Three Midwestern luminaries were knighted by Italian Consul General Giuseppe Finocchiaro at a special ceremony on Dec. 12. Chicago-area activist Lissa Druss and Milwaukee stalwart Pietro Tarantino earned the rank of Cavaliere dell’Ordine della Stella d’Italia and longtime Loyola University language instructor Anna Clara Ionta ascended to the higher rank of Ufficiale dell’Ordine della Stella d’Italia.
Lissa Druss is founder and CEO of Strategia Consulting, a government relations, U.S. and international business relations, and crisis communication firm based in Chicago, DuPage County and Washington, D.C. Strategia relationships are spread throughout the U.S. and Europe.
Lissa spent 21 years as a television journalist in Tucson, Los Angeles and Chicago and is a nine-time Emmy Award winner.
She works with clients in government affairs, crisis communications, municipal relations, media relations/training, corporate communications, internal/external communications strategy and social media. Lissa is known to react quickly and work tirelessly at any time, day or night, to protect and enhance her clients’ reputation.
She is the recipient of the 2016 Filippo Mazzei Award for Excellence in Public Affairs given by the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans.
Lissa’s maternal grandfather, Pasquale Salvatore Marcellitti, was born in Abruzzo, and her maternal grandmother, Mary Rita D’Elia, was born in Calabria. She takes annual trips to Italy to visit family, having more family in Rome and Abruzzo than in Chicago, and even baptized her daughter Tessa Rose in the same church her grandfather was baptized in, Civitella Roveto (AQ). Raised on her strong Italian heritage, Lissa is a fixture in Chicago’s Italian-American community.
She is currently the director of communications for the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans and is focused on expanding the organization’s outreach and raising the awareness of the JCCIA’s important causes.
In this role, on behalf of the JCCIA, Lissa led the nation’s largest Italian-American fund-raising effort for the victims of the earthquake in Amatrice, Italy. In total, more than $36,000 was sent directly to the mayor of Amatrice for critical help.
She has also taken a strong leadership role at the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii in Chicago’s Little Italy. Lissa serves on the Engagement Committee, helping to spearhead external communication and raise the awareness of the shrine. In addition, she works with the Rev. Richard Fragomeni on shrine blogs aimed at raising the awareness of the Italian culture and shrine activities. Lissa is also a lector and Eucharistic minister. Keeping it all in the family, her daughter also serves as a child lector and usher at the shrine.
Furthering her Italian American ties, Lissa is on the Executive Committee of the Italian American Human Relations Foundation and is a member of the National Italian American Foundation. Using her international ties, she serves on the board of Milan-Chicago Sister Cities International.
In the early 2000s, Lissa served on the board of the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame.
She guest lectures and is a regular contributor on television and radio stations, offering perspective on crisis events and public affairs issues.
During her eight years with Serafin & Associates Inc., Lissa’s clients spanned across the country and internationally and included large and small corporations, celebrities, municipalities, and various law-enforcement agencies.
Throughout her broadcasting career, she spent more than 13 years with CBS television both in Chicago and Los Angeles before ending her television career as the executive producer at Comcast SportsNet Chicago, winning the 2009 Chicago Journalism Award in Sports.
Lissa has written and produced for news, entertainment and sports. During the 1990s, she covered headline stories including the Persian Gulf War, the Oklahoma City bombing and the O.J. Simpson murder trial.
Lissa also has served as a media consultant for the U.S. Department of Justice twice, with the police department in San Salvador, El Salvador (1996) and for a major East Coast city (2014).
She is currently the chairman of the Board of Directors of The Jarrett Payton Foundation and serves as the secretary of the Board of Directors of the Get Growing Foundation. Lissa also spent more than 10 years on the executive committee of Bears Care, the charitable arm of the Chicago Bears.
Pietro Tarantino is a longtime member of the Italian Community Center in Milwaukee and a longtime director on the ICC Board.
Pietro has been helping Italian immigrants with governmental, passport and pension issues for many years. He is the president and co-founder of Sicilia Mondo/Milwaukee Chapter, a member of the Garibaldi Society and La Società di San Giuseppe, and a co-host on the public radio program “Italian Hour” for more than 25 years.
Pietro was also honored by a proclamation from the Milwaukee Common Council on Dec. 18 congratulating him on his knighthood and recognizing his dedication to promoting Italian language, culture and heritage.
Anna Clara Ionta arrived in Chicago in 1987 as a lecturer of Italian sponsored by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, holding that position until 1994.
She has taught at Loyola University Chicago and Northwestern University and worked at the Education Office of the Consulate General of Italy (1987-1994). Upon appointment by the Consul General of Italy, she also taught at the Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago and gave cultural presentations about Italy at several Italian-American associations in the Chicago area, including the Columbian Club of Chicago, UNICO, Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans and Sicilian American Cultural Association.
Anna Clara has been teaching at Loyola University Chicago since 1994, first as a part-time instructor and later as a full-time lecturer. She has served as the adviser for the Italian Club at Loyola University Chicago for years, speaking about Italian folk traditions, cinema, music, art, non-verbal communication, food, travel, holidays and architecture at their meetings.
In 2010, Anna Clara was invited to teach Italian at the Scuola Italiana of Middlebury College, where she continues to teach Italian language and literature classes every summer. She has lectured at several educational institutions — including LaSalle Language Academy, Rosary College, Illinois Benedictine College, Georgetown University, Middlebury College, Rutgers University — and taught classes in various Chicago public schools in collaboration with the Progetto Pilota, a project promoted and organized by the Education Office of the Consulate General of Italy.
Over the course of 30 years, she has given presentations at various conferences in the United States, including the American Association on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, American Association for Italian Studies, Indiana University Symposium on Italian Cinema, Northeast Modern Language Association. She has created, organized and led countless cultural events at the Italian Cultural Center at Casa Italia in Stone Park. From 2006 to 2008, she served as the Italian editor of Fra Noi. She has planned myriad cultural events at Loyola University Chicago and led numerous Italian immersion weekends and immersion days Loyola and Casa Italia.
From 2002 to 2007, Anna Clara co-hosted the radio program “Carosello” for children and young adults. She co-authored and published four books for children and one book for intermediate Italian language courses.
Anna Clara received the National Italian Honor Society Award and the Medal of Merit from the Sicilian American Cultural Association of Chicago, and was twice nominated for the Loyola University Sujack Award for Teaching Excellence and Loyola University Award for Best Advisor.