Meet your new Italian-American of the Year
Grace Rizzi-Gallipoli

Courtesy photo

Meet your new Italian-American of the Year

Story By: NICOLE FUENTES
6/6/2019


Grace Rizzi-Gallipoli is nominated as the 52nd Greater Patchogue Foundation's Italian-American of the Year to be featured at the annual Saint Liberata Festival

The Greater Patchogue Foundation's Saint Liberata committee selected Grace Rizzi-Gallipoli as this year’s Italian-American of the Year. According to chamber executive director David Kennedy, she was selected for her ties to the community dating back to the early years of the festival. Currently owner of G&M Dege Inc., pump and tank contractors, Grace has been a Patchogue resident since the 1950s.

Recently, he said, she purchased a vacated building on Amity Street and relocated her business as a pleasant addition, fixing and maintaining the property. Gallipoli, 87, is the first solo woman to be honored. “She is well-deserving,” he added.

“I am very happy and excited about the honor,” she said. “To me, it means family, friends and tradition. This festival honors all of those.”

Born in Montescaglioso, Italy in 1932, she was the oldest of seven children. She attended school in her hometown until sixth grade, when she began to help her mother around the house and work as a seamstress. She enjoyed spending time with her siblings and parents and visiting a farm where they grew olives, figs and grapes. 

Her father, Angelo, made numerous trips to New York and had established himself in Patchogue with his brother Luigi. He worked as a tailor in New York City and eventually became a U.S. citizen.

While still in Italy, Grace met Nicola Gallipoli and the two married in 1954. In pursuit of the American Dream, they moved to New York, eventually settling on Waverly Avenue in Patchogue. Her husband opened Grace Iron Works on Waverly Avenue and they became involved in the community. She lost her husband Nick in 1992.

She still shares fond memories of the Saint Liberata Festival, which originated near her home. They also became parishioners at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church and attended Mass regularly. Grace and Nick had four children, Nancy, Ralph, Lou Ann and Angela, all raised with the same traditional Italian values. She is also the proud grandmother of seven grandchildren, often giving them advice and telling them to “just promise Nana that you’ll always be together.”

Today, she resides partly in Blue Point and spends her winters in Florida. She enjoys having company, spending time with her family, baking biscotti cookies and making pizza. On Christmas she hosts as many as 75 people at her home for a sit-down dinner.

Grace took a moment to talk to the Long Island Advance about her experience growing up Italian in Patchogue.

Long Island Advance: What is your advice to the community?

Grace Gallipoli: My advice to the community is to always continue this festival and the tradition of celebrating our community’s Italian heritage. Also, to continue to support and care for one another in the community. I am so proud of the mayor, the chamber of commerce and all other local organizations for the progress Patchogue has undergone in recent years, and I am excited to see what else is to come.

LIA: What were Patchogue and the first parades like back then? 

GG: I used to love to go to Main Street in Patchogue to do all my shopping for myself and my family. I used to go on a Friday night with my kids, and there were no credit cards in those days, so I used to bring $10 to Swezey’s Department Store, $10 to Roth’s Clothing Store, $10 to The Colony Shop, and $10 to Rose Jewelers.

I have very fond memories of the Saint Liberata Festival. I remember Frank Locantore vividly carrying a tray in front of the saint for donations. I would wait by the door of my house, and once I saw the statue of the saint coming down the street I would go out and greet the procession. I remember the festivities that lasted throughout the weekend. We would go to Mass on Friday night, and on Saturday there would be a carnival and farm animals would come. This was the first time I saw an elephant; I didn’t even know what kind of animal it was.  My cousin Vitro had to explain.  There was always lots of food, and the festivities ended with a great display of fireworks. 

ABOUT THE FESTIVAL

In the 1940s and 1950s, a large volume of Italians settled in the Waverly Avenue area and began to celebrate with a festival honoring Saint Liberata, the patron saint of the village of Pizzone, Italy. Back in the day, Italians gathered at a church where Walgreens now sits for a reception and then made their way to the fields, where the Fifth Precinct currently sits, to celebrate with a feast. The event began in 1923 and ended in 1962. It wasn’t until about 11 years ago, when the original Saint Liberata statue was found in a basement somewhere in Patchogue, that sparked a new flame, reigniting the tradition of Italian festivities down Main Street. And from then on, an old Patchogue tradition was revived.

The annual Festival of Saint Liberata will be held on Saturday, Sept. 7 on Main Street in Patchogue Village. Parade kicks off at noon.