A Brief History of Nutley UNICO

 A group of concerned Nutley men first met in 1953 to discuss ways to  develop Italian-American pride and concern for equity. They called their  group the “Columbus Civic Club of Nutley” and met at 351 Passaic Ave.  The men who were responsible for the genesis of our chapter included  people like Dr. Robert Citrino, the first president of the Columbus  Civic Club, which lasted until 1958; Larry Varone, the Columbus Civic  Club’s fourth president, who followed my dad, Frank Sr. in that role and  then became the first president of the Nutley Chapter of UNICO National  in 1959. The inaugural UNICO dinner was held on Oct. 10, 1959 and was  chaired by Frank Cocchiola Sr. The signature page of the original UNICO  National Charter application signed on August 12, 1959 includes the  names of 53 men whose influence on our town and on many of us personally  is still felt today, among them Citrino, Samara, Orechio, Viola,  Biondi, Negra, Ritacco, Zinicola, and Cocchiola to mention just a few.

Today Nutley UNICO is one of the largest chapters in the nation, and  in 2002 we were recognized by UNICO National as the Model Chapter in the  nation. Our history is more than just dates and events; it is the story  of the men, and for the past decade, the women who have made this group  significant in our community. In 2009 -10 we will meet under the  leadership of our first female president, Marie Lucarella Solimo. Our  legacy is in the story of the people who impacted the club over the past  50 years, people like: Gerard Tolve and Sam Battaglia who spearheaded  the initiative to provide the Columbus statue in front of Nutley Town  Hall in 2000; and Frank Cocchiola Sr. and Jim Piro, who coordinated the  first Brian Piccolo scholarship breakfast in 1994; and Al Ficocello, who  chaired the Columbus Quincentenial program in 1992 that included the  first of several performance by the renowned operas star Jerome Hines;  and Mario Di Maggio, our resident parliamentarian and perennial  representative at the UNICO National convention; and Steve Mairella, a  Past President who was a scholarship recipient in 1974, and who also  served as UNICO National Secretary; and the Scarpelli family, including  Past President Dr. Joe Scarpelli and tonight’s honoree, Peter Scarpelli;  and the Sposato family, including our current President, Tom, and his  dad Jim, who was President from 1967 – 69; and our UNICO National award  winners, including Dr. Vincent Grasso, a Marconi Award winner, Anthony  Buccino, a William Paca Americanism Award winner, Dan Geltrude, an Ella  Grasso Literary Award winner; and, of course, all of our local and  National scholarship winners.

"Service Above Self"


The UNICO motto is “Service above Self”. Our organization believes in  this creed and exhibits this through our national and local donations  to causes that over the years have included earthquake relief funds sent  to Torella Dei Lombardi in 1980 during the presidency of Potito (“Pat”)  D’Antuono; annual contributions to UNICO National causes like the Jimmy  V Fund and Cooley’s Anemia research, as well as numerous local  contributions to assist those in need within our own community; and, of  course, our major commitment to education in the form of support for  Italian Studies chairs at various universities, most notably Seton Hall  and Montclair State, and our local scholarships that this year totaled  $27,600, several of them sponsored by individual members in honor of  their families and parents, names like Battaglia, Scavone, Ritacco,  Kelly and Geltrude.

On June 29, 1961 one of our Charter Members, Carmen Orechio, said  that “There is no room in the organization for anyone who wasn’t ready  to be of service”, and “that it is time we were ready to stand up and be  counted”. The founders of Nutley UNICO did stand up and we are still  standing today in celebration of our Italian-American heritage and  ethnicity. Our future is every bit as bright as our past!