Personality Profile: Rich Venezia

Rich Venezia Headshot 1Rooted in Success

In this month’s Personality Profile, Ciao Pittsburgh chatted with Rich Venezia of Rich Roots Genealogy. Rich, who grew up in central New Jersey, currently makes his home in Pittsburgh. Rich was kind enough to respond to some of our questions about his roots, his career as a genealogist as well as his Italian heritage.

CP: First, tell us a little bit about yourself, your family, and what you do for a living.

Rich: I’m a professional genealogist and have been for the past few years. I started researching my own family when I was a teenager, but I cycled through various careers before landing at this one. I worked as an actor for a while, in PR & Marketing for a theatre, in the non-profit world, and also in study abroad before starting my business, Rich Roots Genealogy. My parents are both semi-retired, but were long-time high school teachers. My brother is also a high school teacher. I suppose I was the only one in the family who wasn’t bitten by the education bug, but I reckon I am an educator, of sorts – just in a less conventional way.

CP: What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?

Rich: I’m very lucky that I grew up knowing who my ancestors were and even what a lot of my great- and 2x-great-grandparents looked like. It wasn’t until I started doing genealogy that I realized how rare this was. I love being able to reconnect people with their lost, forgotten, or misplaced family, and to unite them with their heritage. It’s an indescribable feeling when someone tells you the work you’ve done has had an impact on their life. Learning about your ancestry can teach you a lot about yourself.

CP: Where are you from and where do you currently live? 

Rich: I grew up in central New Jersey among many Italian-Americans and now live in Pittsburgh. I love it here – I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

CP: Can you tell us about your Italian heritage? 

Rich: My mom’s family is from the Province of Salerno – mostly in the Cilento area, along the coast. I like to say that my Italian ancestors were immigrating for almost three generations before they came to the USA – I have nearly a dozen ancestral towns just on my mom’s side. My dad’s family is from all over the south – Salerno (Baronissi and Pellezzano), Foggia (Monte Sant’Angelo and Rodi Garganico), Potenza (Rapolla), and Avellino (Atripalda). Five of my great-grandparents were born in Italy, and a sixth was born right after her parents arrived. My only non-Italian-American grandparent, my Grandma Camperlino, learned to cook Italian food from her mother-in-law – and was always cooking Italian. I was flabbergasted as a child when I learned she wasn’t a true Italian! I identify very strongly with my Italian heritage, and am so happy to be able to help others explore theirs. [Read more…]

Pittsburgh Native Pens Poignant Novel About Italian Immigrants Growing Up in Pittsburgh

ScanAndrew Cecere grew up in the Pittsburgh of the 1930s, back when the idea that ancestry is destiny permeated American thought. In cities, it was the age of racial and ethnic neighborhoods. The Italians here, the Irish over there, beyond them the Poles, the blacks, and so forth. In the urban mosaic, you knew your place, and were expected to make the best of it.

Such is the prevailing mood in the Italian-American neighborhood of East Liberty that is the setting for Cecere’s novel, The Avenue, published last December by Rosedog Books. Here, two friends, both offspring of immigrants, grow up during the waning years of the Depression and choose very different paths in an America riddled with prejudice.

Pre-war Pittsburgh and the Italian community of East Liberty loom large in the novel. “The book’s setting more or less describes Larimer Avenue, a real street and neighborhood where I grew up, but the characters and story are fictional, drawn entirely from my imagination,” says Cecere, a retired attorney who lives in Richmond, Indiana.

Cecere, who recently turned 94, wrote the book on legal pads more than twenty-five years ago. “It started entirely as an exercise in personal pleasure since I’ve always enjoyed writing and telling stories,” he explains. “When I finished I had the handwritten pages typed up and pretty much forgot about it. Eventually I passed the manuscript to some friends to read. They told me how much they liked the story and started nagging me to get it published. So here we are.” [Read more…]

Personality Profile: Corrado Riccelli

In this month’s Personality Profile, Ciao Pittsburgh chatted with Pittsburgh native Corrado Riccelli. Born and raised in the small town of Sharpsburg, PA, Corrado grew up during a time when that town was primarily populated by Italian immigrants and first generation Italian-Americans. Growing up, Corrado was surrounded by many Italian-Americans—‘compare’ of the family as well as his aunts and uncles. In fact, he spoke Italian before he learned to speak English. Today, Corrado has been married for 14 years to his wife Sabrina. They currently live with their two daughters, Isabella and Sofia, in Shaler. Corrado was kind enough to respond to some of our questions about his Pittsburgh roots, his career as a medical sales representative as well as his Italian heritage.

CP: First, tell us a little bit about yourself, your family, and what you do for a living.

