science from the University of Rome in 1976, and served as an officer in the Italian Army in 1976 and 1977. He then entered the Italian Foreign Service in May, 1978.

Late in 1992 Bisogniero was posted for the first time to the U.S. to serve as first counselor for economic and commercial affairs at the embassy in Washington, D.C., with special focus on financial issues, the IMF and World Bank, and defense industry co-operation. After four years in Washington, he moved north to New York, to serve at the Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nation, with primary responsibilities for political affairs and UN reform. In 1998 he returned to Rome to serve at the Foreign Affairs Ministry for the next 8 years.

Ambassador Bisogniero with board members of the Italian American Cultural Center of Iowa.

Ambassador Bisogniero with board members of the Italian American Cultural Center of Iowa.

From 1999 to 2002, Bisognero served in the Personnel Department and later at the Office of the Secretary General, as direct collaborator with the Secretary General. In February 2002 Bisogniero was appointed deputy director general for political multilateral affairs, responsible for NATO, the United Nations, G8, disarmament, OSCE, anti-terrorism and human rights issues. In June 2005 he became director for the Americas, with responsibility for the relations with the nations of the Western Hemisphere, including the U.S. In October 2007 Bisogniero was named NATO Deputy Secretary General, serving in Brussels until late 2011 when he was named ambassador to the U.S.

Ambassador Bisogniero with Polk County Supervisors (L-R) Angela Connolly, Tom Hockensmith and John Mauro.

Ambassador Bisogniero with Polk County Supervisors (L-R) Angela Connolly, Tom Hockensmith and John Mauro.

Consulate General of Italy Marco Gracioso, whose office is in the Consulate in Chicago, accompanied Ambassador Bisogniero while visiting the mid-west. Also in attendance at the reception were members of the Des Moines City Council, the Polk County Board of Supervisors, members of the Board of Governors of the Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa as well as representatives from the Society of Italian-Americans, the Societa Vittoria Italiana and ladies of their auxiliaries.

Ambassador Bisogniero expressed his extreme pleasure of being at the reception and during his visit to the Cultural Center and told those in attendance that he was impressed with the manner in which the Italian Culture and Heritage is being displayed at the Center. He also congratulated the Board for not only preserving but also shared their Italian heritage with generations both old and young alike. Click here to view the letter from the Ambassador.

St. Joseph’s Altar Celebration Video

2014 St. Joseph’s Altar Photos

2013 St. Joseph Altar Celebration

Thank you to all of the volunteers and attendees of the 16th annual St. Joseph Altar Celebration, held at the Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa on March 18th and 19th, 2013.

Doors opened at 5:30 PM on Monday, March 18th.  Msgr. Frank Chiodo, pastor of St. Anthony parish in Des Moines, blessed the altar following the children’s “tupa tupa” (knocking) pageant.  A traditional Lenten meal was then served family style after the blessing.

Altar visitations continued on Tuesday, March 19th, the feast of St. Joseph, patron of families and laborers.   Refreshments were provided during the day, and a luncheon was served from 11:00 AM until 2:00 PM.  The celebration concluded with the incineration of petitions.

Both days were open to the public free of charge, while a free-will offering was accepted.  All attending either of the celebrations were given a gift bag containing a St. Joseph prayer card, St. Joseph medal, blessed bread and the traditional “lucky” fava bean.  All proceeds, as well as the fruits, vegetables, breads, pastries and financial contributions were distributed to the St. Joseph Shelter, the Bidwell Center and the Catholic Worker House.

Please enjoy the photos from this year’s event:

Cultural Center Holds 37th Annual Columbus Day Dinner

The Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa held the 37th annual Columbus Day Dinner Party on Sunday, October 7, 2012 at the Forte Banquet and Convention Center in downtown Des Moines.  A full crowd of 118 attendees enjoyed a delicious Italian meal, but the highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Outstanding Citizen Awards.

This year, the Board of Governors of the cultural center awarded Outstanding Citizen Awards to Lisa Vivone Cruchelow, Nancy Stefani and Rose Leo Grandanette (posthumously).

Special thanks to Randy Prati for a great job organizing this year’s dinner.

Below is a slideshow of photos from this wonderful event.

Italian American Cultural Center of Iowa Considers New Home

Story by Jeff Eckhoff, Des Moines Register, July 31, 2012

Ralph Marasco stands outside the Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa, 1961 Indianola Ave. in Des Moines, earlier this month. / Rodney White/The Register

Ralph Marasco stands outside the Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa, 1961 Indianola Ave. in Des Moines, earlier this month. / Rodney White/The Register

Ralph Marasco looks at construction equipment sitting on a triangular piece of property southeast of downtown Des Moines and sees possibility — or at least potential.

