Sicilian American Cultural Association: Medal of MERIT Luncheon

Aug 20, 2014 2692

The Sicilian American Cultural Association will honor a trio of outstanding Italian Americans on Sept. 28 at Monastero's Banquets in Chicago. Josette Weber, Dominic Candeloro and Paul Ciminello will step to the podium at the organization's annual Medal of Merit luncheon.

Tickets are $35 for adults (cash bar) and $15 for children 2 to 12 years of age. Entertainment will be provided by past winners of the Bel Canto Foundation Opera Contest. For details or to make reservations, contact Martha Monastero at 773-588–2515 or

Dominic Candeloro
Dominic Candeloro is 100 percent Italian. He was born in Chicago Heights, the son of Ludovico, a veteran of the Italian Army in World War I from the frazione Pianibbie Ripitella, Casoli, Chieti, Abruzzo. Dominic's mother, Yolanda Giannetti, was born in 1909 in Amaseno, Frosinone, Lazio, and emigrated as a 5-year-old with her mother to join her father in Chicago Heights.

Graduating from Bloom Township High school in 1958, Dominic won a full scholarship to attend Northwestern University. He was the first in his extended family to graduate from college and one of the first Italian Americans in Chicago Heights to receive a Ph.D. In graduate school Dominic served as an assistant to professor Rudolph Vecoli, and was amazed that Vecoli's research included references to the Amasenesi in Chicago Heights.

While teaching history at Ohio State University Lima Campus, he met and married Carol Cutlip. Returning to Illinois in the mid 1970s, Dominic was appointed to teach Italian American studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. When Dominic was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for over $300,000 to document and share the history of Italians in Chicago, it set off a whirlwind of activities for the next three years that included 110 oral history interviews; the collection of thousands of photos, documents, and memorabilia; three national conferences; three exhibitions; and involvement by hundreds of volunteers working out of the university and the Italian Cultural Center to bring the project to fruition. The Italians in Chicago exhibit is now permanently display at the Italian Cultural Center.

He has been involved since the 1980s in the American Italian Historical Association, now known as the Italian American Studies Association. That connection led him to a visiting professorship with the Anthropology Department at the University of Rome, an exhibit at the Italian National Archives in Rome, invitations to Italian conferences, and dozens of speaking engagements in all parts of Italy.

Awarded a Fulbright Fellowship in Italy 1981-82, Dominic has written or edited more than xx books and more than 30 academic articles and reviews. Since 1980, Dominic has organized and promoted hundreds of lectures, films, art exhibits, book presentations and immersion weekends at the Cultural Center. In the last few years, Dominic has focused on the Florence Roselli Library and the publication of books by Casa Italia.

Dominic has this to say about his latest project: "If we can get this done, I will die happy!" Of course, he's talking about the campaign to raise $500,000 to be matched to be matched by the university to create an endowment to support a professorship of Italian American Studies into perpetuity. Almost 80 percent of the money has been raised -- one year before the deadline -- a testament to the power of big ideas to motivate unity within the community.

Paul Ciminello
Paul Ciminello came to America on New Year's Eve 1955, and as he walked for the first time down Broadway in New York City, he got shivers while passing all the landmark theaters, knowing then and there that he was going to be part of the music scene in the states. By January 1963 he had formed his own trio, which in a few years grew to a full orchestra.

Today, Paul is a renowned and respected musician, singer, recording artist and all-around entertainer who has played for many functions at country clubs and hotels. He has sung the National Anthem at Soldier's Field and led his orchestra during functions hosted by the city of Chicago.

Paul played for 20 years at the Sunday brunch at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, and has performed at the grand openings of Maggiano's around the country. He played with a full orchestra for then Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi and at a fundraiser for then President Bill Clinton. He has worked with Jimmy Durante, Domenico Modugno, Luciano Taioli, Nilla Pizzi, and Georgio Consolini.

Paul produced his own radio show on WEEF (1430-AM) six days a week for 20 years. Title "Italian Melodies," his show also featured news from the Chicago area and Italy and interviews with local dignitaries like Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas and international celebrities like Renzo Arbore and Pupo. He now hosts a popular one-hour program on Radio Maria from 10 to 11 a.m. every Wednesday, and continues doing Italian sports at 11 a.m. every Sunday at on WEEF.

Paul is in the documentary "And They Came to Chicago: the Italian American Legacy" and has received honors and awards from many sources, including the San Giovanni Bosco Club di Ciminna, in appreciation for writing the song "Ciminna"; the mayor of his hometown, Campofelice Di Rocella; Mayor Richard M. Daley, for exceptional contributions to the city of Chicago; the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at Loyola University; the Association of Professional Orchestra Leaders; Governor Jim Edgar, for invaluable service and dedication to the language and heritage of the Italian-American community; the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans; and the Italian Cultural Center, for his outstanding dedication to its mission, and especially for being a co-founder of the ICC's annual Italian Day Picnic. In addition, he wrote the music and lyrics for a video on YouTube for Hillary Clinton.

Paul is a board member of the Mazzini-Verdi Club, the Bel Canto Foundation and Lucchesi nel Mondo, a trustee of the Sicilian Heritage Museum and Radio Maria, a past president of the Association of Professional Orchestra leaders and Sicilian American Cultural Association, a lifetime member of the Italian Cultural Center, and a member of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, the Chicago Federation of Musicians (for 51 years) and Molisani nel Mondo.

Josette Mentesana Weber
A woman of many interests, Josette is a high-energy person. Born in Campofelice di Fitalia, a small town 20 minutes away from Palermo in Sicily. Josette came to Chicago with her parents, Giuseppe and Benedetta Mentesana.

Graduated from Mundelein College and the University of Chicago with a master's degree, she taught Italian for 20 years both in high school and college, and was instrumental in devising and implementing the first Italian curriculum in the Chicago Public Schools.

In 1970, the Reverend August Feccia called upon Josette to co-found, with a small group of individuals, the Italian Cultural Center. There she implemented the Italian curriculum for adults and children and taught Italian for about 10 years. Today, the ICC at Casa Italia has more than 10 locations throughout the Chicago area. In 2006, she was honored by the ICC as the Person of the Year.

Josette is a member of the board of directors of Casa Italia, where she has founded the Sicilian Heritage Museum, the Fall Festival, the Italian Film Festival and the Italian Music Festival. She is chairperson of Casa's Italian language program and cultural programs and activities.
At Casa Italia six years ago, Josette established an Italian language immersion camp, a four-week, six-hour day camp for children ages 4 to 13 years old. During its first year, the camp had an enrollment of 20 children. This past June, the camp had an enrollment of more than 130 children.

The purpose of the camp is to teach and promote the Italian language and heritage to children of our community as well as to other ethnic groups. The campers play bocce and soccer; l learn our glorious mother tongue through games, songs and skits; dance Italian folk dances; learn to bake and cook Italian food specialties; plant a traditional Italian garden; celebrate the Venetian Carnevale; and have a toga party while learning about the history of ancient Rome, among countless other activities.

Josette is involved in various endeavors of a philanthropic nature and is also a member of Women of Vision and the Sicilian American Cultural Association. Additionally, she manages the family real estate business and is on the board of the Family Consumer Finance Company.

She shares her successes with her husband, Alberto; her children, Mario and Adriana; and her 93-year-old mother, Benedetta Mentesana.

"Whatever little I have done and given to others, has come back to me ten-fold in joy and satisfaction," she says. "I firmly believe that it is our duty and responsibility as parents and grandparents, teachers and community leaders, to teach our children to cherish their heritage and give of themselves to the community. It is essential that we do not teach our young people by preaching but by setting an example." 

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