City celebrates Italian heritage at park civic center
TORRINGTON — It was blustery outside, but inside the civic center at Coe Memorial Park, members of UNICO offered warmth and camaraderie as they celebrated Columbus Day Friday, the official date of the observance.
The highlight of the event is the ceremony to recognize the Italian Mayor of the Day, Sam V. LaRocco, a World War II veteran who was born in Torrington in 1925.
“He has a smile that really goes right through you, and you can see it in his eyes, too,” said UNICO President Brian Mattiello. He said the organization began choosing an Italian Mayor of the Day in 2005.
LaRocco’s ancestors were described as being “one of the iconic families in Torrington” by Mayor Elinor Carbone.
“If there is an example of a good way to live,” he’s it, she said of the honoree. Carbone added that “Sam filled the room,” because he’s so respected. In a fun switch of roles, LaRocco signed a memo to all city officials to alert them to the oneday change in leadership. Carbone joked that the outcome of LaRocco’s leadership could be that “taxes went down one day and then back up.”
In honor of LaRocco and UNICO as a whole, the Italian flag was raised on the park’s flagpole for the day. Columbus Day was proclaimed a national holiday in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Also recognized at the event was David Frigo, a 50-year veteran of the organization. When LaRocco tried a few times to affix an honorary pin to Frigo’s thick sweater, the club president joked, “We put this down (in the program) that it would take two minutes.”
When it came time for LaRocco’s acceptance speech, he said, “I have a friend to speak for me.”
The friend was actually his sonin-law, Peter Williams. “There are two types of people in the world,”
he said. “Italians and those who wish they were.”
On a more serious note, Williams said, “race and ethnicity is a subject of tension,” on Columbus Day. “It ought not to be. Yes, we’re proud to be Italian, but everyday there is diversity and we can celebrate that.”
A General Assembly official proclamation of honor was presented to LaRocco by state Rep. Michelle Cook, D-Torrington. It was signed by Cook, state Reps. Jay Case, RWinsted, and Brian Ohler, R-Canaan, and state Senators Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, and Kevin Witkos, R-Canton.
The history of the city’s distinguished Italian residents was provided by Torrington Historical Society Executive Director Mark McEachern. “We collect items to perpetuate the memory of those ancestors in Torrington,” he said.
A number of leading Italian citizens were mentioned by McEachern: Virginia Negri Rossi, who was the first woman from Torrington to be elected to the state Legislature; Joseph Mascetti, who emigrated in 1898 from Olgiate Comasco and built some of the first concrete paved roads in Connecticut, including the Torrington-Litchfield Road and the Torrington-Thomaston Road.
A picture of a long-ago restaurant brought murmurs of appreciation from the crowd. The black-andwhite photo, circa 1920, shows men standing in front of the Park Cafe. They were Red Spartalatti, Luis Gallo and Luigi Fillippini.
“It’s clear we stand on the shoulders of people who came before us,” Mattiello said.
With that, Mattiello asked the audience to “celebrate the best of Torrington, The Nutmeg Ballet.” The ensemble danced to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Neapolitan Song and two Tarantellas, said the conservatory’s artistic director, Victoria Mazzarelli.
Italian Mayor of the Day Sam V. LaRocco receives a proclamation from local legislators, presented by Rep. Michelle Cook, D-Torrington.
Members of the Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory perform at the UNICO Columbus Day celebration at Coe Memorial Park Civic Center.
David Frigo, left, receives a 50-year pin from UNICO.
Italian Mayor for the Day Sam V. LaRocco, left, asked his son-in-law, Pete Williams, to read his comments on being honored by UNICO.