An evening of bridge and whist at the Sheraton Boston. A “Night of Stars” featuring 25 luminaries of the screen, stage and radio. A concert with famed crooner Perry Como. Reunions for past residents, staff members, friends and volunteers.
Like Italian Home itself, the organization’s public events to bolster fundraising and visibility over the past 100 years have evolved with the times and with the talents of staff and volunteers. But the goal has always been, as organizers of the 75th Anniversary Dinner described it at the time: “To salute the Home, ensure the continuation of its rich history, and most importantly, to provide a legacy of care for the many children whom the Home is committed to serve in the years ahead.”
Here are just a few of the public events and fundraisers one discovers looking through Italian Home’s archives:
Baseball great Joe DiMaggio thrilled children – and garnered much publicity for Italian Home -- when he visited in 1938. Having heard about the organization and the plight of the orphaned children in residence, DiMaggio, who was very active in the Italian American community, paid a much-heralded visit to the campus.
The late 1940s through the 1960s were a creative heyday for fundraising events that attracted both publicity and funds to the Home. As many as 25 acts from Hollywood and Las Vegas came together at the Boston Garden for several years in a row to raise money for the Italian Home. The star-studded evening each year included famed entertainers like American actor and singer Tony Martin, who had a 15-minute variety show on NBC every night before the evening news in the 1950s, and appeared in TV shows and films with actors ranging from Dinah Shore to the Marx Brothers. Sid Caesar performed at a benefit for the Home in the mid 1950s as well. A popular comedian and actor, Caesar starred in such television hits as Your Show of Shows and the film It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, World.
In the 1960s, opera star Sergio Franki stopped by the home prior to a benefit performance at the Metropolitan Opera House.
Not all events of the era were focused on celebrity and glitter. In the early and mid 1950s, Italian Home’s annual Reunion and Musicale at the Sheraton Park Plaza featured card games – bridge and whist – while bringing together alumni as well as staff and volunteers.
For its 50th anniversary in 1969, Italian Home hosted a series of events in the fall to recognize its golden jubilee. The included a concelebrated Mass featuring tenor Luigi Vena (who had sung at the wedding of Jackie and John F. Kennedy as well as at President Kennedy’s funeral); a communion breakfast hosted by the women’s auxiliary; and a gala for 900 in the grand ballroom of what was then the Statler Hilton (now the Boston Park Plaza).
In the 1970s the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset allotted 1,000 of its 3,200 tickets for a Saturday dinner hour fundraising show run by the women’s guild that featured celebrated singer Perry Como. In 1982, the guild celebrated its 25th anniversary Evening at the Boston Pops to raise funds for the Home, and famed composer John Williams was the conductor.
Celebrity golf tournaments also emerged as a way to attract attention and resources to Italian Home. A photo of one from the 1990s found in the archives shows in attendance former New England Patriots Gino Cappelleti and Babe Parelli as well as Mike Eruzione, captain of the 1980s gold medal US Olympic hockey team.
As the 75th anniversary approached in 1994, Italian Home organized a day of fun, friendships and remembrances, inviting past residents, staff members, volunteers and friends to return to the Home for a Diamond Jubilee Reunion. And of course, a celebratory gala dinner was held as well, chaired by the state’s Treasurer Joseph Malone, its Auditor, Joseph DeNucci, Channel 5 Station Manager Paul La Camera, and Patrick Moscaritolo, President and CEO of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The past 25 years have seen a continuation of the celebrity events and galas that have drawn significant attention and funds to support Italian Home’s mission. It has also seen quieter events that bring together alumni and friends.
And on April 27th, Italian Home will continue that tradition. A fundraising gala under a massive tent at Larz Anderson Park in Brookline will recognize our 100th anniversary. Co-chaired by Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and State Representative Paul J. Donato, D-35th, the event will build on a century of dedicated volunteers and staff supporting the vital work of the Home.
Later in the year on Sunday, September 22 the Centennial Reunion will be hosted at the JP Campus. This event will be for all former residents, students, staff, families, friends, and donors. The day will include a mass, lunch, opportunities to reminisce, and see what is going on around campus.
For all these events over the past 100 years – and the people who attended them and the volunteers and staff whose hard work and connections have made them successful – we are forever grateful!