By Pete Kennedy
Denise Alessandrini has spent more than 20 years in the Prince of Piedmont Lodge of the Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America. As president of the women’s auxiliary, she’s usually at the lodge a couple times a week, helping to plan fundraisers that support scholarships and other worthy causes.
But until April 13, there was one important thing she couldn’t do: vote on lodge business.
“Women were always ‘social members,’” she said. “Now, we will be able to attend the meetings and we’ll have a vote.”
Alessandrini, 60, who lives just a few blocks from the lodge in Wilmington’s Little Italy neighborhood, was one of about 50 women inducted as full, voting members in the April 13 ceremony. Most of the women were sworn in together as a group, but Alessandrini and another inductee, Jane Gabrielli, were inducted separately in recognition of their exemplary contributions to Prince of Piedmont.
The ceremony — in which the women received a pin and took a pledge — was a momentous occasion, Alessandrini said. It signaled a turning point in women’s involvement in the 103-year-old lodge.
“If we wanted to spend more than $1,000 for the ladies auxiliary, we had to ask the men, even though we had generated the money,” Alessandrini said.
Those requests were never denied, she said, and the auxiliary always had a great working relationship with the men in the lodge. But as a matter of principle, she is glad to now be on equal footing. Alessandrini said Prince of Piedmont’s new class of women members reflects the same trend toward inclusion that prompted the grand lodge to add “And Daughters” to its name.
“They didn’t even let women in for a long time. It was a men’s club, totally,” she said. “We’ve evolved a lot.”
Prince of Piedmont has always been a family affair for Alessandrini, whose maternal grandparents emigrated from Italy. Her husband, Bill, is a past vice president of the club, and his grandfather helped start the club.
As a teenager, Alessandrini worked in her future father-in-law’s delicatessen, Broadway Cold Cuts, where Italian was the prevailing language. She has been immersed in the Wilmington Italian-American community all her life, which isn’t uncommon at the lodge.
“These people all went to school together, sometimes from kindergarten,” she said. “For a lot of the ladies, this is the hub of their livelihood. These are lifelong bonds they have.”
The same is true for the men, she said.
“My husband has friends he’s known since he was 5. When one’s down, the others pick him up, and vice-versa. That’s pretty amazing in this life,” she said.
Alessandrini, who rises early and walks around five to eight miles every morning, works as a hairdresser at Gemini Hair Designs in Trolley Square. After 40 years in the business, she says she has styled the hair of her early clients’ children and grandchildren. She loves working with people.
“I always wanted to be a hairdresser since I was about 6,” she said. “Thank God I got to do it.”
In the warmer months, she enjoys spending time at her family’s shore house in North Wildwood. She’s a member of an Elks Lodge at the shore, and she says she sees the same issue there as at Prince of Piedmont: a lack of younger members.
The problem, she said, is that many young people are moving out of the city where they grew up. They’ll visit Trolley Square for drinks and fun, but it can be difficult to bring them to the lodge, where they might find similar camaraderie plus a focus on cultural preservation and charity.
“They’re down there paying $9 for a beer,” she said. “Not only do we do good things, we have cheap drinks, too.”