JCCIA division honors 11 stellar women

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Wendy Snyder and Emilia DiMenco

Italian-American women commanded the spotlight when the JCCIA Women’s Division staged its Impresa Awards Gala on Oct. 1 at the Medinah Country Club.

The event will honor the following outstanding individuals: Lissa Druss Christman, public affairs specialist and award-winning journalist; Andrea Collaro, senior director, Walgreens Boots Alliance; Emilia DeMenco, president and CEO, Women’s Development Center; Jessica D’Onofrio, general assignment reporter, ABC 7; Catherine DeOrio, host, “Check Please,” WTTW; Felicia Ferrone, award-winning industrial and furniture designer; Jomarie Fredericks, deputy general counsel, Rotary International; Toni Ginnetti, groundbreaking Chicago sportswriter; Gloria Nardini, scholar, educator and author; Dr. Louise Sclafani, director, Optometric Services, University of Chicago Medicine; and Wendy Snyder, Award-winning radio host, WGN-AM. Their profiles follow.

Lissa Druss Christman

Lissa is a public affairs and crisis communication specialist for Serafin & Associates and is also a former television and sports journalist.

Lissa’s maiden name may be Polish, but she is 3000 percent Italian. In 1968, She was born to Elizabeth Josephine Marcellitti and Lenard Stanley Druss, a famous jazz and studio musician in Chicago.

It was Lissa’s early exposure to show business that led her to a career in television.

After graduating from Oak Park and River Forest High School in 1986, Lissa attended the University of Arizona in Tucson. Her initial aspiration was to be a television director but it was an internship at WBBM-TV/CBS in Chicago that changed Lissa’s path forever. That year, she was pulled up onto the assignment desk and into the heart of the television newsroom. That cemented Lissa’s path in journalism.

She was hired by the NBC station in Tucson before graduating college in 1990. A few months later, Lissa started her official career at WBBM-TV, where she worked alongside Bill Kurtis, Walter Jacobson, Johnny Morris, and Gene Siskel. Years later, Lissa produced segments for Lester Holt, Bill Kurtis, Mike Parker, Dorothy Tucker and Mike Flannery to name a few. She worked tirelessly on a weekly feature titled “Best of Chicago” with Steve Baskerville that earned Lissa one of her nine Emmy awards throughout her career.

After a short stop at Fox 32 in Chicago, Lissa spent two years in Los Angeles, where she covered natural disasters such as fires, floods and mudslides as well as the infamous O.J. Simpson trial.

In 1996, Lissa returned to Chicago and went back to WBBM-TV, seguing from news to sports. She had the pleasure and honor of producing for the late Tim Weigel as well as Mike Adamle. Lissa continued her sports career at launching Comcast SportsNet as the executive producer. In 2010, she left CSN to go into private practice.

During her 21-year career in television journalism, she covered three Super Bowls, the Cubs in the playoffs, five of the six Bull championships, the Hawks winning the Stanley Cup, the White Sox winning the World Series, presidential elections, tornadoes and plane crashes while traveling internationally.

In 2011, she joined her longtime friend Thom Serafin at Serafin & Associates, a public affairs and communication strategy firm based in Chicago. Her firm is currently involved in issues spanning 19 states and Europe. Lissa predominately works with clients in crisis communication and public affairs.

She is the chairman of the board of directors of the Jarrett Payton Foundation, a board member of Milan-Chicago Sister Cities International, the secretary of the board of directors of Get Growing Foundation, the director of communications for the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans and a member of the executive committee of the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii.

Lissa is the 2016 recipient of the Filippo Mazzei Award for Excellence in Public Affairs, presented by the JCCIA. In addition, she led the largest U.S. fundraising drive for the Amatrice earthquake.

Most importantly, Lissa is the mother of 11-year-old Tessa Rose.

Dr. Andrea Collaro, Pharm.D.

Andrea is the senior director of brand management and product development for Walgreen Boots Alliance, recently celebrating 25 years with the company. She graduated from the University of Illinois College of Pharmacy in 1997. While in school, Collaro started as a pharmacy technician at Walgreens. She eventually moved up to pharmacist after graduation.

