SACA celebrates 25th anniversary with gala luncheon

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Joseph and Martha Monastero and Katherine Amari O’Dell

The Sicilian American Cultural Association celebrated its 25th anniversary with a gala Medal of Merit luncheon on Sept. 8 at Belvedere Banquets in Elk Grove Village. All past presidents and Medal of Merit recipients were honored at the event, along with this year’s honorees, Joseph and Martha Monastero and Katherine Amari O’Dell. For details, call 773-454-4710.

The following profiles of this year’s Medal of Merit recipients were provided by the organization:

Joseph Monastero

Joseph Monastero was born in Philadelphia on Sept. 21, 1930, and returned to Caccamo, Italy, in 1932. He completed Liceo Classico in Palermo, returned to the United States in 1952 and served in the Army Signal Corps from 1954 to 1956. Joseph and his late siblings Gina and Salvy opened Monastero’s Ristorante and Banquets in Chicago on Nov. 26, 1962. Monastero’s had become a Chicago tradition for 55 years when it closed in 2017. Joseph served as president of the Bel Canto Foundation from 1974 to 2017. The Bel Canto Foundation sponsored opera workshops with Tito Gobbi, Carlo Bergonzi and Renata Tebaldi in Italy and awarded $50,000 in annual scholarships to young operatic singers. Joseph was a Paul Harris member of the Rotary Club of Glenview-Sunrise, a member of the Catering Executives Club of America and the Comitato Civico Caccamesi di Chicago, a past president of the Sicilian American Cultural Association, and a past president of the NEIU Foundation, where he continues as an emeritus member of the Board of Directors. Joseph received the National Catholic Band Association Honor Award after organizing a 1997 trip to Italy for the Loyola Academy Band that included meeting Pope John Paul II. Joseph also received the 2005 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Catering Executives Club of America. Joseph and his late brother Salvy were conferred the title of Cavaliere Ufficiale by the Italian government in 1995.

Martha Monastero

Martha Finch Monastero was born and raised in Rockford, Illinois. She studied piano from the age of eight and began to sing at the age of 12. Martha received her bachelor of music degree from Northwestern University, where she studied voice in the studio of Elizabeth Fischer Monastero. She was the 1976 grand prize winner of the Bel Canto Foundation Opera Contest, winning a six-week trip to Florence, Italy, to study in the opera workshop of the late Tito Gobbi. She was a 1977 national finalist in the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and an international finalist in the 1979 first annual Luciano Pavarotti International Vocal Contest in Philadelphia. She was a member of the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Center for Young Artists from 1978 through 1980, where she performed the role of Mimi in “La Boheme” and in the Lyric Opera season productions the role of Xenia in “Boris Godunov” and the Countess Ceprano in “Rigoletto.” Martha organized the vocal contests for the Bel Canto Foundation for many years while working at Monastero’s Ristorante. She has served as secretary of the Sicilian American Cultural Association since 2010. Martha’s joy is her 41-year marriage to her husband, Joseph, and their children Joseph Jr. (Emilio Alexandrov) and twin daughters Maria (Mark Orszula) and Elena (Thomas Ryan), and their four grandchildren Mark, Thomas, Gina and William.

Katherine A. O’Dell

Katherine A. O’Dell is a partner with the Law Offices of Amari & Locallo, which handles, exclusively, ad valorem real estate tax matters, locally and nationally. Katherine graduated from John Marshall Law School in 2000 and served as the president of the John Marshall Law School Alumni Association from 2009-2010. The Alumni Association awarded her the Distinguished Service Award in May 2006 and its Board of Trustees awarded her its prestigious Spirit Award (2011). Katherine received her bachelor of arts degree from Northern Illinois University. Katherine began her legal career at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in the real estate tax department of the Civil Division. Katherine is a member of the Illinois State Bar Association, serving her fourth elected term as a member of the ISBA General Assembly. She is also past president of the Justinian Society of Lawyers (2011-2012). Katherine was the associate editor of the Justinian Society Newsletter and served on its Executive Committee. She also is the past president of the Sicilian American Cultural Association. Katherine is the co-chair of the Women in Business Committee of the Park Ridge Chamber of Commerce and one of the vice presidents of the Norridge/Harwood Heights Chamber of Commerce. Katherine is married to Jay E. O’Dell. They live in Chicago and are proud parents of Jason, age 11.

The following officers and honorees will also be honored at the event:

Chairmen of the Board

1994-2010 — Alfred Gallo*

2010-2015 — Vincent Inserra*

2016-2018 — Paul Ciminello


1994-95 — Vincent Inserra*

1996-97 — Frank Petro, Esq.*

1998-99 — Hon. Anthony Scariano*

2000-01 — Edward Manzo, Esq.

2002-03 — Michael Polelle, Esq.

2004-05 — Emil Venuti*

2006-07 — Joseph Monastero Sr.

2008-09 — Hon. Frank Orlando

2010-12 — Paul Ciminello

2013-14 — Sam Cannizzaro, Esq.

2015 — Katherine Amari, Esq.

2016 — Rosemary Ragano

2017 — Hon. Gloria G. Coco

2018 — Paul Ciminello (Interim President)

2018 — Sam Cannizzaro, Esq.

Medal of Merit Recipients

2000 — Rose Farina (Manager, Daley Center Events)

2001 — Leonard F. Amari, Esq., Hon. Michele Coccia*, Ralph Gabric, Esq.*, Cheryl L. Niro, Esq., Hon. Lawrence X. Pusateri* (All Past Presidents of the Illinois Bar Association)

2002 — Hon. Anthony Scariano* (Retired Appellate Court Justice)

2003 — Hon. Enrico Granara (Consul General of Italy)

2004 — Dennis Farina* (Film and Television Star), Hon. Moses Harrison* (Retired Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice)

2005 — Frank Battaglia* (Businessman), Lawrence Marshall Pucci* & Caryl Pucci Rettaliata (Custom Tailors and Designers)

2006 — Rev. Michael J. Garanzini, S.J. (President, Loyola University Chicago

2009 — Comm. Dominic Di Frisco* (Public Relations Consultant)

2010 — Rev. Charles Faso, O.F.M.

2011 — Vincent Inserra* (Retired FBI agent), Cav. Uff. Dino Porto (Banker), Alfred E. Gallo, Esq.*

2012 — Rose Mary Ragano (Real Estate), Hon. Frank Orlando

2013 — Dominic Gambino, Hon. Jennie Giambastiani, Emil Venuti, Esq.*

2014 — Dominic Candeloro, Paul Ciminello, Josette Mentesana Weber

2015 — Hon. Gloria G. Coco

2016 — Dr. Giuseppe Finocchiaro (Consul General of Italy), Dr. Anna Clara Ionta (Educator)

2017 — Umberto S. Davi, Esq.

2018 — Sam F. Cannizzaro, Esq.

* — Deceased

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