After the sad events of the past months of removals, vandalism and beheadings of the statues of Columbus in many cities in the United States, which have affected and even somewhat divided Italian American communities in the various states, in Norwalk, CT on Columbus Day, the anniversary of the discovery of America, a statue of the great navigator of Genoa has been erected in the large and beautiful park in front of the entrance of the St. Ann Club. The statue, with its base showing the ships and their names, the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, had been removed from the municipality a few months ago by the small Heritage Wall park.
The statue was erected by the Italian-American people of Norwalk on October 12, 1940, sponsored by the Columbus Memorial Fund, Incorporated.
“As soon as we heard about the removal of the statue in front of the Heritage Wall we asked the municipality for permission to transfer the statue to our club. The idea was immediately approved by the members of the club, and, after obtaining the documents to transfer it legally and permanently, we built the base, erected the statue and today finally with great honor, on the occasion of the feast of Columbus, we inaugurated it.
A dream came true for me. I’ve been to many Columbus ceremonies since I was a kid, and as an adult I kept going because it was important to my father and because I realized it’s part of my legacy. The heritage is not chosen, the heritage chooses us and no one can take it away from us,” said Antonio Cappuccia, the club’s Vice President and Chairman of the project.
The club President Mike Gabriele, in his speech, encouraged other Italian American organizations to follow their exemplary project: “Today is a great day for every citizen in Norwalk, but especially for the Italian-Americans. The spirit of our heritage and of Christopher Columbus is alive and well here today. Thanks to the dedication and hard work of the St. Ann Club Members we were able to give this magnificent statue a permanent and safe home. This represents the essence of our Italian heritage and ancestry. We are so proud to be able to erect this symbol here, and our club founders and deceased members would also feel the pride. Generations to come will be able to enjoy this statue. I encourage other Italian American organizations to follow the blueprint that was established by the St. Ann Club. Move our precious history to safe places and keep our heritage alive forever.”
About 200 people attended the ceremony. Many dignitaries and representatives of various Italian American organizations spoke: Karen Galbo, Columbus Memorial Scholarship; Walter Cerretani, Knights of Columbus Council 46 Grand Knight; Gino Gatto, Fire Chief; William Schiavella, Italian American Police Society of New Jersey; Alfonso Panico, former Honorary Vice Consul of the Republic of Italy; Tony Cappuccia, Vice President of Saint Ann’s Club and Chairman of the project; Marie Ianazzo, Sons of Italy di Norwalk; the Mayor of Norwalk Harry Rilling, Nicandro Cappuccia, former President of Saint Ann and father Reggie of Our Lady of Fatima.
The transportation and erection of the statue was funded entirely from donations, and the following individuals contributed to this effort: Sal Calise, Harry Rilling, Marl Lepore, Italian America Police Society of New Jersey, Sons of Italy, Columbus Memorial Scholarship Fund, Jimmy De Vito, Gino Vona, Cappuccia Electric, Mike Gabriele, Mr. and Mrs. Nicandro Cappuccia and family, Joe Tamburro, Domenico Cappuccia, Gennaro Cappuccia, Louis Imperato, Antonio Cappuccia and Billy Genuario.
The Saint Ann Club was founded in 1914 by a small group of immigrants from Jelsi in the province of Campobasso, Italy. The early meetings were held in a garage in South Norwalk, Connecticut. The first clubhouse was constructed on Ely Avenue, in 1975, the state of Connecticut took the property by eminent domain.
The following year the club moved to its current location at 16 Hendricks Avenue. In 2000, the new hall was officially opened and since its humble beginnings, the club has grown to 600 members. It is now one of the oldest and most successful independent clubs in the city of Norwalk and the oldest Italian club. The club holds various events that provide funding to our charitable arm and we donated over $70,000 last year to support local organizations. The members are very dedicated and work really hard to keep our organization successful and growing. They are the key to the strength and success of the club.
Mike Gabriele is the current President of the club, other living Presidents are Nicandro Cappuccia who served for 24 years, and Sal Fratino.