Eighty-one years ago, on June 28, 1936, Des Moines Mayor Joseph Allen officiated at the dedication services of Columbus Park, formerly Walker Park, on Des Moines’ south side. Over 1,000 people were in attendance at the dedication ceremonies, which were sponsored by the Columbus Club in cooperation with all the other Italian-American societies in the city.
A bronze plaque was unveiled during the ceremony and presented by John Rossi, chairman of the celebration, to Mayor Allen who in turn presented it to E. Lee Keyser, parks commissioner.
Dr. Walter Kirch, of the Columbus Club, delivered the principal address of the afternoon before the formal dedication services. During his brief talk, he stressed particularly the value of citizens of Italian descent to the United States. Before speaking in English, he said a few words in Italian for the benefit of the older persons attending. He told them how he liked his country to the extent that he was made an American citizen three weeks earlier.
“In spite of the fact that the Italian people in this country came here for the most part, poor, uneducated and ignorant of English, they have by hard work and thrift in the last 70 years achieved an economic and political importance in this country that demands consideration. This should be used constructively and not for political graft,” said Dr. Kirch.
Dr. Kirch said that the Italians have contributed to the building of America by their very thriftiness which enabled them to survive on the low wages which industry found necessary to pay in the early building stages. He urged that Italians retain their racial pride.
Joseph Petosa, master of ceremonies,introduced all of the speakers on the program during the day.
Mayor Allen congratulated the Italian-Americans of this city for their hard work and perseverance before presenting the plaque made by the Columbus club to the Parks Commissioner, Mr. Keyser. Mr. Keyser accepted the plaque stating that it was a great pleasure to have the opportunity of participating in the celebration in honor of the occasion. He said he hoped that Columbus Park would become a center for all reunions for the Italian-Americans of the city as it was named for their very illustrious countryman and discoverer of America.
Henry HasBrouck, Commissioner of Public Safety, another guest of the club, also said a few words commending the club and the group for its splendid attention and interest in the park and in all things that had to do with the civic life of the people of the community. He said that he was most happy to be able to attend the celebration Sunday and hoped to attend every one in the future held at the park by this and any other group.
“I feel that the Italian-Americans of our city have done enough for the city of Des Moines to be entitled to this recognition of their great countryman,” concluded Mr. HasBrouck.
With no further speeches on the program a 50-piece band played a number of selections and the young peopIe joined in the athletic contests of the afternoon on the park grounds. Prizes were awarded to the winners of these games and contests by Dr. Ralph DeCicco, president of the Columbus club.
A dedication dance was held at the Societa Stemma D’Italia hall in the evening. Joe Gazzo and his orchestra played for the American dancing from 9 till 11 pm, while Arthur Nizzi and Joseph Zanotti, accordionists, played for the Italian folk dancing from 7 to 9 pm.
With the dedication of Columbus Park completed successfully, the Columbus Club began laying plans for the erection of a memorial for Columbus in the capital city of Iowa. The Columbus memorial was eventually dedicated on Columbus Day, 1938 at the State Capitol grounds.
– from the American Citizen newspaper, July 3, 1936.