Frank Alfano is a past president of the Italian Workmen's Club of Madison.
You know about Festa Italia, the annual celebration of Italian American culture in Fitchburg. But you may not know that the group behind the celebration, the Italian Workmen's Club of Madison, is the longest consistently running club of its kind.
It's been in existence since 1912. Other Italian Workmen's Clubs in the U.S. suspended operations during both World Wars, but Madison's never did.
The club has experienced a recent shift in its membership.
"Last year we basically lost a whole generation of members," says past president Frank Alfano. It's not uncommon for two or three members to pass away in a year, but last year 11 members died.
However, the club is getting renewed interest from the younger generation. According to Alfano, they want to learn more about their family history and the old country. That's much different from why members of the older generation joined.
"You talk to some of our older members -- when they were 18, they were told 'You are joining a workmen's club.' When your dad said that, you did," says Alfano.
The mission of the Italian Workmen's Club is "to keep alive the Italian traditions and culture in the greater Madison community," says Alfano.
They do this in part by bringing in Italian language instructors from the UW-Madison to their weekly meetings, hosting an annual homemade sauce-tasting contest and making their own wine with a 125-year-old wine press, using revered recipes. Members are also starting an Italian Club at West High School.
But the highest-profile item on the club's calendar is Festa Italia, May 30-June 1, at McKee Farms Park ($2 admission). Highlights include the Pasta and Meatball Dinner, a vintage 1880s-era baseball tournament, and music from local bands including IWC member Joe Scalissi and his Dry Martini Band. Something new this year is an Italian instruments demonstration in the culture tent, featuring the zampogna, a kind of Italian bagpipe.
The culture tent will also have cooking demos, photos and memorabilia from Madison's original Greenbush neighborhood. "People will come in with their grandmothers or great-grandmothers and talk about where they were born and raised," says Alfano. "The history that goes along with it is really quite interesting. It's generally our most popular exhibit."