From 2002 to 2010, Andrea was a buyer in merchandising for diagnostics, diabetes, vitamins, cold, cough and allergy. In 2010, she was named manager of generic pharmaceutical strategy and global sourcing of pharmaceuticals. She joined the owned brands team as director of product development for health care categories in 2011.

Andrea got into the private brand business after recommending private brands as a pharmacist in the stores. Once she moved into the support office, she worked on developing and sourcing private brand healthcare products as a buyer.

The National Association of Professional Women inducted Andrea into its VIP Woman of the Year Circle for 2015-2016. NAPW is the nation’s leading networking organization exclusively for professional women, with more than 775,000 members. The honor recognizes Andrea for her leadership in health and wellness.

A Chicago native who grew up in Bridgeport, Andrea inherited her Italian ancestry from both her parents, who taught her a strong work ethic from a very young age.

Andrea is married to Carmine Collaro and they are the proud parents of 10-year-old Domenica.

Catherine De Orio

The host of WTTW’s Check Please and the executive director of Kendall College Trust, Catherine is a recovering attorney who left her burgeoning career in the courtroom for one in the kitchen. She is a formally trained chef, lifestyle expert, spokesperson, journalist, web editor and public speaker. Catherine travels the country to dish on the food scene, discussing trends, demonstrate recipes, and give professional tips for organizing successful events.

A successful journalist, she was editor-at-large for In Touch Weekly magazine, covering everything from Jennifer Aniston’s favorite dining spots in Chicago to Gwyneth Paltrow’s tips for staying fit. She also writes articles relating to food, travel, and lifestyle for various publications, including Eater, Vegas Magazine, Time Out, CS, Brides, Daily Candy, Huffington Post, Wynn, US Weekly, Michigan Avenue, Chicago Tribune, and Crain’s Chicago Business. Currently she is a regular contributor to the dining section of Vegas magazine. Zagat named her one of the “10 Chicago power players you need to know now,” and New City included her in the 2013-2015 “Big Heat” List of Chicago’s most influential culinary figures, listing her as the second most powerful culinary figure in Chicago in their 2016-17 list.

Always high energy, Catherine attended culinary school while working full-time as a litigator. Her unique blend of culinary, creative, and oratory skills soon caught the eye of executives at Sara Lee Corporation, and she was selected as their national media spokesperson and culinary consultant in 2006. Since, she’s also worked as a spokesperson for major corporations including ConAgra Brands, Ballpark hotdogs, Godiva, Gallo Salame, and more, and she’s appeared on every major network, including NBC and CBS. She also has done recurring spots on The Today Show, Better TV, The Rachael Ray Show, Good Day LA, Bringing it Home, and the Cooking Channel. Her down-to-earth personality and energetic delivery make her a favorite at live engagements: Catherine has done live cooking demonstrations and speaking engagements for crowds ranging from 25 to 5,000 at private events, various food and wine festivals/events across the country, and prestigious conferences.

From 2006 to 2007, she even cooked out of an RV throughout the West Coast and South to help raise money for America’s Second Harvest, a national food bank network. Born in Elmwood Park, Catherine is the daughter of retired surgeon Dr. Anthony and Janet De Orio. She attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison; Loyola University Chicago School of Law and Kendall College Culinary Program. She and her husband, attorney John Gorey, have no children, but they are the loving owners of an old-but-sweet pug, Bailey.

To follow Catherine’s continued culinary pursuits, please check out her Instagram (@catdeorio) and Twitter (@CatCalls) accounts.

Jessica D’Onofrio

A native Chicagoan, Jessica earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree from Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism. She is the general assignment reporter for ABC7 and has held that position since 2010. Jessica reports for ABC 7’s morning show and has covered a wide range of stories including the Chicago Public Schools, the NATO Summit and the Drew Peterson trial.

