By Michael P. Walsh
Special to the Voice
The West Haven Columbus Day Committee will honor its “prima italiana” at the city’s 19th annual Columbus Day Celebration.
Grace Iannucci Hendricks, the granddaughter of immigrant grandparents from the Campania capital of Naples, Italy, will receive the committee’s Italian-American of the Year award Oct. 6 at City Hall.
Accompanied by Italian music, members of the West Haven Italian-American Civic Association will escort Iannucci Hendricks to the steps of City Hall at 11:30 a.m. for her special recognition.
The award is given annually to an Italian resident, or couple, who epitomizes service in the city’s robust Italian-American community.
“I am honored and proud to be named West Haven’s Italian-American of the Year,” said Iannucci Hendricks, a long-standing member of the West Haven Italian-American Ladies Auxiliary. “It gives me great pleasure to accept this award, as I am proud of my heritage.”
Iannucci Hendricks will fete the Italian navigator and observe her ancestry with scores of her closest friends and relatives, along with a passel of dignitaries and descendants of folks from the old country clad in red, white and green.
In the late 1800s, overcoming hardship and strife through the values of faith and family, Iannucci Hendricks’ grandparents left their homes in southern Italy seeking a brighter day in the U.S., with her paternal grandparents eventually settling in West Haven.
In the adventurous spirit of Christopher Columbus, Iannucci Hendricks’ grandparents, like so many other immigrants, are a testament to the American dream.
Columbus, a son of Genoa and an experienced seaman, set sail aboard three Spanish ships across the Atlantic Ocean in the summer of 1492, a bold expedition that pushed back the boundaries of the known world and opened up a new continent for future generations.
Mayor Edward M. O’Brien, whose Italian lineage runs on his mother’s side of the family, praised Iannucci Hendricks, a longtime Westie with a passion for Italian music and opera, for her “enduring and inspiring good works in shaping the life of our community.”
“As we commemorate the daring legacy of Christopher Columbus and his intrepid voyage 525 years ago, we pay tribute to the millions of Italian sons and daughters who pursued the young explorer’s route to the New World in search of a better life,” O’Brien said. “We also acknowledge the incalculable contributions of Italians like Grace Iannucci Hendricks to the character, culture and vibrancy of our nation and our city.”
O’Brien will present Iannucci Hendricks, a parishioner of St. Lawrence Church and former president of its Mother’s Club and St. Theresa Ladies Guild, with a citation recognizing her “selfless devotion to West Haven and its deep-rooted Italian-American community — noble qualities that epitomize the city’s top ‘paisana’ of the year.”
She will receive an Italian flag from Paul M. Frosolone, president of the Italian-American Civic Association, and Josephine Matera, former president of the Italian-American Ladies Auxiliary, as well as a jacket embroidered with her new title, Italian-American of the Year, from O’Brien.
The event will include remarks from city Corporation Counsel Vincent N. Amendola Jr., the master of ceremonies, and Italian musical selections by Vinnie Carr.
The Rev. Eric Zuniga, parochial vicar of St. John XXIII Parish, which serves St. Lawrence, St. Louis and St. Paul churches, will offer an Italian blessing. Members of West Haven High School’s Bel Canto Choir will sing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” followed by a rendition of the Italian national anthem by Liz Levy and a greeting from O’Brien.
A lunch will follow in the basement conference room of City Hall, 355 Main St.
Iannucci Hendricks was born in New Haven in 1931 to Salvatore Iannucci, a supervisor at the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. in the Elm City, and the former Rose Zingarella, a homemaker who also toiled part time at Winchester during World War II.
After moving to West Haven in 1940, Iannucci Hendricks and her eight sisters and three brothers were brought up in a single-family home on Sumac Street in West Shore.
A graduate of Stiles Elementary School, she attended the old West Haven High School on Main Street and earned her GED diploma in 1974.
Iannucci Hendricks was employed as an office clerk at the Armstrong Rubber Co. on Elm Street in West Haven and worked at the Connecticut Savings Bank on Church Street in New Haven. She was also an administrative assistant for the Democratic registrar of voters and a paraprofessional for the Board of Education in West Haven.
Iannucci Hendricks’ propensity for community service includes sitting on the board of directors of the West Haven Community House and the board’s Fundraising and Head Start committees. She is also a member of the agency’s Head Start Policy Council and Personnel and Fund Development committees.
Her dedication to the Community House was rewarded in 2011 with the Pauline Lang Exceptional Board Member award.
Iannucci Hendricks was a 10-year member and secretary of the Board of Police Commissioners and served on the pension board.
She is a member of the Ward-Heitmann House Museum Foundation.
Iannucci Hendricks is the widow of James Hendricks, a warhorse of the city’s Democratic Party who died in 2001.
The couple raised their four daughters — Kathleen Hendricks, Patricia Carney, Rosemary Turcotte and Theresa Palluzzi — on Union Avenue in the Center. Sadly, Carney died in 2008.
Iannucci Hendricks has 13 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
Her name will join the 18 previous Columbus Day recipients on a plaque in City Hall.
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