What if, one day, this storage space for scrap metal on Southeast First Street became a focal point for Italian culture? What if, one day, people flocked to cooking classes, language classes or fashion shows at what would then become a southern anchor of a newly revitalized Des Moines riverwalk?

“The goal is to create a focal point for the preservation, protection and promotion of the culture,” said Marasco, 70. “Obviously, everything is depending on the dollars.”

Ralph Marasco looks at land south of the Des Moines River that could be the future home of the Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa. ROdney White/The Register / Rodney White/The Register

Ralph Marasco looks at land south of the Des Moines River that could be the future home of the Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa. Rodney White/The Register / Rodney White/The Register

Marasco, the son of a Des Moines baker whose bread company once sat on the site of the current Italian-American Cultural Center in south Des Moines, now is the point person for a $165,000 study focused on finding that facility a new home.

The center, at 1961 Indianola Ave., has existed since the early 1980s as a combination south-side meeting hall, museum and genealogical library aimed at charting the progress of Italians through Iowa’s history. Wedding photos from across the state hang in the same room with displays commemorating, among other things, Iowa’s Italian entertainers, its Italian-owned businesses and its priests. But the museum over the years has become cramped for space. And the kitchen, where they still hold classes and prepare cultural dinners, is outdated.

The question is what anybody can do about it.

The $165,000 — money that includes $65,000 from a pot of gambling revenue controlled by the Polk County supervisors and $99,250 that the center raised, mostly, from what Marasco describes as a single anonymous benefactor — is slated to be spent over the next few months to study moving to the former home of Gillotti Construction. The Gillotti land, roughly 6.5 acres located south of the Des Moines River and just east of Mullets bar, would provide more than enough space for the cultural center.

The cultural center's museum has become cramped for space. Marasco is leading a study investigating the possibility of relocating to a spot on Southeast First Street and building a new center. / Rodney White/ Register photos

The cultural center's museum has become cramped for space. Marasco is leading a study investigating the possibility of relocating to a spot on Southeast First Street and building a new center. / Rodney White/ Register photos

Polk County Supervisor John Mauro said there’s probably enough room on the property to eventually develop an Italian restaurant, Italian bakery and perhaps an Italian market.

“I think it would be an excellent deal if they could do the entire project,” Mauro said. “To me, it’s a great thing. It’s got some life, and I’m going to push for it.”

The question is whether it will work.

Experts plan to spend the next few months studying things like the center’s environmental and architectural needs, Marasco said. They’ll also need to explore government grant options, such as a pot of federal money that might help officials build a new energy-efficient building. Lastly, there will be a marketing study to find out whether it’s possible to raise enough money to build it.

Polk County records show the center, a regular recipient of grants from Polk’s gambling-funded Community Betterment program, has received $90,000 over the past four years alone.

Mauro on Monday downplayed the possibility of specific future grants for land acquisition.

“I’m sure we’d like to be part of it, but we can’t be a big part of it,” Mauro said. “The Italian community’s going to have to step up also. It can’t just be everybody else.”

Exact details of what will be included in a proposed new building will be determined as part of the feasibility process. But Marasco said his thoughts are of a roughly 25,000-square-foot structure that uses geothermal heating. It would be regularly filled with classes, events and traveling exhibits showing Italian culture.

“If somebody’s 2 or 92, there ought to be something there for them to do two or three times a year,” Marasco said.

And plenty to look at, he added. Like maybe, for example, a borrowed Ferrari in the lobby? Possibilities are endless.

“You let this go,” he said, “and it just gets wild.”

Cultural Center to Display Works of Artist DeGrazia

"Little Girl Paints DeGrazia", by Ettore (Ted) Degrazia

The Board of Governors of the Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa is proud to announce that signature plates of artist Ettore (Ted) DeGrazia are now on display in the museum.  Included are “My First Horse,” “Love Me” and a DeGrazia self-portrait entitled “Little Girl Paints DeGrazia.”  Miniature plates in the collection include “Sunflower Boy” and “Flower Boy.”

The son of Italian immigrants, Ettore (Ted) DeGrazia was born on June 14, 1909 in the mining camp of Morencia, Arizona.  He became one of Arizona’s most prominent painters, illustrators and graphic artists.  His signature works are paintings and illustrations of angel-like Southwest children.

