Coe-lum­bus Day

City cel­e­brates Ital­ian her­itage at park civic cen­ter

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Les­lie Hutchi­son

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.

Les­lie Hutchi­son / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

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.

Les­lie Hutchi­son / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia / Les­lie Hutchi­son /Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia /

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.

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