Pam DeFiglio

A lifelong writer. Pam DeFiglio works as an editor at the Chicago Tribune Media Group/Pioneer Press. She has won two Chicago Headline Club awards for previous work as an editorial writer and features writer at the Daily Herald. She also won National Federation of Press Women awards for Chicago Tribune news features on immigrants, and has worked in public relations at a university. She loves Italy and all things Italian, thanks to Nanna and a magnificent college year in Rome. She's grateful for all the people working to celebrate Italian culture in Chicago. Contact her at

Italian Trade Agency Director Marco Verna

If you just bought an Italian product from your local grocery market or bookstore, chances are Marco Verna and his staff at the Italian Trade Agency helped put it on the shelf. Have you ever wondered how so many delicious Italian cheeses, pastas, sauces and wines show up in your local supermarket? It’s a little bit of magic created by an agency of the Italian government with a local branch located right on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue. Marco Verna arrived from Italy last September to head the Italian Trade Agency in the Windy City. Known in Italy as ICE (Istituto per …

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Retro songstress Vanessa Racci

A natural-born performer, Vanessa Racci abandoned a career in marketing to dedicate herself full time to rekindling the flame of classic Italian-American music. Imagine taking the swinging, glamorous Italian-American singers of the mid-20th century — Connie Francis, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Louis Prima — and distilling their essence for the 21st-century stage. Vanessa Racci does exactly that in her performances, bringing the music of these icons to life for a new generation. As a child, Racci soaked up the Italian-American music enjoyed by her grandfather. By age 4, her parents encouraged her to sing when they had company over. By …

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Bookseller Nicola Orichuia

A journalist on an incredible journey, Nicola Orichuia parlayed his passion for reading and knowledge into the first bricks-and-mortar Italian bookstore in the United States. There are two things you need to know about Nicola Orichuia. Though he was born in Italy to Italian parents, his dad’s globetrotting career gave him an international perspective. Still, he is thoroughly Italian, transmitting the love of his native land to his new home in America. Also, he loves to read and share knowledge. OK, that’s four things, but from those characteristics flow many of his achievements, from a journalism career in Rome, to …

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Cancer crusader Dr. Lynn Sorbara

A clinical scientist at the National Institutes of Health since 1996 and a program director since 2007, Dr. Lynn Sorbara is helping make early cancer detection a reality. Imagine going to the doctor for your annual checkup, providing a small sample of blood or saliva for testing, and learning a few days later whether you’re in the clear or dealing with the early stages of cancer. Identifying the dread disease that early would increase your chances of survival, as well as minimize your pain and the disruption to your family. More people would be spared the terror of suddenly learning …

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Homelessness hero Dr. Patrick Angelo

Heeding a calling one cold night 20 years ago, Dr. Patrick Angelo has been helping the homeless ever since, recently launching a business and a nonprofit to fund even greater efforts. Even 20 years later, Dr. Patrick Angelo struggles to explain the freezing February night when he felt a command to get into his car and drive downtown to go feed and warm the homeless. He didn’t know his way around downtown Chicago. But after making some random turns, he arrived at a homeless encampment on Lower Wacker Drive, where he had never been before. For about 13 years, Angelo …

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Theater advocate Carmel De Stefano

A standout high school teacher and director for decades, she now fosters theater at every level throughout the state. Carmel De Stefano loved theater as a child, studied it as an undergrad and beyond, and taught and directed it for decades at the high school level. All of that has prepared her well for her current theatrical turn, as a leader since 2016 in the Illinois Theatre Association. After immersing herself in theater throughout her youth and earning a bachelor of arts in theater and broadcasting out east, the Niagara Falls, New York, native decided to head west. Arriving in …

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College of DuPage President Brian Caputo

A former Eagle Scout, Army officer and CFO, Brian Caputo brought all those skill sets to bear in steering the College of DuPage through the pandemic. If you’re facing a real crisis — say, the need to keep a 21,000-student college going through a global pandemic — it’s not a bad idea to have a guy like Brian Caputo in charge. Caputo started honing his leadership skills as a teen in the Chicago suburbs, earning his Boy Scouts of America Eagle Award, then attended the United States Military Academy at West Point. He served in the active and reserve military, …

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Altruistic tour organizer Anna Bonavita

Anna Bonavita nonprofit tour series uplifts the towns she explores while immersing visitors in a rejuvenating culinary, cultural and communal experience. Science launched Anna Bonavita’s career, but an appreciation for art led her to create an Italian film festival, a cultural center and a series of highly personal, connoisseur-level cultural tours to Italy. After she immigrated to the United States to work in Minneapolis, her quest for friendship, community and the familiar comforts of Italy propelled her to start the film festival. A random event stirred up a romance with an Italian senator, who came to Minneapolis to help her …

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Istituto Italiano di Cultura Director Luca Di Vito

As the director of the Chicago office of the Istituto Italiano di Cultura, Luca Di Vito’s job is to illuminate Italy’s vast cultural treasures and burnish the country’s image around the world. In a sleek office on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, the Italian government offers up a wealth of cultural riches in the form of movie screenings, lectures on art and architecture, discussions on Dante, and more. Luca Di Vito, director of the Chicago office of the Istituto Italiano di Cultura, explains that Italy provides this resource to promote Italian culture around the world. The Istituto has a devoted local fan …

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COVID warrior Dr. Mia Taormina

An infectious disease specialist for more than a decade, Dr. Mia Taormina was ready for her close-up when WBEZ asked her to be its on-air coronavirus expert early last year. For the first decade of Dr. Mia Taormina’s career, work went pretty steadily as she saw patients and made rounds. She is one of only three doctors with an infectious disease specialty at DuPage Medical Group, a 750-doctor practice. In late 2019, Taormina and colleagues in her specialty were among the first to learn about a virus circulating in China. Within weeks, Taormina’s life kicked into high gear and stayed …

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