Corrado: I was born and raised in Pittsburgh in a small town called Sharpsburg to Italian immigrant parents who were from Calabria, Italy.  My mother Rita (Posa) is from Amantea and my father, Salvatore, was from Catanzaro. I was raised by my mother and my stepfather Carlo Lista who was from Naples, Italy. I currently work as a medical sales representative.

CP: What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?

Corrado: I find my current career extremely rewarding. One aspect of my position is to work with products that aid in improving the development of neonatal babies. To earn a living and assist in saving the most precious of lives is a blessing.

CP: Can you tell us about your Italian heritage? 

Corrado: I feel that my heritage is very much my identity. I was brought up in a house with not just my parents but also my grandparents, Antonio and Filomena Posa.  It was like having four parents and my heritage was embedded in me on day one. We lived, breathed, ate, spoke and lived Italian. My fondest memory was my grandmother and my mother making homemade pasta and bread while listening to Sal Patitucci on the Italian radio station. Another fond memory was my Nanna in the garden nurturing her tomatoes. [Read more…]

Remembering The Italian Campaign—World War II’s Longest and Bloodiest Battles

Valerie Vacula with her dad, Albert DeFazio

Valerie Vacula with her dad, Albert DeFazio

By Daniel Casciato

The Battles of Monte Cassino, or the Italian Campaign, marked one of the longest and bloodiest engagements of the Italian campaign during World War II. At the beginning of 1944, the Allies were struggling to capture the western anchor of the Gustav Line—formed by the Rapido-Gari, Liri, and Garigliano valleys and some of the surrounding peaks and ridges—and the Roman Catholic abbey of Monte Cassino which was occupied by the Germans.

Between January 17 and May 18, 1944, Monte Cassino and the Gustav line were attacked four times by the Allies and ultimately, the German troops were driven from their positions. The four battles during the Italian campaign involved some of the hardest fighting in the war and cost the Allies over 114,000 casualties.

The multi-faceted battles of the Italian Campaign played an important part in determining the eventual outcome of the war. But today, you never hear much about Monte Cassino and the Italian Campaign—it’s as if it has been forgotten.

Albert DeFazio after boot camp

Albert DeFazio after boot camp

Valerie Vacula, author of “The Italian Campaign: One Soldier’s Story of a Forgotten War,” hopes to change that. Her father, Albert DeFazio, was one of the heroes who fought in the Italian Campaign. She brings her father’s memoirs of his WWII battles to life in the book she co-wrote with him.

“World War II wasn’t just about Normandy, fighting in the Pacific or the Battle of the Bulge,” says Vacula. “The Italian Campaign was every bit as important and every bit as bloody if not more.”

Vacula began attending veterans’ breakfasts with her father after moving back to her hometown of Pittsburgh, PA. At each breakfast, certain veterans are asked to stand and tell their stories. [Read more…]

Personality Profile: Dom Cosentino

family photoIn this month’s Personality Profile, Ciao Pittsburgh chatted with former Pittsburgh and current Brooklyn, NY resident, Dom Cosentino. A former writer for, Dom is now a beat writer covering the New York Jets for and The Star-Ledger. Dom was kind enough to respond to some of our questions about his Pittsburgh roots, sports journalism career as well as his Italian heritage.

CP: First, tell us a little bit about yourself and your family.

Dom: I grew up in Pittsburgh, and even though I haven’t lived in the area for many years, I’ll always be proud to say I grew up in Pittsburgh, and to remind people I grew up in Pittsburgh. My paternal grandparents emigrated from Calabria in the 1920s. They came separately—my grandfather, Domenick, who I’m named for, came first. My grandmother, Caterina, arrived three years later. My father’s name was Richard, and Doreen is my Irish/German mother. I have three siblings: Cathy, Richard, and Michael. They all still live in the Pittsburgh area. I get back to Pittsburgh several times a year for visits. I’ve been gone a long time, but I miss it. I’ve been married a year and a half to a wonderful woman named Megan, and we have a fantastic son named Cameron, who’s about eight months old.

CP: What’s it like being a beat writer for the New York Jets?

Dom: Pretty intense. The Jets are never dull. There always seems to be something going on with someone or something in that organization. And they’ve had an incredibly busy offseason that began with the firing of head coach Rex Ryan—the guy’s a reporter’s dream—and the general manager, and continued with a bunch of free-agent signings, plus a contract dispute. I compete with reporters from all of the New York City papers, including the tabloids, so I work a lot. But I love it. It’s the sort of work I always wanted to do after spending years covering high school sports in Pennsylvania. My only qualm is that it’s a much easier job for someone who’s single and childless, since it can be quite a grind at times. But all in all, I really can’t complain.  [Read more…]