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Ceremony marks Norristown Columbus Monument’s 25th anniversary

Ceremony marks Norristown Columbus Monument’s 25th anniversary

NORRISTOWN>>The 25th anniversary of the Christopher Columbus Monument at Elmwood Park was celebrated Thursday with lots of singing, reminiscences and, of course, an Italian culinary feast.


A ceremony held next to the recently refurbished monument-fountain that pays homage to the Italian explorer’s 15th- century voyage to the New World was highlighted by renditions of the Italian and U.S. national anthems by vocalist Erica Gagliardi, an appearance by Norristown ambassador Hank Cisco and the engaging verbal musings of guest of honor Phil Martelli.


Martelli, a former basketball coach at Bishop Kenrick High School and the current head coach of St. Joseph University’s men’s basketball team, won over the crowd with his well-known charisma and memories of his grandfather.

As noted in his program bio, Martelli is passionate not only about his chosen profession but also about his role as the chairman of the Coaches vs. Cancer National Council. He kicked off his remarks fittingly by saying, “I get up every day with three things on my mind ? my family, my team and crushing cancer.


“I’m not interested in beating cancer. I’m only interested in crushing cancer. I’m in a program, Real Men Wear Pink, so I (wear) my pink shirt and socks,” he said.


From flavoring his talk with references to his days as the co-owner of Coaches Korner bar on East Main Street in Norristown and interactions with his grandfather, who had a source — “a guy” — for everything his grandson would want or need, Martelli joked with the crowd and shared sentimental recollections.


“I think about what my father and grandfather instilled in me, what did I see and what did I understand? And it’s the same for everybody in this room, without meeting you on an individual basis. We stay strong with our families and this (celebration) is another indication. We have to stay true to who we are and where we come from.”


There has been a monument to Columbus in some form at the park since 1926. Designed by architect Alfred Panepinto and financed through a campaign led by Cisco, the current aesthetically gratifying “Admiral of the Sea” version was dedicated on Columbus Day, Oct. 12, 1992.


John Doyle, Norristown Area High School director of communications, explained how the Columbus Monument is now embracing modern technology.


“One of the things we’re trying to do is make the monument more accessible to people and make there be more informational programming,” Doyle said, explaining that by holding up their smartphones to small plaques now set up around the monument, visitors can access videos and narratives on the monument’s history and future.


Master of ceremonies Al DeGennaro acknowledged notable attendees, among them state Rep. Kate Harper, R-Montgomery; Montgomery County Commissioners Joe Gale and Ken Lawrence; Norristown Municipal Administrator Crandall Jones; former Norristown Chief of Police Russell Bono; Elmwood Park Zoo Executive Director Al Zone; former editor of The Times Herald Stan Huskey, and Montgomery County Sheriff Sean Kilkenny.


In presenting a proclamation, Harper announced that October is officially Italian Heritage Month in Pennsylvania, as unanimously voted in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.


“We may be three months late on the budget, but we’re right on time with this one,” Harper joked, before regaling the audience with a bit of history and some relevant demographics.


“In 1937 President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day as a national holiday and today we credit Christopher Columbus with Italians’ immigration to the New World and what is now Pennsylvania,” Harper noted. “Currently there are 17 million Americans of Italian heritage in the United States and 1.4 Americans of Italian heritage right here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Italian Americans have become one of the commonwealth’s most influential ethnic groups, with deep roots in religion, politics, arts, science, law and economic and social institutions.”


At the conclusion of the ceremony, DeGennaro announced that everyone was welcome to head over to event sponsor J.P. Mascaro & Sons headquarters in Audubon for a special luncheon prepared by Collegeville Italian Bakery Pizzeria Napoletana Catering.


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