It only seems like Casa Italia’s popular language and cuisine instructor, Giovanna “Jackie” Dimetros, is leading a double life.
Some people know her as Giovanna and others as Jackie, she has inexplicably English and Greek surnames, and people aren’t certain whether she’s a cooking or Italian teacher or both. But she is in fact one delightful Italian-born Chicagoan who integrates all these identities.
The story begins during World War II. An American Army officer, Major Jack Spears, a Chicago native stationed in Tuscany, fell in love with his future wife Miranda in the town of Livorno. After they married, they raised little Jackie and her sister in Tuscany for a few years, then began a pattern of a spending a year in Italy, a year in Chicago, and so on.
Schoolchildren in Italy couldn’t pronounce “Jackie,” however, which left her feeling mortified.
“So my mom said, “In Italy, we’ll call you Giovanna, and in the United States we’ll call you Jackie,” she recalls.
Her Greek surname comes from her late husband, Fredric. His family owned a restaurant on Chicago’s Gold Coast, Andre’s. That, combined with the fact that her uncle in Italy owned a seaside restaurant in the Italian Riviera town of Castiglioncello, led to her love of cooking.
After raising her children, Jonandre and Alexandra, she began teaching Italian and cooking informally at restaurants on their slow nights. She would design each session’s lesson and menu to focus on a particular region of Italy. She also took a few tours to Italy, bringing the groups to her relatives’ vineyards and olive groves in Italy and taking day trips to sightsee.
She began teaching the same sort of Italian conversation-plus-cooking-lesson, focusing on one region at a time, at Casa Italia. About eight years ago, that led to teaching regular Italian language classes at Casa. Today, she teaches about three days a week there, gives private lessons, performs occasional translations for the Italian Trade Commission and volunteers for the Coalition for Limited English Speaking Elderly (www.clese.org), translating and assisting nurses to help secure medical services for the elderly.
“I love what I do,” Dimetros says. “I love teaching, and I even get a little sad when my classes end. Many students sign up again, which makes me really happy. They become friends, so it becomes a nice social ongoing friendship.”
Some of her students described the experience of being in her class.
“As a teacher, Giovanna uses her artistic talents to create ways to introduce and to review a skill, in order to keep the interest of the class, e.g., a team game where winning involves using correct verb tenses, or a homework assignment that includes writing a description of a photograph,” said Brenda Esposito.
Kathleen Cappetta, who has gone to Dimetros’ language classes for about four years and attends many of her cooking classes, described Dimetros as a “wonderful teacher.”
“We do a lot of laughing in class and no matter how worn out I am walking into the class (dopo lavoro), I walk out with a lighter step and a smile on my face,” Cappetta said.
Finally, Randy Albers, a Columbia College professor who has been teaching for four decades, called Dimetros’ classes “exemplary and a joy.”
“She is, quite simply, an excellent teacher, someone who has a unique ability to make serious learning accessible and downright fun. She is remarkably able to engage and draw out the best work from a very diverse group of people,” he said. “Giovanna Dimetros is one of the finest teachers I’ve ever seen, and I feel very fortunate to have found my way into her class.”
Far from leading a double life, Dimetros has achieved something singular — bringing knowledge and joy to her students, all with a light touch.
To sign up for one of Dimestros classes, call 708-345-5933, ext. 2.