By JOHN GORALSKI
Southington had a population of approximately 10,000 residents when the 28 founding members assembled for the first UNICO meeting in 1944, and for the past 75 years the group has grown with the town. The meeting was much larger on Friday, Sept. 13 when the almost 100 local members gathered with national, state, and local officials to celebrate the charity group’s diamond jubilee.
UNICO National president Dr. Frank DeFrank made the trip from Roseta, Pa. to join the celebration and present a presidential award on behalf of UNICO National. “It’s an honor to be here,” he said to local members. “We thank Southington very much for what they do, and we hope they have another 75 years…and maybe more.”
It’s no surprise that DeFrank made the trip because Southington is the sixth oldest chapter in the United States. UNICO was founded in Waterbury in 1922. The Italian-American charity organization spread to Torrington (1925) and Bridgeport (1929) in its first decade, went national with chapters in Milwaukee (1934) and the Twin Cities (1939), but Southington was the first small-town chapter to join the movement.
“Our 28 founding members embraced three objectives: service to community, promoting Italian heritage, and supporting charitable projects,” said Sharon Williams, president of the Southington chapter. “For 75 years, the spirit of this conversation has been represented by generations of members that have offered their time, support, and generosity to the community.”
The town looked a lot differently at that first meeting. The nation was still fighting a war in Europe and the Pacific. Trains were still delivering goods in those years before the construction of I-84 and I-691, and The Peck, Stow and Wilcox factory was still bringing jobs to the downtown.
In fact, it took another three years before Plantsville, Milldale, Plantsville, and Southington were consolidated under one government and another two decades before town leaders drafted the current Town Charter.
For seven and a half decades, UNICO has been at the center of the town’s growth. Each year, the organization raises over $30,000 through fundraisers like the Italian-American Festival, the UNICO big breakfast, Italian dinners, and Apple Harvest participation, which is used to support Bread for Life, the Southington United Way, Unified Sports, Unified Theater, and the YMCA. Each school year, the organization supports the Italian Club at the high school, the Italian Honor Society, and recognizes the top 25 graduating students from Southington High School and present the UNICO Gold Key to a Southington resident who best exemplifies the organization’s motto of “Service Above Self.”
“If you’re looking to do charitable work and service in Southington, this is the organization to do that,” said Williams. “We do so much for the town, local charities and national charities. We have some great fundraisers, which are a lot of fun to work at. That’s why my husband and I joined.”
State Sen. Rob Sampson and State Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco presented the organization with a proclamation from the General Assembly, and Town Council chair Chris Palmieri offered another on behalf of the council which proclaimed that the week of Sept. 15-21 is Southington UNICO week.
“This is a phenomenal event,” said Williams. “We have 185 people present. They are not all Unicans. Some are just here to show their support for us, along with some Gold Medal winners that we’ve presented over the years. It’s very heart warming.”
To learn more about Southington UNICO, visit www.southingtonunico.org.