DeGrazia’s immigrant father was an Italian copper miner and DeGrazia took a four-year family trip to Italy in 1920.  He lived most of his life near Tuscon and worked in his studio which he called “The Gallery of the Sun.”  It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Ettore (Ted) DeGrazia

DeGrazia’s commercial success grew to include an international audience in the 1960’s, beginning with UNICEF featuring his painting “Los Ninos” on their greeting cards.

His vibrant images and bold strokes that most notably celebrate the Southwest and children have made him one of the most reproduced artists in the past five decades.  He is self-described as “the world’s most reproduced artist.”  DeGrazia died in 1982.

Visiting hours for the Cultural Center museum are Wednesday afternoons from 1:30 – 3:30 p.m. and Sunday afternoons from 3:00 – 5:00 p.m.. The Center is also open by appointment by calling 515-244-4672 or 515-250-8804.


Iowans Receive Message from Mayor of Terravecchia, Italy

Mayor Mauro Santora of Terravecchia, Italy, has prepared the following video message for the 2011 Oelwein Italian Heritage Day.  The video also includes family photos of those who immigrated to Iowa from Terravecchia and their families.  Also included are photos of Terravecchia taken by Donna Debartolo from her recent trip there.

Below the video is the English translation of Mayor Santora’s message.

Hello, my name is Mauro Santoro, Mayor of Terravecchia.  Greetings to all of you who are originally from Terravecchia and  who now live in the United States.  I send you all my personal regards, along with the regards of my administration, the Vice Mayor, our City Council and all the citizens of Terravecchia.  All of us feel very close to all of you who have lived for many years in the United States of America.

In particular, I remember from my research, that there were many families who left Terravecchia  from the years 1901 through 1923 and emigrated to the United States. In particular, I cite the descendants of these emigrants who, even though they have never seen Terravecchia, maintain their connections to our city.   Above all, when they offer their contributions for our patron saint Madonna del Carmine’s feast day. This event is honored and celebrated each year on the first Tuesday after Easter. We celebrate her day with lots of great music and entertainment for one and all.

I would like to acknowledge some of the families who emigrated from Terravecchia, especially the  families Comite, Leo, members of the Pigneri family, Raiolo,  Pisano, Farago, the families Sposato, Baratta, Brufonaro, Rizzuti, Bisignano, Santoro, Alessio, Vulcano, Scigliano, Scorpiniti,  Liguori,  Pirillo, Filippelli, Ciangiaruso, Marasco and Amodeo. Surely I am forgetting some family names, but you must forgive me because these are some very old surnames and it is difficult to remember all of them. However,  I remember all of those fellow citizens who found it necessary leave Terravecchia for America. I send special greeting to the children, grandchildren and all the relatives of our emigrants.

I am very happy to hear that you all get together each year to celebrate and to remember your roots.  The community of Terravecchia feels very close to all of you. I want you to know that I, and the city administration, feel very close to all of you. We thank you for your monetary gifts, especially  those you sent to us after the World Wars.  These gifts helped to sustain the families here and helped them emerge from a disastrous situation.

I am happy  that many of you  and your family members, feel the desire and the need to rediscover your roots and come here to visit us.  I am very passionate about historical research and have written six books about Terravecchia.  It pleases me greatly when I am able to provide historical data which helps people connect to their roots in Terravecchia.

I invite all of you to come to Terravecchia. I, along with some of my City’s officials,  hope to visit all of you in America to participate in one of your reunions there so that you will feel even closer to the community of Terravecchia and shorten the geographical distance between us.

Terravecchia remains a very small town, but one that is growing economically. A town that keeps the old memories and traditions alive. For example, in the way in which we celebrate the feast of our Patron Saint Madonna del Carmine each Spring with great honor. This year  2011, in particular, we are having a party  to celebrate 90 years of our re-establishment as an autonomous  city.  In 1910 Terravecchia was assumed as a part of the City of Cariati, and then in 1921, Terravecchia was re-established as a separate city. We announce with joy that in August, our Church of Santa Maria will be named a Diocesan Sanctuary by our Archbishop, Santo Marciano. This is a great honor for us, to be recognized.  To know and understand our deeply religious history is a boost for the city as many pilgrims and visitors will come here to pray.

I renew my best regards to all of you, your families, and encourage you to maintain this connection.  And I, along with other city officials, hope to visit you all in America soon.   Again, I thank you for your attention.  Best wishes and prosperity to all of you. Have fun and our very best to you all.