She came to ABC7 Chicago from CBS affiliate WKMG-TV in Orlando, Florida, where she reported for the station’s 11 p.m. newscast and served as a fill-in anchor. Her exclusive reporting and insider’s knowledge on the Casey Anthony story led to national appearances on the “CBS Early Show,” CNN, “The Nancy Grace Show” and Larry King.

Jessica also worked in Indianapolis at FOX affiliate WXIN-TV, where she was both a reporter and fill-in anchor from 2003 to 2005. Prior to that, she spent two years as a bureau chief and fill-in anchor for WHOI-TV in Peoria-Bloomington-Normal in Central Illinois.

In 2005, Jessica received the Society of Professional Journalist Award for Best Television Feature. She supports St, Mary’s Services, a nonprofit agency that provides counseling to women experiencing unplanned pregnancies, helping them to explore their options, including adoption.

Jessica and her husband Doug are proud parents of their miracle little boy Jack.

Emilia DiMenco

Emilia is the president and chief executive officer of the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) in Chicago. A resident of Hinsdale, Emilia grew up in suburban Blue Island with other Italian immigrants. She became the first woman senior vice president and later the executive vice president of the corporate and commercial bank at BMO Harris.

Throughout her tenure at BMO Harris, Emilia was a strong leader across many faces of the organization. She held a number of business, relationship management and leadership positions in corporate banking, capital markets, corporate cash management, business banking and marketing.

Emilia joined the WBDC as a loaned executive from BMO Harris N.A. in July 2010 after completing a 30-year career with the bank and serving on the WBDC’s Board for seven years. In its 31st year of operation, the WBDC is a nationally and internationally recognized women’s business development center focused on the important role women entrepreneurs play in our economy. Its mission is to provide services and programs that support and accelerate women’s business ownership and strengthen the impact of women on the economy.

Emilia serves on the State of Illinois’ Business Enterprise Council, Charitable Trust Stabilization Fund Board and Advancing the Development of Minority Entrepreneurship Council, and the City of Chicago’s Small Business Advisory Council among others.

She has been recognized with awards and recognition over the years and most recently received the ATHENA Leadership Award, which is given to an exemplary leader who has achieved excellence in their business or profession, served the community in a meaningful way and, most importantly, actively assisted women to achieve their full leadership potential.

Emilia holds a B.A. and M.A. degree from DePaul University. She has a 26-year-old son who graduated from Purdue University with a degree in mechanical engineering and is currently attending the Pritzker Law School at Northwestern University.

Felicia Ferrone

As founder and design director of her international namesake brand, fferrone, founded in 2010, Felicia designs, produces and distributes her work throughout the world. Her client list includes Boffi (Index Mirror, 2014), Covo and The Macallan. Her glassware collections were recently shown at Poliform and Minotti for Salone 2017 at both Rho and their flagship showroom in Milan as the rollout of a partnership between the companies. Felicia’s work is regularly featured in international press, including a recent feature article on her work in Abitare by writer Silvia Icardi (March 2016).

Felicia began her career in Milan in 1994 upon completion of her degree in architecture from Miami of Ohio. Throughout her almost seven years in Milan working in various design studios plus another nine years working in the U.S. for Boffi, she was heavily influenced by the Italian studio model where she learned to “blur boundaries” between architecture, design, graphics and exhibition work. She worked for such Italian greats as Antonio Citterio, Piero Lissoni, and Boffi — the contemporary leaders of Italian design. Her first collection, The Revolution Collection, was designed in 2001 while living in Milan and immediately featured by press worldwide, including Elle Decor Italia and Abitare in 2001.

As a self-taught designer, she learned everything she knows about design through her years living and working in Milan along with attending the Salone di Mobile every year since 1995. In addition to her brand, she is the director of graduate studies and clinical assistant professor of industrial design at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her teaching practice is mainly based upon her vast knowledge of Italian design, contemporary and historic, and is the basis for her pedagogy in the design studios she teaches. Her teaching is not only about the important figures working in Italy today but also emphasizes the important role the Italian brands play in contributing to design history through their vision, innovation, engineering, and manufacturing processes.

