For Vincent Illuzzi, the Sons of Italy Cellini Lodge in New Hyde Park offers a chance to maintains his sense of cultural heritage.
"It sort of keeps you in touch. I wasn't born Italian, but I have dual citizenship. It keeps me connected to my roots," said Illuzzi, who recently became president of the organization.
Illuzzi became a member of Cellini Lodge #2206, Order Sons of Italy in America, in September of 2002, sponsored by his friend, former Cellini Lodge president Joseph Sciami.
In 2005, Illuzzi became a Cellini trustee; in 2007. He was selected recording secretary in 2007, became 2nd vice president in 2009 and 1st vice president in 2011.
As 1st vice president, he was chairperson for the annual Cellini feast in Michael J. Tully Park.
"The feast is a very time-consuming event," he said. "When I first started, there were a lot of hurdles to overcome."
The feast was enclosed in a smaller space than in previous years in 2011 with the reopening of the Aquatic Center at Tully Park. A swarm of gnats disrupted the feast one night and it was cut short by two days in his first year overseeing it because of Hurricane Irene.
The event ran much more smoothly last year.
"As president, it's an honor that I've achieved it," Illuzzi said.
For Illuzzi, 57, his role as president is the latest milestone in Italian-American journey that began in 1954 with a trans-Atlantic crossing on the Andrea Doria he cannot recall. He was still in the womb of his mother, Francesca, who made the trip from Bari, Italy to join his father, Pasquale, who had preceded them both across to settle in New York City.
Illuzzi grew up with three siblings in the same four-room west Greenwich Village apartment his grandparents formerly occupied when they immigrated.
He said he remembers the rich aromas of other Italian families preparing their meals in that building and the family gatherings his parents hosted there.
"Family to me is everything," he said.
Iluzzi graduated from Power Memorial Academy in Manhattan and earned a bachelors degree in biology from St. John's University in 1977, graduating summa cum laude. Unsuccessful in gaining admission to medical school, he took a job in Ayerst Labs.
In 1978, he married his high school sweetheart, Stephanie Demes, and moved to Brooklyn. They now live in Glendale, Queens, where they raised two sons, Vincent and Christian, who are also Cellini Lodge members.
Illuzzi accepted a full scholarship and stipend fellowship for a masters degree in environmental health science at New York University in 1980. He was accepted into the third year of pharmacy school at St. John's University in 1982 while continuing his studies at NYU. While still in pharmacy school, Illuzzi worked part-time at Mount Sinai Hospital and received my Masters from NYU in 1983.
He is currently senior pharmacist in pediatric oncology at Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where he has worked for the past 23 years. He also works as a pharmacist in adult oncology at North Shore-LIJ Hospital.
As Cellini president, he said he hopes to bring the lodge's members in closer touch with their Italian heritage by assisting members to establish dual citizenship in the U.S. and Italy.
"It's an honor to have dual citizenship and it's an honor to keep the roots connected," he said.
Illuzzi said he's made six trips to Italy, the last one with his family two years ago. He said he keeps in touch with his family roots by regularly calling relatives still living there.
As a child, Illuzzi said he was always fascinated with stories of Italian immigrants coming through Ellis Island and he wants to organize a Cellini trip to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island when that historic site reopens.
He said he remembers getting grapes with his father and brothers in their younger years in lower Manhattan and making wine in the basement of their apartment building. So he also wants to get a video on the process of wine-making as it was traditionally done by Italian immigrants and show it at a lodge event this fall.
I want to do things that bring you back to the way things were. I want to reconnect people with their past," Illuzzi said.
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