It may come as a surprise to Italian Americans living in the northern half of the Chicago area, but the far southwest suburbs boast substantial communities of paesani as well.
“Mokena’s population is the highest and Homer Glen has a large one as well,” reports longtime local elected official Steve Balich. “Joliet and Crest Hill have good-sized populations, too, and so does Lockport and a couple of the neighboring suburbs.”
Balich and others formed the Will County Italian American Association last summer to rally their compatriots around each other and their culture.
“We started the group to support our heritage and bring people together to hang out and share our traditions,” he explains. “We wanted to make those a part of our everyday lives.”
Dues are $50 a year, with membership open to Italian-Americans and non-Italian Americans alike. “We require a minimum of 51 percent of our members to be of Italian descent and most of us are, but we welcome non-Italian Americans who enjoy or culture.”
The association has been meeting for family-style dinners at local Italian restaurants on the last Thursday of every other month, with an eye toward upping the frequency.
Plans are in the works for a procession with a statue of St. Joseph through the streets of Homer Glen in March, culminating in a St. Joseph Table at Our Mother of Good Council with a local Polish group.
WCIAA leaders marched in the 2023 Columbus Day Parade, with plans to take out a float next year.
“We have 114 members after six months so that’s pretty good,” Balich says. “It’s not an effort when you’re having fun, meeting new people and celebrating your heritage.”
Balich is Italian and French on his mom’s side and Croatian and Sicilian on his dad’s. “My mom was adopted and my dad’s father died when he was very young. He was raised by the Sicilian side, so that’s all we ever knew growing up in terms of culture.”
Active politically, Balich has been a member of the Will County Board for 12 years. Before that, he served as a Homer Township trustee for eight years and clerk for four. He has chaired the Homer Township Republican Organization for six years and has served as the township’s supervisor for two years.
“I’m a firm believer in giving back to my community,” he says. “Forming the Will County Italian American Association is an extension of that.
To find out how you can get involved, call 815-557-7196.