Her father is of Italian heritage.

Jomarie Fredericks

Jomarie is the deputy general counsel and chief intellectual property counsel for Rotary International. She has held these positions since 2008 and 1995, respectively. She and her team are principally responsible for protecting Rotary’s intellectual property in over 200 countries and territories throughout the world. She is licensed to practice law before the Supreme Court of the United States, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois. In her capacity as deputy general counsel, her practice includes trademark, copyright, licensing, privacy, contract drafting, review and negotiation and litigation management.

Prior to working at Rotary International, Jomarie practiced first with Connelly, Mustes & Schroeder and then with Deutsch, Levy & Engel, Chartered in Chicago. Her practice focused on commercial and First Amendment litigation, with an emphasis on libel defense and media law, trademark and copyright, including the daily pre-publication review of four national tabloid publications.

Prior to practicing law, Jomarie worked in the broadcast arena both on and off the air, including a six-year stint as a producer with WGN Radio in Chicago. After receiving her master’s in journalism, Jomarie was a regular featured staff writer for Fra Noi from 1985 to 1988.

Jomarie was born into the Chicagoland Italian-American community in the early 1960s. Her Italian heritage is 100 percent Sicilian on her mother’s side. She is a second-generation Italian American with roots in Termini Imerese, Sicily.

Jomarie received her bachelor of arts degree in speech communications and then her master of science degree in journalism, both from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She then went on to earn her juris doctor degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago-Kent College of Law and her master of laws degree in intellectual property law from The John Marshall Law School Center for Intellectual Property Law.

Jomarie attributes some of her success to the Italian-American community, which was an integral part of her life since childhood. Her grandmother, Josephine Cusimano, and her aunt, Pauline Jo Cusimano, were both extremely active members with the JCCIA. Her mother, Marilyn Cusimano Fredericks, was the choreographer of the JCCIA Women’s Division’s Italian Heritage Ball and Cotillion for 25 years and is the longtime choreographer of the Columbus Day

Queen Pageant and the Italianettes youth dance troupe, of which Jomarie was a featured performer from 1971 to 1979.

Jomarie’s publications, educational speaking engagements, awards and volunteer activities are monumental. In 1989, she was the recipient of the Joseph M. Bailey Scholarship and a member of the Bar and Gavel Honorary Society. In addition, Jomarie was the recipient of the prestigious John Fischetti Memorial Journalism Scholarship presented at the JCCIA’s Dante Award media luncheon. She sits on the Board of Directors of the Intellectual Property Law Association of Chicago, on the Advisory Board of The John Marshall Law School Center for Intellectual Property Law and is an immediate past Board member of the International Trademark Association. Jomarie lives in Chicago with her husband, attorney Steven Shamash.

Toni Ginnetti

A veteran Chicago sportswriter, Toni was among the first women to cover a wide range of professional and college sports beats, including both the White Sox and the Cubs. In 2014, Toni retired from the Sun Times after 33 years. She started in the news department of the Sun Times as a general assignment reporter in 1981, later working on several investigative projects.

In 1986, she moved to the sports department as a special projects writer, then began covering major league baseball. She won awards for investigative projects on the problems intertwined in the multi-million-dollar explosion of college sports and also on organized crime’s control of sports betting.

In 1988, Toni covered the Winter Olympics in Calgary and the Summer Games in Seoul. Also in 1988, she added college basketball to her agenda, covering DePaul University and later writing a weekly column and stories on national college basketball and covering four Final Fours.

In 1992, Toni was the beat writer for the Chicago Cubs and continued regular coverage of the Cubs and White Sox after that. She covered All-Star Games and playoff and World Series events and has been a continuing member of the Baseball Writers Association of America since 1986.

Toni was received the Hallmark Award from Chicago Baseball Cancer Charities Inc. in 1999 and was named Sportswriter of the Year in 2003 by the Pitch and Hit Club of Chicago.

Before joining the Sun Times, she worked for nine years at the Daily Herald in Arlington Heights as a general assignment reporter, assignment editor and investigative reporter.

