Italian Benefit Society seeks memorabilia for 100th anniversary

By Annie Gentile - ReminderNews
Stafford - posted Tue., Jul. 30, 2013
(L-r) Club recording secretary Anthony Guardiani, board member Jeff Titus, and club vice president Greg Cyr stand on the grounds of the Italian Benefit Society. In October, the club will be celebrating its 100-year anniversary. Photo by Annie Gentile.
(L-r) Club recording secretary Anthony Guardiani, board member Jeff Titus, and club vice president Greg Cyr stand on the grounds of the Italian Benefit Society. In October, the club will be celebrating its 100-year anniversary. Photo by Annie Gentile.

The Italian Benefit Society in Stafford Springs is celebrating 100 years of community and is seeking memorabilia for loan or gift that speaks to its long and proud history. Items such as old photographs, membership cards and newspaper articles are welcome and will be included in a rotating display.

Like many social clubs of its day, the Italian Benefit Society was formed by immigrants who came to the United States to work in the local mills. The society served as a social gathering place where men of Italian descent could get together, speak their native language, share their customs, occasionally barter for services, and, most importantly, form long-lasting friendships. Additionally, in its early days, before national social safety net programs were established, the club provided sick benefits and other means of support to members in need.

“There’s still a lot of networking and business that goes on here between members, just like in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s,” said Club Vice President Greg Cyr. “You can barter your trade, or if someone needs something, like a ride somewhere, it’s nice to have a place like that where you can ask someone to give you a hand.”

“This building was originally a textile mill itself,” said Anthony Guardiani, who serves as recording secretary for the organization. Cyr added that it was all built by the group’s own members, bricklayers and other tradesmen. Located at 12 Club Road, the building and property include horseshoe pits, an outdoor barbecue, a gazebo, and an indoor shuffleboard court. Upstairs, there is a social hall with hardwood floors, a stage, and a completely refurbished kitchen. Downstairs is a bar area with tables and chairs, and additional meeting space.

The site also includes two outdoor bocce courts, a popular Italian pastime, which is still played today at the club, although the requisite starched shirt and tie of the 1950s-era is optional for today’s players.

The club will be holding an open house on Saturday, Sept. 21, and the public is invited for hamburgers and hot dogs, sausage and peppers, and perhaps a little Italian ice. It’s an opportunity for people in the community to have some fun, learn what the Italian Benefit Society has to offer, and get to know its members.

On Oct. 26, the society will hold a dinner dance, and for $25 a couple, participants can feast on traditional orzo soup, mostacelli, salad, baked potatoes and chicken.

These days the club boasts about 500 members and about 25 women in its Ladies Auxiliary, and while there are still plenty of Italian-sounding surnames, the club’s membership has become more reflective of today’s melting pot society. Cyr said the Ladies Auxiliary helps a lot with the various functions, such as dances and barbecues, and was quite helpful with the recent renovation of the kitchen.

“We’re not here to make money, and we try to do some things for the community,” said Cyr. This includes offering both sports and educational scholarships, and holding small events that raise funds or non-perishable food collections for both SafeNet’s local food pantry and Flo’s Kitchen. For a nominal $1 a year, the club also leases about an acre of its property to its neighbor, the Red-Tar SpiritHorse Therapy Riding Center, which offers therapeutic riding for persons with cerebral palsy, autism, mental retardation and hereditary paraplegia.

Annual dues are $25, providing access to all the social club has to offer. “It’s a nice little organization. It’s like a family here,” said Guardiani.

Those who have memorabilia of the Italian Benefit Society to share are asked to contact Anthony Guardiani at 860-416-3098.


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