It is certainly not every day that families host get-togethers that involve the meeting of about 200 relatives using rented facilities. But such was the case last weekend as members of the DeFazio, Arcuri and Pane families – who are all descendants of immigrants from Castanga in the Calabria region of Italy – gathered together in East Sacramento for the 14th annual Calabrese Picnic.
On a picture perfect, sunny and mild weather day, these family members arrived at East Portal Park at 51st and M streets in East Sacramento to continue their tradition of enjoying each others’ company, sharing family memories and preserving their Italian heritage and culture.
For those familiar with the history of Italians in East Sacramento, the site of this event, which was held on Sunday, Oct. 10, made perfect sense.
After all, the park site had for many years served as the playground for those living in the now-historic “Little Italy” section of the city, which is roughly located from 48th to 58th streets between H Street and Folsom Boulevard.
For many people who unexpectedly passed by the park on this day, the gathering likely must have had the appearance of a community event, as opposed to a family affair.
But those attending the event knew better, as they were well aware of the many large, immediate, local families with the last names of DeFazio, Pane and Arcuri, as well as other families with last names directly linked to these three family surnames.
As opposed to plates mainly filled with traditional American picnic staples such as hamburgers, hotdogs and macaroni and potato salads, most plates at the event featured homemade foods such as chicken cacciatore, sausage and peppers, pastas, meatballs, risotto and Italian salads.
Although the event was very much an Italian gathering, there were various exceptions to this theme.
A prime example of how the DeFazio, Pane and Arcuri families have blended with other cultures can be seen through the potluck, which included some non-Italian food, including the most dominant of these offerings: pork and nopales (edible cactus), which is a Mexican dish.
Throughout the day, a friendly competition of bocce ball – an historic sport most closely related to lawn bowling and popularized in Italy many years ago – was played on the park’s bocce ball courts.
After about five hours, the tournament was completed, with the winners being Mark and Vickie DeFazio.
Bill DeFazio, one of the tournament’s coordinators, said that the tournament is a great way to bring the families together at the event.
Since the annual picnic is in its 14th year, Bill, a Sacramento native who graduated from Jesuit High School in 1967, said that it is important to recognize the people who founded the event.
“(My first cousins) Mark and Steve (DeFazio) were the original organizers (of the tournament). No question about it,” said Bill, who is the oldest of the DeFazio grandchildren. “So, Mark and Steve really deserve the lion’s share of doing this thing.”
Bill added that the event, which is held on the Sunday closest to Columbus Day, stemmed from the DeFazio family’s occasional tradition of getting together “every so often.”
“(The event’s roots dates back to about) 40 years ago, but it was never an annual event,” Bill said. “Somebody would just say, ‘We’re all going to go out. Let’s just all try to get together.’”
During its initial years, the annual event was held at William Land Park and featured a golf tournament, followed by a picnic.
When asked to share his feelings about the importance of holding the annual picnic, Bill said, “It’s huge for our families – the DeFazios, the Panes and the Acuris – to keep the tradition going, because we’re old-time Italian families in Sacramento and we’ve lived basically in the same area for probably 100 years, for the most part.”
Margaret (DeFazio) Jacobs, Rose Marie Pane and Louise (Arcuri) Schultz, a trio of the matriarchs of the three families, shared portions of their family histories for this article.
Passionately relating her family history, Margaret (DeFazio) Jacobs said that her grandparents, Joe and Bernadina (Piccoli) DeFazio, were the first members of her family to immigrate to the United States.
After settling in New York, Joe and Bernadina moved to East Sacramento in 1914.
Joe and Bernadina’s son, Louis DeFazio, who was Jacob’s father, married Christine Talerico on Feb. 24, 1924 in Utica, N.Y.
After moving to East Sacramento, Louis DeFazio became well-known for his grocery stores in such places as East Sacramento, Florin, Sloughhouse and West Sacramento.
Early immigrants of the Pane family to arrive in America were Rose Marie Pane’s grandparents, Giuseppi and Rosa Maria (Arcuri) Pane, and her great uncle and great aunt, Antonio and Malana (Mancuso) Pane.
A unique trivia of these couples is the fact that Giuseppi and Rosa Maria had seven boys and one girl and Antonio and Malana had seven girls and one boy.
Rose Marie, who resides in her family home that was built in East Sacramento in about 1935, said that another interesting part of this family trivia is that one of Giuseppi and Rosa Maria’s sons and one of Antonio and Malana’s daughters passed away in their childhood within months of each other.
Additionally, Ronnie Pane, who is a first cousin to Rose Marie, said that these children were the youngest born to each family.
Today, Rosie “Doty” Taylor, who is in her mid-90s, is the only survivor of these 16 children.
Schultz said that her uncle Joe Arcuri and her aunt Elvira (Massoni) Arcuri first arrived in America in the early 1900s. The couple soon traveled from New York to Roseville, where they had three sons and three daughters.
Joe Arcuri supported his family through his employment as a railroad worker in Roseville.
Shortly after the arrivals of Joe and Elvira Arcuri, who emigrated from Italy at separate times, Schultz’s father, Louis Arcuri, immigrated to the United States with his sister, Rosina Arcuri.
After coming to Sacramento in 1916, Louis Arcuri married Margaret DeFazio.
And following the death of Margaret, Louis Arcuri married Ellen Margaret Harris in 1928 and moved to Elk Grove.
Altogether Louis Arcuri, who worked various jobs, including his work as a taxi cab driver, laundry and hotel worker and used car and tire garage owner and operator, had 12 children.
Schultz, a 1949 graduate of Elk Grove High School, said that she appreciates the picnic’s ability to maintain her family’s history and heritage.
“(The picnic) keeps our family together and keeps our heritage up for our children,” Schultz said. “It’s through us that they learn about their heritage. We talk to them and tell them about their family, so they won’t forget where they come from.”
Although some attendees of the picnic expressed their concerns regarding the future existence of the event, 12-year-old Marissa DeFazio, the daughter of Steve and Sheri DeFazio, is among those of the younger generation who are dedicated to continuing the annual gathering.
“(The event) is really important to me and I learn a lot about my family history (at the picnic),” Marisa said. “It’s really fun. I would want to keep (the event) going (in the future).”