St. Mary’s Church honors original Niles Italian families

Published 12:30 pm Saturday, August 9, 2003

By By Joanna Arnett / Niles Daily Star
More than 50 descendents and friends of the original Italian families of Niles gathered at St. Mary's Church, 217 Lincoln, Thursday evening to honor those who came to Niles many years ago.
About two months ago "We . . . well, me and Frances (Pratl) just kind of got together and decided that we should reinstate the votive light stand," said Carmella (Frucci) Konkey. Carmella and Frances grew up together and have been friends their whole lives.
The stand, which stands a little over four feet tall, was designed, manufactured and installed by Bruce Campbell of Villa Park, Ill. It has a gleaming gold finish and holds two outer rows of large, red two-day burning candles and fourinner rows of 24-hour candles. The cost of the stand will be a little over $3,500.
The parishioners also gathered money for a dedication plaque, made by Hoosier Trophies in South Bend, Ind.
The plaque reads: "This votive light stand is given to St. Mary's Church of Niles, Michigan in memory of the early Italian families by their descendents.
Nick and Rose (Pullano) Belcastro, Peter and Josephine D'Onofrio, Antonio and Mary Frucci and Antonio Renaldi, Dominick and Angela Frucci, Dominick and Victoria Frucci, Dominick and Trina Frucci, Francis and Catherine Frucci, Frank and Angela Frucci, Rosario and Annita Frucci, Frank and Joseph Marazita, Vincenzo Mazzotta, Joseph and Elizabeth Michienzi, Rosario and Nancy Molica, Andrew and Barbara Sarratore, Joseph and Caleda Saratore, Anthony and Kathrine Saratore, John and Rose (Frucci) Yelape, August 7, 2003."
The congregaton sang hymns, read Bible passages, and a representative of each family on the plaque came forward to light a votive candle.
James and Anna Basso came to Niles from Chicago in 1896 looking for a town in which to start a small fruit store. On April 1, 1897, James started their business at 203 Main Street and remained there until the business closed in 1956. They have five children and come from Genova, Italy.
Anthony and Ann Paonessa came here in 1902 from Calabria, Italy to work with the railroad. They have three daughters, Barbara, Victoria, and Elizabeth Michienzi.
Frank and Josephine Marazita come from San Paolo, Italy. Frank opened the Michigan Fruit Co. The Niles branch was where Veni's Sweet Shop now stands, and is still in the family. They have 13 children. Frank was a veteran of the American Army during World War I.
Caleda and Joseph Saratore were married in 1909 in Maine and moved to Niles, he in 1910 and she in 1911. Joseph worked at the French Paper Mill and also operated a taxi cab for several years, after which they started a grocery store in 1923 on Parkway and remained there until it closed after 40 years. They have seven chidlren. They come from Sicily and Calabria, Italy, respectively.
Andrew and Barbara Sarratore came here from Chicago in 1921. Andrew passed away in 1939. They have seven children and come from Calabria, Italy.
Dominick and Victoria (Paonessa) Frucci were married on March 12, 1914 in St. Mary's Church, the first Italian couple to be married there. They have six children and their son John is the City Fire Chief. They come from Calabria, Italy.
John and Rose Yelape came to Niles from Geneva, Ohio in 1911. He returned to Niles a widower in 1921 after leaving for Italy. His three children came to Niles in 1928 and that same year he wed Rose Frucci, who had a daughter, Frances. John worked the railroad for 29 years until 1952, dying in 1953. The couple together had eight children and their son Veto was the City Golf Champion of Niles seven times. Rose comes from Naples and John comes from Calabria, Italy.
Antonio Frucci came to Niles in 1911 and worked the railroad until his accidental death in 1913. He rests in Calvary Cemetery and is believed to be the first Italian buried there. His son Frank came to Niles in 1914, Frank's wife Catherine following with their two children in 1930. Frank served in the American Army during World War II and was wounded. He worked at the French Paper Mill, helped with brick paving, and worked for the railroad for 45 years. Frank and Catherine have four children and their daughter Carmella was chosen Miss Niles in 1952. Both come from Calabria, Italy.
Joseph Michienzi came to Niles in 1913 from Calabria, Italy, after passing through West Virginia and Chicago. His wife Elizabeth followed a year later and they have seven children together. Joseph worked the railroad for 40 years. Their daughter Veronica was Miss Simplicity in 1939 and two other daughters, Josephine and Victoria, operate the Modern Beauty Salon in Buchanan.
Frank Frucci left Calabria, Italy for Chicago in 1912, his wife Angela following in 1913. For several years Frank worked for the National-Standard Co. In 1912 he built a home on Lake Street in Niles and started a grocery business, now known as Franky's Restaurant. This family was the only Italian Gold Star family during World War II. Their son, Mayor Franky Frucci served from 1968 to 1970. Son James is proprietor of Portofino Restaurant and Lounge. Son Joseph was Golden Glove Boxing champion at one time. The Fruccis have eight children.
Francis and Catherine Frucci came to Niles from Montana on a railroad transfer. He was injured on the job and offered a custodial job at St. Mary's Church, where he worked until his death in 1936. The Fruccis have five children and come from Calabria, Italy.
Pasquel Michienzi left Calabria, Italy for Chicago in 1898, moving to Oregon with the railroad and visiting Niles in 1914. He was best man at the Frucci-Paonessa wedding. He worked for the French Paper Mill and joined the railroad until he retired in 1947. He never married
Rosario and Anita Frucci came to Niles in 1917 from Crystal Falls and worked for the cotton mill and the railroad. Anita is 86 years old and in good health, living in a nursing home in Eau Claire. The Fruccis have 12 children. Rosario is from Calabria, Italy, and Anita is from Firensi, Italy.
Rosario and Nancy Molica left Messina, Italy for Hammond and Gary, Ind. He worked with the railroad and moved to Niles in 1921. They have 11 children.
Dominick Frucci left Calabria, Italy for Chicago, arriving in Niles in 1921. His family later followed. Dominick worked for the railroad. They have 4 children.
Joseph Rondinelli came to Niles in 1921 with Dominick Frucci from Calabria, Italy. He was accidently killed in 1943 while at work on the railroad. He never married.
Tony and Mary Frucci came to Niles in 1923 from Crystal Falls and Tony worked the railroad until 1950. They have 11 children. Tony comes from Calabria and Mary comes from Brescia, Italy.
Peter and Josephine D'Onofrio came to Niles in 1926 from Rome, Italy. Peter worked as shoe repairman and had his own business at 211 Second Street until 1956. They have three children.
Ralph and Rose Pullano came to Niles in 1927 from New York. Ralph was a shoemaker until his death in 1927. They have four children.
Nickolaus Belcastro married Mrs. Pullano in 1935 and died in 1957, also a shoemaker. They have one child.
Matteo and Carmela Dinolfo came to Niles in the early 40s from Chicago. They have no children and come from Sicily, Italy.