Nella Piccolin: a force for good in Frankfort

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Piccolin, her husband and her cherished Italian cactus

In 1926, 16-year-old Onorato Piccolin came to America from Falcade, province of Buluno, region of Veneto, Italy.  He arrived at Ellis Island, settling in the Kensington section of Chicago. A blacksmith in the old country, he eventually found work in Gary, Indiana, at the steel mills. Many of you share this same story. A father, a mother, coming to Chicago, perhaps knowing some relatives who were already here, perhaps not. Starting a life, a family.  Everyone worked hard and contributed in this family of two daughters, Mary Jane and Nella.

Nella started in the hair business sweeping up and then moving to hair design at the age of 16, working hard first at Joseph’s and then owning her own shop, Nella’s Hair Fashions, in Chicago’s Far South Side Roseland neighborhood.

In the early ’70s, the salon owner’s daughter was getting married and asked Nella to be a bridesmaid in her wedding.  Enter one E.J. DalBello, a good-looking guy she had seen around.  He was to be best man for his cousin at the same wedding.

“It was like a bolt of lightening! Love at first sight,” recounts Nella, but, “unfortunately, it was not to be as we didn’t get along very well so we went our separate ways.”

Five years later, the two happened to be taking care of their various business needs at the post office on 111th and State in Roseland and what happened?  There they were in line together. Thirty days later, on July 6, 1973, they were married at St. Peter and Paul Church in Roseland.

In 1981, they moved to Frankfort to raise their two sons, Frank and Antonio, and their foster children. They purchased two lots, intending to build a larger home, but instead moved Mama, Inez Baron, the first family member off the boat from Italy, now 94, next door.

Nella, who owned her hair salon for 20 years, has been running the family business, Kensington Research and Recovery Inc., with E.J. since 2007. Prior to that, E.J. had the first dollar store in Illinois in downtown Chicago.

Nella is one of those people who never notices that a job is huge or impossible.  If it needs doing, she’s in!

Currently the Frankfort Township’s clerk, Nella was the first female township collector and later the first female trustee for Frankfort Township. She was the first woman county board member from Frankfort, first woman committeeman chairman and first Committeewoman of the Year for Will County.  In her spare time, she and a friend started the first school paper-recycling for School District 157C, which her boys attended. She was PTA president for four years, past president of the Lincoln Way Special Recreation Association, chairman of fund raising for the Lincoln-Way Key Club and a recipient of the Kiwanis Woman of the Year, among other honors/

Her Sundays were free so she started bringing donuts to St. Anthony’s Church in Roseland for after services coffee and fellowship as well as fund raising for the Woman’s Association.

She served on Frankfort’s Park District board for six years, four of them as president. Her efforts on behalf of Frankfort Township are legendary, having served as an elected official for twenty years.  She started the Nurse’s Closet. Which supplies walkers, wheelchairs, other kinds of health equipment free for borrowing to those in need.

In 2007, Nella was invited to a painting class.  She is now a quite accomplished artist, known for her unusual subject matter and ability to see inside the people she paints.  She adores gardening and belongs to a local garden club.  Her favorite house plant is a weird cactus that her mother brought from Italy, which insists on blooming enthusiastically every summer with gorgeous water-lily-like flowers.

“Help others,” should be Nella’s motto, but with usual Italian humor she professes that she and E.J. have two. The first is from the movie Moonstruck.  “Just tell the truth. They find out anyway.” The other is often heard in the neighborhood, “Get off the cross. We need the wood.”

About Kay MacNeil

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