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Italian traditions live on with club
Italian traditions live on with club
By SUE REID
On the last Wednesday of each month, nearly 70 men of Italian descent come together at the Solon Veterans of Foreign Wars Post on Pettibone Road to carry on a time-honored tradition.
It involves food, camaraderie and a true celebration of what it means to be Italian, all of which have been at the backbone of the Solon Italian Club for nearly 40 years.
"We are a collection of Italian men of a wide range of ages," Solon resident and club member Dennis Castiglione said. The club's oldest member is 102 and the youngest are right out of high school, he said. The club has been in existence since 1972.
"The one thing that is constant is that we are a group that clings to its heritage," Mr. Castiglione said.
So much so that many of the meals prepared in the kitchen of the VFW for the monthly meetings originate from recipes of the parents, grandparents and great-grandparents of many of the club's members.
"There are foods that many of us ate as children," said Mr. Castiglione, a member since 1999. "Here we are cooking those same meals again and again." Menus feature a variety of Italian dishes, and club members make their own sausage and wine.
"Not only are the members doing it together," Mr. Castiglione said of the cooking, but our children are there as well. "It gives us an opportunity to teach and to share and for them to grasp their heritage more completely."
While cooking is a key component of the club, which is comprised of 154 active members, it is not all that the group is about, Mr. Castiglione said.
"We do a lot of things very quietly," he said. "The club is more than a bunch of Italian guys getting together to play bocce and drink wine."
Above all, it is a group that continuously reaches out, he said. An example is its current involvement with raising funds for the victims of an earthquake that struck the Italian region of Abruzzi in early April.
"There are club members who have family in that region," Mr. Castiglione said. He also has ties there, as a close friend of his is currently there with her mother, whose home was destroyed by the earthquake and was moved to a nearby hospital.
The Solon Italian Club began collecting for the earthquake relief effort at its annual Easter Egg Hunt and spring dinner dance. Since then, they joined forces to form the nonprofit Abruzzo Earthquake Fund of Northeast Ohio in early May. The group, comprised of 21 Northern Ohio Italian American organizations, actively fund raises to aid the entire region of Abruzzi.
"We have begun selling merchandise and staging events for fund-raising activities," Mr. Castiglione said. That includes going to local fairs and various Italian festivals in the region. The group already has raised tens of thousands of dollars for their cause.
"We plan it as a yearlong effort," Mr. Castiglione said. "It's hard to keep awareness beyond that."
The Solon Italian Club's more high-profile involvements in the city include its yearly involvement with the Easter Egg Hunt.
"We just completed our 25th year of hosting the Easter Egg Hunt in Solon in cooperation with the city," Mr. Castiglione said. The club underwrites the entire event, which is held the Saturday of Easter week, and stuffs over 10,000 plastic eggs with candy each year. The event draws over 1,000 children.
"That is something that is ongoing," Mr. Castiglione said.
The club is also known for donating yearly scholarships to young men and women of Italian descent. The Solon Italian Club awards $12,000 to $15,000 a year in scholarships and is second only to the Solon Parent Teachers Association in terms of volume and number of scholarships given, Mr. Castiglione said.
There are three different types of scholarships awarded, Mr. Castiglione said. One is awarded based on application through the Solon School District's guidance office and another is given in cooperation with the Italian American Cultural Foundation, which is an essay contest open to freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors. The third scholarship is a gift to the children of the Solon Italian Club membership based on their longevity with the club.
"The primary reason for the existence of the Italian club was to raise funds for scholarships that could be gifted to students of Italian descent to go on to college," Mr. Castiglione said.
Other fund-raising events put on by the club include its annual dinner-dance reverse raffle each spring and an annual golf outing. This year's outing, which took place last week at Grantwood Golf Course, routinely is held the last Friday in July each year. Also in the past few years, club members hosted a casino tent at Home Days.
Socially, the club hosts an annual Christmas party, in which members and their children are encouraged to bring goods that can be packed and shipped to troops overseas. The Christmas party, like many of the club's events, embraces the Italian culture, Mr. Castiglione said.
"It's not only about celebrating the holiday, but also introducing the Italian tradition to it," he said. "We're trying to instill that same kind of maintenance of tradition and acceptance of culture."
Over the last couple of years, the club has placed a stronger emphasis on embracing its culture and heritage through education, Mr. Castiglione said. An example of that is the fact that the Solon Italian Club was the first Italian club in Northeast Ohio to step forward with a cash donation to help with the renovation of the Italian Cultural Gardens in Cleveland. The club is entering its third year of involvement with the gardens, Mr. Castiglione said.
"It's an opportunity for us to give back," he said.
The Solon Italian Club, which is open to men from age 18, charges $60 annually for dues. "You consume that value in the first three meetings in terms of food," Mr. Castiglione said with a laugh. "We feed ourselves pretty well."
Currently, nearly 40 percent of the club's members reside outside of Solon, Mr. Castiglione said. The club opened its membership about a decade ago. Mr. Castiglione said the decision was based on the declining population of Italians in Solon over the years.
"In terms of the percentage of population of Italians in the early 1970s, it was among the largest of the ethnic groups in Solon," he said. "That has changed fairly dramatically as the city itself has changed and grown." He said that some members who have left the area still retain their membership.
"We have members out of state who stay in touch and get our newsletter," he said.
The Solon Italian Club is one of the larger area clubs in membership, Mr. Castiglione said. The closest clubs in the area is the Wickliffe Italian American Club and Rionero Sannitico in the Mayfield area.
Upcoming events will be a fund-raiser at the Wickliffe Italian American Club beginning with Mass and followed by dinner, raffle and games on Sept. 13. The event will benefit the Abruzzo Earthquake Fund.
The club's annual clambake, primarily a social event, is Oct. 10.
"We do manage to raise some funds there as well," Mr. Castiglione said. "Any money we generate goes toward the scholarship fund and charitable causes we earmark like the earthquake fund and cultural gardens."
"We quietly do what very few people realize," Mr. Castiglione said. "We've reached out to families in need in the area, whether it be they lost their job or their home.
"It's at the core of who we are as an organization and the kind of people who comprise the club."
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