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Founding member of Sons and Daughters of Italy Lodge 138 honored

A founding member of the Sons and Daughters of Italy Lodge 138 was honored Monday by members naming a restored headquarters in Newberry after him.

Eugene “Geno” Ciccareli, 97, for which Ufficiale Sons and Daughters of Italy Lodge 138 at 1616 McMinn Ave. is named, smiled at the ribbon cutting, in which a ribbon decked in green, white and red, the colors of Italy, was used.

“It’s good to be here,” Ciccareli said in a soft voice behind his face mask.

In June, Ciccareli said he will celebrate his 98th birthday.

The lodge was originally founded on June 3, 1903. In the early years of Lodge 138 in Williamsport, Ciccarelli was described as a binder.

“He was the glue that held this place together,” said Phililp A. Preziosi. “When the lodge had its rough times, ‘Geno’ was there to pull it back together.”

Original photographs of lodge members and the official lodge sign, Loggia Ufficiale Bersaglieri, covered the walls.

On a table at the ceremony was a cake decorated for a guest celebrating a birthday, the Rev. Brian VanFossen, of St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Parish.

“Brothers and sisters,” Preziosi said at the grand opening, “we thank God we can celebrate here today. We believe we have one of Pennsylvania’s top five lodges.”

Then he turned his appreciation toward Ciccareli.

“When other people wrote us off we showed vigor and vitality,” he said. “It was Ciccareli who kept us going and stepped up to the plate … I am going to stop because I am going to get emotional,” Preziosi said.

In a moment of levity, VanFossen, after blessing the building and grounds with a prayer and with holy water, was named an honorary Italian.

VanFossen was temporarily given the identity the Rev. VanZino by Preziosi, which drew laughter.

As he blessed the new lodge headquarters, VanFossen presented its members with a small hand-held token signed by Pope Francis.

Preziosi said the Italian presence in the city is back, and back with vigor.

Historically, Italian immigrants found their way into the United States in record numbers between 1880 and 1920.

During that stretch of years, 5.5 million Italians immigrated through places such as Ellis Island, New York, and other ports of entry.

Many established their residences in a section dubbed “Little Italy,” encompassing an area from Hepburn to Mulberry streets and East Third to Front streets (Via Bella).

The section dispersed throughout the city when the floods of 1936 and 1946 destroyed much of the developments and there was pressure to redevelop the city section.

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