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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.

Cultural Center Receives Generous Gift

The Italian American Cultural Center of Iowa recently received a $10,000 bequest from the estate of Joseph D. Civitate, a long-time volunteer and generous financial contributor to the Center.

Donald, as he was known to family and friends alike, participated in all events at the Center – usually as a volunteer.  He was a generous contributor to previous fund drives.  Donald assisted monthly in the assembly and mailing of the Cultural Center Newsletter for at least 15 years and is still remembered when the volunteers gather and talk of days gone by.  He also enjoyed dealing cards at the Las Vegas Nights sponsored by the Center.  The steps and ramp from the south piazza were financed by Donald in memory of his late wife Leila.

Needless to say, the Board of Governors will always be grateful for his support.  Donald is gone – but not forgotten.