During Toni’s tenure as a reporter, she was the recipient of a variety of awards, including two Jacob Scher Awards for investigative reporting, two Peter Lisagor Awards for reporting, a UPI award for feature writing and the Suburban Reporter of the Year Award from the Suburban Press Association. In 2008, she received the da Vinci Award for Communications from the state lodge of the Order Sons of Italy in America.

Toni is a graduate of Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism. She grew up in Elmwood Park with her parents, the late Nunzio and Helen, and her two sisters and brother. She currently resides in Park Ridge.

In her personal life, Toni has owned and trained dogs. She currently has three rescued dogs — a collie, Marnie; a Shetland sheepdog, Bowie; and poodle-terrier mix, Trey, who is a three-legged pup who competes in a variety of dog sports. All three are certified therapy dogs. Marnie works with special needs children and Bowie works with adults in rehab at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital and in physical therapy with children at Shriners Hospital for Children. Both are programs run in conjunction with Rainbow Animal Assisted Therapy, the longest-running such organization in the Chicago area. Trey works with senior citizens at Advocate Lutheran General’s adult day care center.

“I’ve been fortunate to work in a rewarding profession that I loved, and also in a volunteer capacity helping people with the pets I love, too,’’ Toni says.

Toni has scaled back to a freelance reporter but has definitely not retired.

Dr. Gloria Nardini, Ph.D.

Gloria graduated from Marquette University and received her master’s and doctorate from the University of Illinois in Chicago. She is a bi-lingual teacher, scholar and author of numerous publications and papers. Her dissertation, “Che Bella Figura!: The Power of Performance in an Italian Ladies’ Club in Chicago,” is an often-quoted classic in the field of Italian/American Studies. The dissertation explores the language and culture of an Italian/American Ladies’ club, where discourse occurs in both languages.

Gloria has frequently served as a presenter at Casa Italia, as a film commentator and as a guest leader at immersion events. She served on the committee that organized the national conference of the American Italian Historical Association in Chicago in 2002. In 2007, she was one of the on-camera commentators in Gia Amelia’s “And They Came to Chicago,” and she contributed to a book titled “Reconstructing Italians in Chicago in 2011.”

Gloria played a most important role in the production of “Italian Women in Chicago: Madonna Mia QUI debbo vivere?” She completely immersed herself in the project, recruiting authors, meticulously editing and streamlining the prose and giving good advice at every stage of the process. Once the book was published, Gloria used her talents to market the book in Chicago and Italy. Her appearances on WGN and Italian TV and at library events sparked sales of almost 1,000 copies.

Gloria is actively involved in numerous community activities. Most notably, she has been a longtime member of the Women’s Division of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans as well as the Mazzini-Verdi Club, which honored her as Woman of the Year.

Gloria takes great pride in her Italian heritage. She learned to speak Italian at an early age. Her father was born in Barga, Lucca, and her mother was born in Chicago to an Italian family. She taught Italian, married an Italian man and owns a house in Italy. She recently completed the fourth chapter of a memoir of her life with her deceased husband called “And He Gave Me Italy.” She is also working on a chapter about the importance of spectacle for the Routledge Encyclopedia of Italian/Americana.

Gloria is the mother of two sons and four grandchildren— Dario, Leonardo, Lorenzo and Sara.

Dr. Louise A. Sclafani, OD, FAAO

Louise is a graduate of Loyola University and an alumnus of the Illinois College of Optometry. She began her career at the University of Chicago in 1993, where she is an associate professor of surgery and director of optometic services. She provides expert care for patients who have corneal disease or eye trauma, dry eye and corneal surgery co-management. Louise has earned the status of diplomate in cornea, contact lens and refractive technology with the American Academy of Optometry.

Louise is an active lecturer and educator. She serves as a teacher and mentor to ophthalmology residents, externs and medical students at the University of Chicago.

