Fostering connection with family and friends is the Italian way, according to Liberty Lake resident Holli Parker.
As a member of the American Italian Club of Spokane, Parker maintains these connections while preserving her Italian heritage.
“It means a lot knowing that those traditions were passed down and now I’m passing them onto my son,” Parker said about the club’s mission of preserving the Italian culture. “That is the most important thing for me, the family part.”
Parker, vice president of the club, also believes enjoying good food and conversation characterizes her Italian culture, and she relishes both with her fellow members.
“Food brings people together,” Parker said, adding, “after all, who doesn’t love Italian food?”
Dean Picicci, who has been a member since Expo ’74 and has visited Italy five times, believes the club is trying to re-create the friendly atmosphere he found abroad.
“They’re such warm people,” Picicci said about other members. “They accept you just like you are.”
In addition to monthly meetings where members bring different dishes and share a meal together, the club hosts a monthly social night out and special events such as the recent Italian Festival at the Liberty Lake Farmers Market.
Founded in 1905, the national club, the Order Sons of Italy in America, originally formed to assist Italian immigrants with their new life in America.
The Spokane chapter formed in 1928 with two separate lodges: Spokane Lodge No. 1500 and Washington Lodge No. 1504. According to club records, it was formed with the purpose of preserving Italian culture and heritage, as well as fostering Americanism. The club encouraged members to take part in political, social and civic affairs.
The two lodges merged in 1953 under the name Spokane Lodge No. 1500 but dissolved one year later. Then in 1965, a small group of men started another club. On Sept. 17, 1966, the club was officially dedicated under a new name, American Italian Club of Spokane No. 2172.
The club started holding an annual spaghetti dinner in the fall of 1968. The dinner, held at Gonzaga Prep, is the club’s largest fundraiser, with proceeds going to a scholarship fund. Each year, the club gives a $1,000 scholarship to a college student of Italian descent.
The Italian Festival, held July 25 in conjunction with the Liberty Lake Farmers Market, is the club’s second-largest fundraiser. The money is raised by selling Italian baked goods, club T-shirts and buttons. This year, the club raised more than $600 to support earthquake victims in L’Aquila, Italy. Last year’s festival brought in $400 for Wishing Star Foundation.
Participating in several area parades, the club captivates parade-goers with an 11-foot, to-scale replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, flanked by two large wooden lions hauled on a small trailer. Member Charley Vingo paid more than $6,000 to have the tower built in 1993.
“I did it because I wanted to do it,” said Vingo, the club’s oldest member at 102, said. “It’s one of a kind.”
In the future, Parker wants to see the membership grow, allowing the club to become more active in the community. She also envisions organizing a junior club for younger members.
“I’d like to see our club packed with people,” Parker said. “Have a bigger family.”
The club offers social memberships for anyone not of Italian descent. Social members are not eligible to vote or hold office but can attend meetings and events.
“If you want to be around great people, great food and great conversations, come join,” Parker said. “It’ll be a good time.”