Celeste Calvitto's travels to small towns have helped her complete her first book


By Nikki Patrick THE MORNING SUN


Celeste Calvitto had two main reasons for embarking on her first book, "Searching for Italy in America's Rural Heartland."

"I wanted to search for heritage," said Calvitto, who is very proud of her Italian-American background. "Also, I love road trips, but I don’t like cities and interstate highways, so this was also an opportunity for me to go to places I wanted to visit."

She will have a signing for her book from 1 to 3 p.m. Friday at the Pittsburg State University Book Store in the Overman Student Center.

Calvitto noted that much has been written about the immigrant experience in urban areas, but there's been very little about immigrants who settled in rural areas. Calvitto decided to do something about that.

She went to various small towns in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma and interviewed dozens of immigrants and their descendants. In each place, she tried to develop knowledgeable contacts. "You really can't just show up on somebody's doorstep and expect them to share their life story," Calvitto said.

For the Pittsburg-Frontenac area, she was assisted by Debby Ossana Close and William Powell.

She said she discovered them by reading their Pittsburg Morning Sun columns online.

"They took a lot of time out of their schedules to set up interviews and show me around southeast Kansas," Calvitto said. "They, Frank and Velma Ciardullo, Linda Knoll and Louis Casaletto all showed up on my first day in Pittsburg and asked how they could help me. I called them my ‘Kansas Welcoming Committee'. Some of the nicest people I met researching this book were in Kansas."

Her interviews with Pittsburg and Frontenac area residents make up the fifth chapter of her book. It includes interviews with the Ciardullos, Close, Casaletto, the late Dorothy Matarazzi Wachter and Josephine and John Spigarelli.

"The one thing that at least one person in every community told me was that they were poor, but didn't know it, and felt blessed in many ways," Calvitto said. "Most people I spoke with also said they had never really felt any discrimination."

The cover of her book features a photo of Josephine Spigarelli's family.

"It's got my parents, Sal and Maria Caruso, my sisters Antoinette and Helen, my brother Joe and me," she said.

She's very proud of the book.

"I think it's great," Spigarelli said. "Celeste did a very good job."

Velma Ciardullo said she was also pleased.

"I thought the book was wonderful — the flow of all the people Celeste visited with, the thread she wove between everyone," she said. "Celeste is a very down-to-earth person, and she listens more than she talks."

That's a skill Calvitto picked up in her 33 years as a reporter and editor for newspapers in New York, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Dakota. Her grandparents came from Italy and settled in Rhode Island. She was born in Florida and is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communication. While living in Mount Kisco, N.Y., she was named the 1998 Woman of the Year by the Italian-American Club of Northern Westchester.

Calvitto is currently a freelance writer based in Rapid City, S.D., but has been on the road lately doing some book signings. She said that she's very glad to be visiting the Pittsburg area again — especially now.

"When I was here before, I missed Festa Italiana," she said. "I'm going there Saturday with Velma Ciardullo, and I'm really looking forward to it."