She was the recipient of the 1998 Illinois Young Optometrist of the Year, the 1995 Residents Excellence in Teaching Award and the 2001 Outstanding Lecturer Award from the University of Chicago, the 2002 Roger Kame Contact Lens Award, the 2004 Excellence in Education Award from the ICO and the 2009 ICO Alumnus of the Year, and she was invited to be a Distinguished Practitioner in the National Academies of Practice. In addition, she is a frequent contributing author for Review of Contact Lenses, Contact Lens Spectrum and Primary Care Optometry News. In 2008, Louise received the Illinois Optometrist of the Year and was selected by Review of Optometry as one of the Top 10 Females at the Forefront of Optometry. She has served on the Illinois State Board, is a past president of the Illinois Optometric Association, and past chair of the Cornea and Contact Lens Section for the AOA. Louise is an advocate for women in the profession.

Louise grew up in Elmwood Park with her mother, Petrina Vanisi-Sclafani; sister Diane (Sclafani-Poulos); and grandparents, Sarah Scolaro-Vanisi and Frank Vanisi Sr. Her father, Louis, passed away when she was in college. Her grandparents immigrated from Palermo and Castronovo, Sicily.

During her undergraduate studies at Loyola University of Chicago, she had the opportunity to study at their Rome Campus. It was there that she learned to cultivate her Italian roots and love of travel. To blend her passion for cultures and ability to educate, Louise started a company with a fellow Italian-American physician, Dr. Mark Rosanova, called Advanced Eye Care Associates Cruise Seminars. For the past 20 years, she has taken hundreds of eye doctors on exotic voyages to explore the lands while providing continuing education.

Louise lives in River Forest with her husband, Jeff McClimans, and son, Liam. She is a hockey mom who enjoys travel, entertaining, wine tasting, triathlons and sailing with family. Dr Sclafani learned her culinary skills from her grandmother and the tradition continues as her mother, Petrina, still lives with her on the lakefront.

Wendy Snyder

Wendy is an award-winning talk radio host and radio personality with 30 years experience in the Chicago market. She started her radio career in 1985, and is currently the co-host of the Bill Leff and Wendy Snyder radio program, weekdays from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on WGN Radio 720 AM.

Wendy’s first paid gig was with an AM/Christian/Ethnic station in Northbrook. In 1986 at the young age of 23, she started hosting weekend overnights, which turned into weekday overnights, which turned into evening.

About the time that LPs switched CDs, Wendy switched from music radio to talk radio. In 1992, she teamed up with Kevin Matthews on the ASM band of WLUP/AM-1000, and did some news, wacky interviews, and basically realized she enjoyed making a fool of herself. When the legendary Chicago radio team of Steve Dahl and Garry Meier broke up in 1993, she won Garry and continued doing news and co-hosting with him for about a year. In 1994, the radio team of Wendy Snyder and Bill Leff was born and the rest is history.

Wendy received the Silver Dome Award for Best Feature Story in 2015, the Silver Dome Award for Best Midday Show in 2015, and the Air Award for Best Midday Show in 2002.

She is active in numerous community events and, as a respected broadcaster, she speaks at high schools and colleges to inspire young broadcasters to continue the tradition of informing and entertaining a local audience over the airwaves.

Wendy was born in Brookfield, Ill., to John Snyder and Elaine Gasparotto Snyder. Her father died when she was 10 years old. Since her father’s parents were no longer living, thankfully her mother’s parents and extended family lived in Brookfield and allowed her to be raised in true Italian fashion. Her grandfather Guiseppe Gasparotto was born in Molvena, near Vicenza. Her grandmother Asunta Benedetti was born in America but her parents were from Lucca in Tuscany.

Wendy is married to Jimmy “Mac” McInerney and is the proud mother of two boys, Michael and Dylan. Michael is a recent high school graduate and Dylan will be entering high school this year.

About Fra Noi

Fra Noi produces a magazine and website that serve the Chicago-area Italian-American community. Our magazine offers our readers a monthly feast of news and views, culture and entertainment that keeps our diverse and widely scattered readers in touch with each other and their heritage. Our website offers a dizzying array of information drawn from every corner of the local community.

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