By Michael P. Walsh
Special to the Voice
Westies Care founder and President Phil Liscio, who has strong ties to the city’s Italian American community and is well known for feeding the less fortunate, received West Haven’s Italian American of the Year award at the 22nd Italian Heritage Celebration on Oct. 15.
Amid a sunny, warm autumn day, Mayor Nancy R. Rossi and the West Haven Italian Heritage Committee honored Liscio, the grandson of immigrant grandparents from the town of Monteleone di Puglia in the province of Foggia, Italy, during a midday ceremony on the steps of City Hall.
The award is bestowed annually on an Italian resident or couple who personifies service in the city’s close-knit Italian American community. Last year’s celebration was postponed because of the coronavirus.
As the sound of Italian music filled the air at the half-hour cultural event, Liscio saluted his Italian ancestry with dozens of friends, colleagues and loved ones, including his wife, Janet Husmer Liscio, and his sisters Jo Anne Droller, of Naugatuck, and Doreen Roy, of Hollywood, Florida.
Along with descendants of folks from the old country, he was also joined by an array of local and state officials, including City Council Chairman Ronald M. Quagliani, D-at large, as well as state Rep. Dorinda Borer, D-West Haven, who presented Liscio with a General Assembly citation on behalf of the city’s delegation.
Liscio, 65, also received an Italian flag from Paul M. Frosolone, the president of the West Haven Italian American Civic Association, and Roberta Daniels DeFonce, a past president of the association’s Ladies Auxiliary.
Liscio told the crowd, some donning red, white and green, that he appreciated the recognition and thanked his wife of 30 years, whom he met in 1989 while they worked part time at Horwitz Department Store, formerly at 544 Campbell Ave., and he married two years later.
“Janet is the reason I awake each day,” said Liscio, choking back tears. “She blessed me with two beautiful daughters, Courtney and Lauren, who have made us proud parents. Janet made the sacrifice by working each day at Yale, thus allowing me to work from home and be a full-time house father.”
He added, “Any good I have accomplished was due to great friends, mentors and collaborators — far too many to name.”
Rossi read a mayoral citation praising Liscio’s civic-minded good works and “dedication to strengthening and enriching the unique heritage and vibrant traditions of our Italian American community.”
“As a second-generation Italian resident of West Haven and a humble ambassador of helping those in need, your extraordinary story of philanthropy and remarkable legacy of service are treasured by our city,” Rossi said. “I admire your enduring values of faith and family, and I am grateful for your devotion to shaping the fabric of our Italian American community and to steering the course of our diverse city.”
Rossi then presented Liscio with an embroidered “Italian American of the Year” jacket and a West Haven centennial-emblazoned tote bag containing a signed copy of the new centennial book, “City of West Haven: Village to Town,” along with a centennial coin, lapel pin and decal. He also received WestHavenOpoly, the centennial version of the board game Monopoly.
The ceremony included remarks by mayoral Executive Assistant Louis P. Esposito Jr., the master of ceremonies, and an Italian blessing by the Rev. E. Carl Howard, the senior minister of the First Congregational Church of West Haven. Liz Levy sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the Italian national anthem, “II Canto degli Italiani.”
An Italian-flavored lunch after the event was catered by Lorenzo’s Restaurant of West Haven. Two cakes were provided by Costco of Milford.
Liscio has a long history of public service, including collecting food for the pastor’s pantry at the First Congregational Church, 1 Church St., and the pantry at the West Haven Emergency Assistance Task Force, 674 Washington Ave. The pantries provide food for residents in need.
For three months starting in May 2020, Liscio and Westies Care teamed up with the city and the First Congregational, Our Lady of Victory and Vertical churches to deliver 13,000 meals to needy residents and front-line health care workers during the height of the pandemic. The meals — 20 pizzas per day on weekdays and five trays of ziti and Italian bread per day on weekends — were donated by Lorenzo’s.
Each week since August 2020, Liscio has delivered 15 pizzas from Lorenzo’s to veterans sheltered at New Haven’s Columbus House. The pizzas are made possible by Our Lady of Victory.
In observance of Italian American Heritage Month, West Haven recognizes the proud culture and rich lineage of Americans of Italian descent and celebrates the story of generations of Italian sons and daughters who came to the U.S. seeking hope and opportunity to reach for the American dream.
Liscio’s paternal grandparents, Fidel Liscio and the former Josephine Geraci, left their home in southeastern Italy and came to America for “a better life,” arriving on New York’s Ellis Island in September 1902 and eventually settling in New Haven.
His grandfather served in the U.S. Army in World War I and worked as an automotive painter. His grandmother was a homemaker and a restaurateur who operated Kimberly Pizza on New Haven’s Kimberly Avenue for more than 20 years.
In the intrepid spirit of Italians who charted a course for millions of immigrants who followed their crossing to America, Liscio and his grandparents are a testament to the promise of the United States.
Liscio was born in Buffalo, New York, on Feb. 2, 1956, to Leopold “Paul” Liscio and the former Geraldine “Gerry” Sullivan Grover.
His father, a World War II veteran who served in the Army Corps of Engineers, joined the Panza Construction & Woodworking Co. at age 14 and worked for Sabino “Sabby” Panza maintaining rides at Savin Rock Park. His mother raised 11 children and was a skilled baker and cook.
“My Irish Catholic mom … was my first hero,” Liscio said. “For my birthdays, my mom would stop over — unannounced — with a huge pot of chili, a large pan of freshly baked cornbread and a lemon meringue pie.”
Liscio, who mostly grew up in Milford, graduated in 1975 from Milford High School, where he was a three-sport athlete.
He attended Westchester Community College in New York and was a member of the club football team that won a national championship in 1975. The team was inducted into the college’s Hall of Fame in 2014.
Liscio, a city resident since 1991, is perhaps best known for his lifework with Westies Care Inc., a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit charity. The Westies Care Community Service Award, presented yearly at the Westies Care dinner and awards ceremony, recognizes young people and adults who exemplify the organization’s “core values of service, community and education.”
Liscio founded Westies Care in 2009 in memory of his son, Daniel L. Liscio. To honor his undying spirit, the Liscio family established a scholarship program and organized community outreach projects in Daniel Liscio’s name.
Westies Care’s charitable contributions have included raising money for the West Haven Breast Cancer Awareness Program, WHEAT and the Friends of Fisher House CT.
Westies Care and their sponsors have awarded more than $100,000 in scholarships to high school seniors from West Haven who have continued their education.
Liscio closed his remarks with a message he shares with Westies Care student honorees: “Work and study hard, play harder and always take time to assist someone in need.”
Liscio is a longtime member of the West Haven Rotary Club and sits on the board of directors.
His volunteerism in West Haven has included coaching girls basketball and softball and serving as PTA president of Mackrille Elementary, Bailey Middle and West Haven High schools.
Liscio is employed by Yale University as a security guard and the First Congregational Church as facilities manager. He also volunteers as the church’s community outreach chairman.
Liscio received the 2012 Community Service Award from the West Shore Lodge 2832 Order Sons & Daughters of Italy in America. He is also a former recipient of the Rotary Club’s Presidents Award and the West Haven PTA Council’s Founders Day Unsung Hero award for service to Bailey School.
Liscio and his wife live on Bluff Avenue near West Shore’s Sea Bluff Beach.
Watch the ceremony on West Haven YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTYLgMLy0A4.