In 1997, Gene and Shirley Fedeli took over leadership of Pappagallo, the official newsletter of the Greater Rockford Italian American Association (GRIAA). Pappagallo had been absent for some time, and the Fedelis believed something was missing in the local Italian-American community. This month, when Gene and Shirley leave behind their beloved hometown and move to Michigan, the community will be missing two dedicated people who put all their love and heart into promoting Italian culture. To show their appreciation, GRIAA will hold an open house for the Fedelis from 2-4 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 11, at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center, 200 S. Bell School Road.
The Fedelis will be moving to St. Clair Shores, Mich., to be near their daughter, Lisa, and her family. They are eager and excited to watch their granddaughter, Alexandra Hughes, compete at high school and state-level swimming events. They sold their house in northwest Rockford and are moving soon.
As much as they did together, both made memorable altruistic contributions to the Rockford community. Therefore, they received the Italian-American Hall of Fame Award in 1994.
Gene worked at Barnes International and retired after 38 years. This allowed him time for other endeavors, such as his garden and his special talent for gift-wrapping and weaving of palms on Palm Sunday. Gene was also known for his culinary skills and once cooked Pasta Con Sarde, traditional pasta served at St. Joseph Day altars, from scratch. He toured Italy and Sicily many times with family and friends.
Shirley is a retired teacher who began her career as a fifth-grade teacher at Bloom School. After taking time off to raise their daughter, she returned to the classroom in 1980, teaching religion and history at The Cathedral of St. Peter’s School. She has been a member of Delta Kappa Gamma Honorary International Teaching Society for 40 years and served in many positions. Shirley is a member of Who’s Who Among Women Educators. Her involvement with GRIAA began when it was known as the Greater Rockford Columbus Day Committee. She also founded the Amici Italiani Dance Troupes. As chairman of GRIAA’s Culture and Education Committee and Pappagallo for many years, it was natural that she and Gene became involved with the Ethnic Heritage Museum. Shirley served as the museum’s president for many years; that and her involvement with other projects resulted in her nomination for the prestigious Excalibur Award, given by the Rockford Register Star. Shirley was a finalist in 2003 and 2004 for the award that recognizes individuals for community service and commitment, which make the Rockford area a better place to live, work and raise families.
Pappagallo was started in 1990 with Pat Maggio as its first editor. Its initial run ended in 1997, and when the Fedelis brought it back, Shirley wrote, “We feel that no one can write like Pat Maggio, our past editor, but we want to continue our Italian connection with our Italian friends.”
The Fedelis recalled bagging issues of the newsletter in their living room before they turned that job over to Adams Letter Service. “We just wanted to have some communication among local Italians about Italy,” Shirley said in the Spring 2013 issue. “We included recipes, featured regions of Italy, and filled the pages with news and entertainment about people and events in Rockford.” The newsletter is mailed to about 1,700 people from the East Coast to the West and Southwest. While Shirley served as editor and chief writer for the newsletter, Gene served as her co-editor and worked behind the scenes in organizing and managing.
Those who have been fortunate to know Gene and Shirley know how willing they are to help others with Italian heritage, whether it is for a research paper or speech, or a trip to Italy or Sicily. Anyone who has visited the Cultural Tent at the annual Festa Italiana has been touched by their involvement. The Aug. 11 event is a way of thanking them for their long-time commitment to making Rockford and area people aware of what it is like to be Italian.
“When I think of saying goodbye, it’s a mix of happy, sad feelings,” Shirley said. “Good and bad are part of every life. Life is what you make of it, wherever you are.”
From the Aug. 7-13, 2013, issue