Ever build a tree fort or start a neighborhood club when you were a kid? That feeling of getting together with your friends where everyone lived on the same block and you just wanted a place to hang out together where you felt like you belonged and everyone knew each other. You would rush home from school and gather with all your friends in the homemade backyard tree fort or build a clubhouse in dads shed. Well, this same idea of belonging and wanting a place to call their own is how the Calabrese Club in Westerly started back in 1918. In April 2020, the “Cally Club” celebrated its 102nd anniversary of proud Italian tradition and heritage.
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In 1918 Francesco Manna, who was the first president of the Calabrese Club, Demetrio Turano, Cesere LaPietra, Gennaro Salimeno, Angelo Adimari, and Pasquale Toscano formed the Calabrese Society of Westerly. According to the club’s history and founding mission, it was organized for the purpose of advancing the interests of the members, encouraging a spirit of true American citizenship, extending mutual aid and assistance to its members and for social and literary purposes.
“We are the Italian people coming from the old country and we came over here looking for a place to gather and have a clubhouse to go to,” says Anthony Trebiacci (Nacky) a member and bartender at the club.
And how did one become a member of this exclusive club back in the day? Members must be Italian and born in any part of the three Calabrian provinces: Cosenza, Catanzaro, or Reggio. Nacky’s grandfather was one of the founding members of the club, and he grew up in the club, as his father was a past President and member. He has fond and vivid memories of his dad getting out of work and him and his brother helping their father get the club ready for parties, and clean and tend to the bar.
The original Calabrese Club location was the former Pleasant Street School that was purchased in 1934 and there the Cally Club grew for the next 52 years as a central community hub for Westerly with other clubs, organizations, and businesses such as the International Laborers of America, The Westerly Democratic and Republican Committees all coming together to meet there.
Their primary goal was to help families in need during hardships, a way to look out for their own. It provided social and financial support to its Italian members and eventually branched out to the entire Westerly community. The club hosted many charitable events and annual benefits throughout the year for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, The Rocky Marciano and John “Goose” Gentile Scholarship Foundation, and The Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Well-known entertainers came out and performed during many of the events, big names such as The Platters, Joey Dee and the Starlighters, The Lamparelli Band, Shirley Reeves and the Shirelles, and Motown Revue.
“In those days you had nothing to worry about,” says Nacky. He recalls a bocci court down in the basement, and the members playing a type of Italian game by flashing their fingers called Morra, no betting of cash, members played for drinks at the bar. “They had an auxiliary part of the club which was made up of women and they were a separate part of the club,” says Nacky. “They worked hand in hand with the men and did a breakfast with soupy and eggs and sold cakes and pies, to this day its still like that.”
In the spring of 1986, a fire completely destroyed the Pleasant Street School location of the club. With the assistance of the club members and the Westerly Community coming together the Calabrese Building Fund was established and through many generous donations, the club built a new building six months later at the 28 Pleasant Street location. A hundred years and still growing strong the Cally Club is open to the public and now has 600 members, 300 of which have Calabrian roots. The rules of the club have changed over the years and you longer have to be from one of the three provinces to join, or even Italian for that matter, you can be a little Heinz 57 and still be a member, you just will not be able to vote.
On the back of the program guide for the 100th Anniversary celebration – back in 2018 – of the Calabrese Club, the members included a special tribute to George Salimeno, a past president who gave his heart and soul to the Calabrese Club, the Calabrese Society is where it is today because of his endless devotion.
Joe Pellegrino, the current president said: “I enjoy this club, its so much fun. We have so many activities here and food, we see each other every day, we have music on the weekends and bands on Saturday nights with local musicians. and dances and something to eat, just a good time.”