Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Italian Heritage in Erie County

Between 1884 and 1924 about 7 million Italians arrived in the United States. In Erie County Italian-Americans found work in the quarries, restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, landscaping, fishing, and many other businesses. Local Italian restaurants were quite popular on weekend nights, and remain popular to this day. Four generations of the Balconi family have been in the monument business in Sandusky. “Mama Berardi” opened her well-known French Fry stands at Cedar Point in the 1940's. Pictured below is the grocery store of Ruggiero Riccelli around 1920.

Major Thomas S. Amato (third from right in the picture below) was born in Sicily in 1880. Major Amato served in the Sixth Infantry of the Ohio National Guard in World War I. His death in 1921 was directly attributed to his military service.

The Sandusky Register’s obituary of Thomas S. Amato states that “full military honors were accorded to the man who came to this country from Italy when a boy and so loved it that his life has been laid a sacrifice upon the altar of his adopted land.”

During World War II, many Sandusky young men of Italian descent served in the United States military, and some lost their lives. One of the most moving stories of sacrifice and honor is one of two Sandusky brothers of Italian descent who were honored in San Marino, a small republic within the borders of Italy. The front page of the Sandusky Register on April 5, 1961 features an article about a monument having been built in the cemetery in Fiorentino in honor of Leonello Berardi and Roberto Berardi. Leonello and Roberto were the sons of Mr. and Mrs. Adam Berardi, who emigrated from San Marino to the United States in 1927. Leonello died in Italy in 1944, and Roberto died in Holland in 1945. They wrote to their parents that they hoped to meet up in San Marino, but they never had the chance to do so. Though the young men were buried where they died, officials of the small republic of San Marino wanted to honor the sacrifice of Leonello and Roberto Berardi. Officials from both San Marino and the United States were present at the dedication of the monument. Dr. Frederico Bigi, of the Italian consulate, spoke at the dedication. He said the young men “took with them the spirit of liberty as they traveled to the world’s youngest republic, and showed their devotion to Liberty by laying down their lives to uphold freedom.” You can read more about the monument to Leonello and Roberto Berardi by accessing the April 5, 1961 issue of the Sandusky Register, on microfilm at the Sandusky Library Archives Research Center. The names of Leonello and Roberto Berardi are also found on a plaque honoring several former students from Sandusky High School who lost their lives during World War II; the plaque is at the former Adams Junior High School.

A plaque that was donated to the historical collections of the Sandusky Library contains the names of the charter members of the Italian-American Beneficial Club in Sandusky, better known as the I.A.B.

You can read about “Little Italy,” a six-block area on Sandusky’s east side, in the May 18, 2003 issue of the Sandusky Register, now on microfilm at the Sandusky Library Archives Research Center. Hundreds of passenger records are available on the Ellis Island web site, accessible at home or at Sandusky Library. Consider donating historical family photographs or documents to the Archives Research Center of the Sandusky Library for future generations to enjoy.

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