On Step. 16, it will be “Ciao and Grazie” for a half-century Ravenna landmark, the building at the corner of South Chestnut Street and Hazen Avenue that has been home for the Italian American Society, which is going up for auction.
In an era in which younger Americans are no longer the joiners their parents and grandparents once were, the Italian American Society’s dwindling membership makes maintaining and operating the building no longer feasible, two of its leaders, attorney Stephen Colecchi and businessman Charles Garro, said when telling of the building’s impending sale.
Both said the Italian American Society’s members have voted to sell. The proceeds from any sale will be used for a not-for-profit purpose because the Italian American Society is a not-for-profit organization.
“I am in the Elks and they are having the same problem,” Garro, the owner of Garro Tire, said. Colecchi, who for years was president and CEO of Robinson Memorial Hospital and now serves as CEO of Hattie Larlham, said the Italian American Society will survive with a smaller membership, “but we just do not have the regular membership necessary to support a building like that.”
Service clubs across America are facing dwindling membership numbers. For example, the Kent Kiwanis Club once had a formidable presence in Kent, but it no longer exists. Its remaining Kiwanians must join clubs like Ravenna’s or clubs in other neighboring communities for their membership to continue.
Both Garro and Colecchi characterized the decision to sell as “a business decision” that is painful one for them because generations of their families played prominent roles in the Italian American Society and its predecessors, the Christopher Columbus Society and the Portage Italian American Citizens League.
Colecchi, the current secretary and treasurer of the Italian American Society, said his grandfather, Joseph, his father, Paul, and his uncle, Vincent, were all presidents of the Christopher Columbus Society and the Italian American Society at one time or another. He said he worked as a manager of the facility’s bar and rental hall to earn money to pay his tuition at Kent State University and the University of Akron’s School of Law. Garro, who serves on the society’s board of directors, said his father, Chet Garro, was also once president of the Italian American Society.
The Christopher Columbus Society and the Portage Italian American Citizens League merged in 1967 and within a couple of years purchased the property that had been the location of the Roger Brown Lumber Co. to construct the building that will soon go up for auction.
In its heyday, Garro said, the Italian American Society’s membership roster had a waiting list of those eager to join. The rental hall hosted fine wedding receptions. Its monthly spaghetti dinners, open to non-members as well as members, were a place to go to meet friends and prominent citizens. Its bar was a congenial watering hole for members. For most of its years, The Italian American Society’s rental hall was the place where the Portage County Democratic Party congregated on election nights. It made the Italian American Society “a must visit” for any news media reporter wanting to meet candidates and elected officials and listen to their interpretations of the Portage County election results.
The premises still have well designed bocce courts with surfaces similar to what a person would find on a good tennis court. The society’s Bocce League at one point had 20 competing teams and even last year had as many as 14 teams competing.
Looking through the records, Colecchi said he learned that the Christopher Columbus Society, founded in 1917, required each member to pay a monthly fee to a health insurance fund that was then used to pay medical bills that were incurred by members. This was before employer paid health insurance when medical bills could place a heavy financial burden on most families who in the early days were, he said, “decidedly blue collar” working at places like A.C. Williams, Oak Rubber, the Cleveland Worsted Mills, Romito-Donnelly and other industries.
At the same time, Colecchi said, many members owned their own businesses like Solitro’s Dry Cleaning, Drago Plumbing, Garro Rubber, Portage Distributing and other companies.
He said the membership lists are a “who’s who” of Italian American families who have resided in Ravenna, “names like Trocchio, Colecchi, Iarussi, Romito, Solitro, Drago, Spagnuolo, Sicuro, Cimino, Petrella, Di Mauro, Cariglio, Samaco, Marozzi, Castaldi, Coia, Garro, Cipriano, Maroni, Labajetta, Verrona, Petrone, Trilli, Cristino, D’Amicone, Porcase, Coates, Rude, Gilly, Esposito, Tondiglia, Tontimonia, Saracco, DiCoia, Mendiola, Triscori, Giulitto, Mascio, DiGirolamo, and many more.”
Kiko Real Estate and Auction is handling the sale. The building will be auctioned at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 16. The auction will be in-person and online. The personal property will be auctioned online only on from noon Sept. 10 to noon on Sept. 17.
The Italian American Society will live on, Colecchi said, “and we intend to put the proceeds to good use.”
Current officers of the Italian American Society are: Dave Rude, president, Stephen Colecchi, secretary/treasurer, with three trustees, Mark Petrella, Mickey Marozzi, and Charles Garro.
David E. Dix is a former publisher of the Record-Courier.