Toy donations. Christmas baskets. Scholarship giving.
This doesn’t sound like the normal activities of a social club, but a social club is still how many members of the Italian American Ladies Auxiliary of Kenosha, who celebrated their 95th anniversary Thursday, describe themselves.
The auxiliary, part of the Italian American Club at 2217 52nd St. honored past presidents and members during Thursday’s event.
The auxiliary began in 1924 as a way for Italian immigrants to receive legal and financial help, among other things.
Darlene Venci, who was president of the auxiliary from 2004 to 2014, said the group’s original goal was pretty straightforward.
“The club was support for Italian families that had come to the country and who didn’t have jobs or even speak English,” said Venci. “The club was formed to support those people.”
When she joined the club in 1955, it had already changed.
“Gradually, as time went on, they became more of a social group over a help group as people became more familiar,” she said.
Since then the club has transformed again as a way to honor and preserve Italian culture while giving back to the community.
The auxiliary currently has approximately 160 members.
The members host luncheons, parties, anniversary celebrations and Christmas dinners, among other events.
They also crown a “Mother of the Year,” which generally goes to the oldest mother of the auxiliary.
However, this isn’t all the group does.
Nancy Montemurro, the chairwoman of the service project committee, said members often brainstorm about ways to help the community.
They generally host one community service project a month and also pay for several college scholarships each year through multiple luncheons hosted by the group.
“I think it gives the women a purpose,” said Montemurro, who has been a member of the club for around nine years. “They all approach me and say, ‘What about this idea?’”
The group puts together Christmas baskets for those in need each year. They get names of those who could use the help from neighbors and area schools.
“It’s one of the most eye-opening experiences in my life,” said Montemurro. “It makes you very humble to see how people live in our own community.”
Montemurro said one moment of sharing a food basket stood out from the others.
“This girl burst into tears because she was so thankful. She said, ‘Now I can feed my family.’ That doesn’t leave you. It just rocks you,” she said.
The group also offers college scholarships for members’ daughters, granddaughters or nieces. Last year it awarded four scholarships based on grade-point average and community service.
Overall, the group exists to preserve their Italian-American culture.
Venci married into an Italian-American family and was allowed to join the group.
She said many of the members today are related in some way.
“Women get together and they start to talk. So many of them aren’t related to each other but their grandmothers were sisters or cousins. ... There’s so much connection,” Venci said. “Everybody’s kind of related. ... It’s fun.”
The current president, Mary Lou Viola, said many of the younger members are interested in learning more about the past.
“The dynamic has changed,” said Viola, whose mother and grandmother were both members of the group. “Now, my generation and the younger generation want to learn more about the culture and the language, and learn how to cook and bake.”
Venci’s daughters, granddaughters and nieces are involved in the group today.
“It’s an ongoing thing. ... It isn’t going to stop. And I think that’s great,” she said. “I’m looking forward to celebrating our 100th anniversary.”
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