By Samantha Lambert
The Order of the Sons of Italy in America (OSIA) is the largest and oldest national organization for men and women of Italian heritage in the United States. It was founded in 1905 in the Little Italy neighborhood of New York City and was originally called Figli d’Italia. The objective of the group was to provide a support system for all Italian immigrants. Today, OSIA has thousands of family members of Italian descent located all over the United States.
In 1978, the Joseph B. Franzalia Lodge #2422, located in Fort Walton Beach, was founded by Joseph Franzalia and 25 Americans of Italian descent. They soon affiliated with the OSIA and became a filial lodge of the Grand Lodge of Florida. The Franzalia lodge is founded upon the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity, and its membership consists mostly of Americans of Italian descent. Additionally, men and women who have an affinity for all things Italian are welcome to join as social members.
Current President Lou Villanacci has been a member of the lodge since 1990. His father and both sets of grandparents were born in Italy and moved to the Bronx in New York City. “We have a lot of nice people here. This is a working lodge, which means we would like all of our members to give of their time to our lodge,” he says.
Sam Taormina, a founding member of the lodge, says, “Joseph Franzalia was my best friend. The fact that we are in our 39th year speaks volumes. It’s a nice club and lots of fun.”
“Many people join to honor their parents. We have lots of Snowbirds who come back each year to our lodge because they are made to feel like family,“ says immediate past president Kathy Foster.
The Franzalia lodge has been a community leader since its inception. The nonprofit organization contributes to many local and national charities such as Fresh Start for Children and Families, the American Cancer Society, Catholic Charities, and the annual Christmas party for the residents of Sunland Center in Marianna for starters.
The Franzalia Lodge also awards educational scholarships each year for graduating seniors in Okaloosa County. The scholarships are awarded based on scholastic achievement, participation in school and community affairs, and financial need. The annual Amici d’Italiani Golf Tournament is held every year to raise money for the scholarships.
Every January, Pasta Fagioli Night is held to introduce the community to the lodge. “Guests bring their own bowl, and six dollars covers all‑you‑can‑eat soup, bread and dessert,” says Foster.
In February, a dedicated dinner is held at the lodge to raise funds for the Wounded Warriors organization. To date, the lodge has donated $21,637 to the Wounded Warriors.
On Tuesday nights, line dance classes are held at the lodge and are taught by past president Maddie McNeal. McNeal also instructs and leads the lodge’s Tarantella Dancers, who perform native Italian dances. McNeal has been a member of the lodge since 1994. “The lodge means a lot to me. I enjoy all the activities. It’s been like a family to me,” she says.
The Franzalia lodge is also well known in the community for their Friday night Family Style Authentic Italian Pasta Dinner. It takes place weekly from 5 to 7 p.m. at 808 South Drive in Fort Walton Beach. For a great price, guests receive pasta with meatballs or sausage, garden salad and garlic bread. Bring the kids—it’s a family friendly atmosphere.
Janet Rowell, a member since 1979, says, “This lodge has created lots of wonderful friendships and people working together for one cause—to promote Italian heritage.” Boomer and Judy Graziano, members since 2006, also mention the fellowship and sense of community the lodge brings.
Reflecting the lodge’s respect, patriotism and honor for the military, the Franzalia lodge will host a dinner reception for the Italian Air Force Delegation August 26.
A Bunco Night fundraiser is set for August 31. The public is invited, and tickets are on sale now for $25. Come out for a fun night with cash prizes and surprises. The ticket price also includes a dinner of chicken penne alfredo, salad, bread and dessert.
For more information on the Sons and Daughters of Italy, Joseph Franzalia Lodge #2422, call 850‑862‑2758 or visit www.soi2422.org.