An Alpine Star Shines in Lock Haven
Jul 30, 2020 11:25AM
By Linda Stager
It all started as an argument. It might have become a fight, but Jenny Calasandro and her good friends Lucy Caprio and Rose Bombassei were not the type of women to start a fight. But they wanted to be members of the chapter of the Sons of Italy that was being founded in Lock Haven in 1937.
But the rules were clear. No women were allowed—not as members. Oh, they could help with projects, get involved. But no voice in the organization. And that didn’t sit well with these hard-working Italian-American women, wives, mothers, and daughters of the men who were forming the Loggia Giosue Carducci chapter of the Sons of Italy.
So, for them it was simple. No fight. Just start their own chapter. Women only. Jenny knew how to push, to get the charter. And so it was that the Alpine Star Lodge was formed at the same time as the Lock Haven chapter of the Sons of Italy. But they needed to decide on a name. Jenny thought about how the stars over the Bald Eagle Mountain reminded her of the sky in her birthplace of Calabria, Italy. Thus, the name Alpina Starre, Alpine Star, was born.
This quarrel was, at its heart, a lover’s quarrel, and soon mended. For Alpine Star’s desire to serve the community and the pride of their Italian heritage was the same as the husbands and fathers who created the Sons of Italy lodge. Even the Lock Haven Express, the local newspaper, got it wrong. They saw Alpine Star as an auxiliary, not as a separate lodge. But for that, they can be forgiven. Once the lodges were created, they worked closely together, as they did in business and as families.
Although Jenny was the sparkplug for the organization, it was Lucy Caprio who was the first Alpine Star president and served from 1937-1953. Mary Louise Graziano, who was also president later, remembered Jenny as a nice older woman, and Lucy as a little lady, but feisty. Mary Louise was involved as a youngster in some of the lodge’s early projects.
“In the mid 1950s, we collected canned goods to pass out to people who needed it. We put all of them on a big table in the garage.” Both Mary Louise and Phyllis Colacino, who was the secretary for a long time (“No one wanted the job!” she recalls), also remembered the March of Dimes drives from that era, and all the walking they did for that charity. And for years, Alpine Star members sold daffodils for the American Cancer Society.
Though they served the entire community, Alpine Star kept a special place in its heart and mission for the Italian community. There were Founder’s Dinners, visits to sick members, flowers at Christmas, and deceased Alpine Star members honored at their wake with a rosary from the members, along with special prayers.
From the first, Alpine Star had a space at the Sons of Italy lodge.
“We never had a physical lodge,” says Phyllis. “The Sons of Italy gave us permission to use the rooms upstairs at no charge.” And the women’s group had access to the Sons of Italy kitchens. That led to their most famous fundraisers—the dinners. At first, it was spaghetti dinners. The Alpine Star bought the food and used the Sons of Italy kitchens. The profit from the dinners went to the various charities that the women supported in the area.
But then, the women started getting creative. Mary Louise says that the women worked in groups of three, with one group hosting the dinner for a night. The groups rotated.
“We started making specialties—special family recipes,” she remembers. “It could be eggplant parmigiana, rolled lasagna, manicotti, soups like Italian wedding soup, and Italian hot dogs. Everyone looked forward to the dinners.” It wasn’t long before the Sons of Italy were buying the food and the women were working their magic in the kitchen for an entire city.
The dish that Mary Louise was known for was her aglio e oglio. Just talking about it around Phyllis’ kitchen table was a joy as the women recalled those dinners. “For the dinners, I made it with green and black olives, red pepper, and anchovies—beautiful!” she says. But she also recalls that, in earlier, leaner days, she had made it for her family with sardines (which also sounds good). Her recipe was later printed, along with all the other family favorites that made their way to the Alpine Star dinners, so that the tradition could continue after the public dinners ceased.
That cookbook was redone in 2003-2004, when Alpine Star worked on a major exhibit on the Italian families and Italian influence in Lock Haven. The exhibition was at the Ross Library, and included cooking, and tastings, along with research and photos of many families in the area. That collected information was published in a book, to preserve the stories and heritage of the early twentieth century Italian families in Lock Haven and surrounding areas for future generations.
And the money raised through the cookbook sales? Like an Italian grandmother’s apron money, it went in many directions, giving help and hope. Donations were made to St. Joseph’s, Ronald McDonald house, and donations for research on Cooley’s anemia, a disease that has a genetic component and appears in Italian families. It went for scholarships for young members who graduated from high school to further their education. And it went for myriad needs in the community. “When the community asked, we gave,” Mary Louise says.
And the tradition continues, as the group welcomes new members. Meetings are the third Thursday of the month at the Sons of Italy Lodge, 1 N. Henderson St, Lock Haven. Membership is open to Italian-American women or women who married Italian-American men. For more information, contact Ruth Ruhl at (570) 748-4226.
Mary Louise’s Aglio e Oglio
- 3⁄4 to 1 pound cooked spaghetti
- 1 Tbsp. minced garlic
- 2 Tbsp. minced parsley
- 1⁄2 c. olive oil
- Salt and black pepper to taste
You may add whatever you want to this. For example, sliced green and black olives, thinly sliced mushrooms, diced fresh red pepper, and/or anchovies (or sardines). When you drain the cooked spaghetti, reserve a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water, then, while the spaghetti is still hot, toss that with the oil, garlic, and parsley. Add the rest of the desired ingredients, toss again, and serve.