By Ken Mammarella
When South Jersey resident Joe Paglione was inducted into the Italian American National Hall of Fame in 2009, three accom-plishments were cited. They were the Amici Della Lingua Italiana Club, which he formed in 1996 and which is going strong today with 200 members; his work in local Italian-American communities; and his creation of the Monumento All’Emigrante in his home-town of Capracotta, Isernia.
They’re part of his lifelong optimism and goodness. “I want to be remembered as a person who cares who we are,” he said.
Paglione was 13 when he started training as a tailor. He was still a teen when his family moved from Italy to Burlington County and stayed with his uncle until they set up their own household.
After 10 years of working for others, he started his own business in 1968, selling and tailoring “everything, from shoes to hats.” He is now “old enough to retire, [but] I like what I do, and I like to be active.” He has, however, cut back, reducing the store from 4,000 square feet to 500 and limiting the hours he works. Joseph Paglione Fine Men’s Clothing, in Burlington City, specializes in custom Italian and American clothing, plus tailoring.
In 1971, he married Peggy, “German-English-Pennsylvania Dutch [who] converted to being Italian.” Their two children and five grandchildren, plus their siblings and descen-dants, form a family of 101, mostly in the Philadelphia area.
His mother was born in America, easing the trans-Atlantic transition, but in 1958,
“there was no such thing as dual citizenship,” so he gave up his Italian citizenship to become American. But in no way did he give up on Italian language, culture and tradition.
Dr. Louis S. Ruvolo, a longtime surgeon in Willingboro, told Paglione that he wished that his parents had taught him Italian and wanted to learn the language. In 1996, with the support of Dominic Coceano and Matteo Cipriano, Paglione formed the Amici Della Lingua Italiana Club, meeting at first in their homes once a month to read poetry and stories and talk.
When membership outgrew their homes, the club moved to restaurants – all Italian, of course – and country clubs and other facilities that can handle the 100 or so who now gather monthly.
“The ingredients were working out good,” Paglione said. “We’re mostly adults who like to travel and love the language, and we’re going to make it exciting.” The dinners usually include a presentation or speaker, such as Philadelphia politician Frank Rizzo Jr. and TV chef Lidia Bastianich.
The club is online at https://amiciclubof burlco.com and in other activities, such as occasional concerts; mens and womens bocce leagues; and language classes.
Weekly languages classes at Wilbur Watts Intermediate in Burlington City are popular. Four natives of Italy teach: Vera Bonavita Agarwal for basic conversation, Rosa Marinzoli for beginners, Anna DeCristofaro for inter-mediate and Gregorio Candelieri for advanced.
Club membership is $25, $40 per couple and $10 for students. Ten-week conversation classes cost $85; other classes are $110 and run during most of the school year. Tuition includes club membership.
A few years after forming the club, Paglione was also inspired by the “stories of hardships” that he had heard from older relatives and decided to create a monument back in Capra-cotta to memorialize all the emigrants “from our town, our region, anyone.” (Capracotta was in the news in 2015 for setting a world record for 100 inches of snow in 18 hours.)
The monument features a man, a woman, two children and a suitcase (“cardboard, like my grandfather had in 1903”). About 75 club members flew to Italy for the 2007 unveiling, including a Mass and dedication ceremony.
Before the pandemic, Paglione figures that he returned to Italy every three years. Back in South Jersey, he’s also active in the Knights of Columbus and the Rotary Club.
The Amici, of course, remains close to his heart. Here’s how the club describes its mission: “As the older generation passes on, our language, culture, and traditions also pass with them. It is our mission to continue education and to immerse our members, both young and old alike, with all the richness that our heritage has to offer so that future generations will understand what it is to be Italian.”
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