100 years of history
Officers of the Calumet Chapter of the American Committee of Italian Migration in Gary, featuring Louis Ferrini (second from left)
The Unione Siciliana, a fraternal organization of Sicilian Americans, was first created in 1893 in New York City, and almost simultaneously in Chicago, by legitimate Sicilian businessmen. The organization mixed fraternal and benevolent activities and became a sort of social agency with a membership exclusive to Sicilian immigrants.
In August of 1918, a tailor named Augusto Vespaziani arrived in East Chicago, Indiana, with the thought of locating here. He met with Louis Ferrini and Leo Bonaventura in Leo’s office in the old Calumet Building to discuss the possibilities that existed for his trade in this city.
During the conversation, Mr. Vespaziani mentioned that in the Connecticut town that he had just left, several Italians who played musical instruments had joined together in a band. Since there were many people in East Chicago, Indiana with a musical background, it was thought that an Italian Social Club, which included a band, might be formed here.
A few weeks later, these three men met again with a few others and discussed the formation of a new club, and all were in favor of the idea. The original plan created more interest and in November of 1918, a larger group gathered to further advance the beginning of the club. Present that night was Bernardo Scaturro, an Italian food merchant from Gary, Indiana who was delivering some food items to Leo Bonaventura. Upon hearing of the plan, he suggested to the men that they form a lodge and become affiliated with a large group in Chicago, Illinois that featured life insurance benefits. The “group insurance benefits,” a relatively new idea, was very appealing to these men. For the most part, they labored for low wages and had very little, if any, savings. They had seen that very often was necessary to “pass the hat” around when a friend died in order to help pay for the funeral and to leave something for the survivors.
Acceptance in to the Unione Siciliana
The group selected Louis Ferrini to go to Chicago, Illinois, to discuss the possibilities of affiliation with this large fraternal order called the “Unione Siciliana”. Subsequently, this organization and its component lodges became the Italo-American National Union. At the next meeting in East Chicago, Indiana, Louis Ferrini relayed the information to those present, who then voted to obtain memberships and form a new lodge.
Five months after the initial meeting, in January 1919, a formal application was made to the Supreme Council in Chicago, Illinois, for admission to the Unione Siciliana. Upon notification of acceptance, the members sought a name for their club. The names of prominent historical Italian men were mentioned, but the names of those men had already been utilized by other newly formed lodges. The group finally chose the name of an Italian World War I hero and patriot, and thus was born the Loggia Cesare Battisti Musicale, later to be known as Cesare Battisti Lodge #27, IANU.
The First Cesare Battisti Meeting
The first official meeting to elect officers was held on February 2, 1919. On February 16, 1919 the members of the Supreme Council came from Chicago, Illinois, and the installation of the officers took place. None present that day could foresee that the Cesare Battisti Lodge would become the largest Italo-American group in Indiana, and one of the largest in the Greater Chicago area. Nor, did anyone predict the lodge, which started its official existence in a rented hall, would one day build and occupy a lodge hall of its own. Ironically, during that first year of existence, the first member to die was the man who implemented the idea that led to the formation of the lodge, Augusto Vespaziani.
East Chicago, IN - Home to the First Lodge Building
For many years after its beginning, the lodge met in various halls throughout the city of East Chicago, Indiana, namely the Old Fellows Hall, Whelan Hall, and The Moose Lodge Hall. In 1941, with financial assistance from its members, the first permanent clubrooms were purchased at 4806 Olcott Avenue. In 1955, plans for a new lodge building were drawn and construction was started at the corner of Olcott and 148th Street, in East Chicago, Indiana. The new East Chicago Cesare Battisti Hall was dedicated in May of 1956.
New Home in Schererville, IN
The membership kept growing. The younger members married, had children and began moving to the southern end of Lake County where land was more plentiful and the children would have more room to play. This prompted discussion of a new building to accommodate the membership living in the southern part of the county. Land was purchased in Schererville about a mile north of US 30 and US 41. A multi-million dollar “club house” was constructed and became known as “Villa Cesare.” It is the area’s premier banquet and events facility able to accommodate more than 1,000 people with the design capability of having three different functions going on at the same time.
Merger with the Italian Sons & Daughters of America
In 1991, the Italo American National Union merged with the Italian Sons and Daughters of America (ISDA) headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA. This merger gave the members a greater variety of insurance and annuity opportunities at a reasonable cost. It has proven to be a wise move as Cesare Battisti members and their children have benefited from the many scholarships that the ISDA and IANU offer. Early in its existence, before the era of health insurance, the lodge recognized a need and adopted a plan to pay sick benefits to its members. Financial assistance totaling over $100,000 has been realized by CB members dealing with illness. We are proud to say that many members, including those that immigrated to the US from Italy, risked their lives by serving our country in conflicts with other nations throughout the years.
Our members are from all walks of life, blue-collar, white-collar, industrial workers, supervisors, clergymen, contractors, engineers, manufacturers, businessmen, educators, doctors, lawyers, policemen, firemen, union executives, city employees, etc. Some of the members have been elected to public office, including the former Mayor of East Chicago, Indiana, Honorable Dr. John Nicosia.
All the members of Cesare Battisti Lodge take a justifiable pride in their accomplishments. We have always taken part in worthwhile endeavors and charity events and have been a good civic member. But above all, we have been an organization which has shown concern for the best interests of its fellow members and families. With this thought in mind, and with its past as a guide, Cesare Battisti Lodge looks forward with high hopes and new goals to attain in the future.