This post is sponsored by
Past & Present
Italian social club wraps its arms around community
By LeAne Rutherford
The Dante Club, an Italian social and gathering organization, has thrived and survived for almost 100 years. That’s 100 years of family, food and fraternity.
The Dante Club was established in 1926 “to help Italian immigrants adapt to life in America among people who spoke their language and had similar customs.” It has been a comfort to its members, particularly to new arrivals and through some challenging times. Today it has an even broader reach.
Seventy-eight presidents have served the group since its inception. “The warmth of the place and its people are just part of our heritage. We wrap our arms around our culture and community,” says Tom Novi, current president.
In 1926, the club bought its own building, a residence at 1511 P St., which remained the club’s home for 34 years before it built an event center in 1960 off Fair Oaks Boulevard. The site was an open field of hops in an undeveloped area.
Covering more than 15,000 square feet, the Dante Event Center, depending on the seating arrangement, can comfortably accommodate from 500 to 900 guests in rooms romantically named The Sicilian, The Tuscan and The Venetian. A large, luxurious bar adjoins all three. Outside, a tent can hold 200 to 400. Mediterranean motif and mood prevail.
On any given day you might find a baby shower, rehearsal dinner, retirement celebration or engagement party. If you glance outside, you might see a bride being escorted down a petal-strewn path toward a captivating white gazebo with its velvet green lawn.
A little further out on the property you’ll find rollers playing on bocce ball courts. The handsome grounds were planned, planted and donated by member George Procida, a commercial landscaper.
However, the Covid pandemic almost sank their gondola. “The Dante Club membership, composed of Italian American professionals, contractors, tradesmen and others decided to treat this dark time as an opportunity … to invest in a complete restoration of the event center,” Novi says.
With a loan and spearheaded by then-President Ron Pane, club members used their downtime and considerable skills to renovate, restore and refurbish the center. Buckets of sweat equity were involved. Ron Fiorica and Procida, among others, “pounded nails, painted buildings, and planted trees and shrubs,” Novi recalls.
Tom Mezzanares laid washed pink brick archways, updated doors and installed lighting. His daughter, Jammi Harshbarger Mezzanares, designed the inviting interior. All floors were re-laid for dancing. It was, as Novi says pridefully, “a Phoenix rising from the ashes.”
The club has something enjoyable for all ages and interests. Fioricas’s goats charm children at a petting zoo during Easter egg hunts. Bocce ball courts lure players to league and open play. Golf tournaments are announced in the group’s newsletter.
The club’s food offerings—linguini, rigatoni, penne pasta, biscotti, cannoli, spumoni—are focal in connecting people and place. The menu can be planned around Italian fare, but not necessarily. Remembering the diversity of Italian cuisine, chef Jonathan Diaz consults with planners and his collection of 40-plus cookbooks to design the desired, delectable menu. Jennifer Peretti, Dante Event Center manager, makes things happen.
The Ladies Auxiliary, the feminine face of the club headed by Debra Cattuzzo, coordinates an annual cioppino feed, the club’s biggest fundraising event. To accompany the seafood stew, risotto is cooked in huge vats and stirred by young men wielding paddles like gondoliers.
Family dinner on Sunday is an Italian custom. Each month the club features a reasonably priced Family Sunday Dinner open to the public and by reservation. More than food, these dinners foster connection, comfort and community.
With approximately 250 members, The Dante Club aims to encourage friendship, sustain the Italian heritage and be good citizens in the community. As a good citizen, the club recently distributed $20,000 in scholarships for high school seniors and helped raise funds for the UC Davis Ronald McDonald House.
By all measures, The Dante Club is reaching its goals and getting stronger as it links its past to the present.
For more information, visit danteclub.com.
LeAne Rutherford can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.