Q & A: Maddie McNeal

La Dolce VitaItalian-American Organization Provides Food, Fellowship Within Community

Maddie McNeal praises the efforts of the Sons of Italy. Whether members are cooking up a meal on Friday nights or hosting Festa Italiana, they do good work. McNeal has been a member of the Sons of Italy Lodge since moving to the Emerald Coast in 1985. She has served as secretary, trustee and is the current president. Her association with the lodge has allowed her to meet wonderful people and to help motivate members of the lodge to contribute to the community. The Order Sons of Italy in America, also known as the Sons of Italy, was founded in 1905 to assist early Italian immigrants. The Sons of Italy is the oldest and largest organization in the United States for Americans of Italian heritage. In 1978, Joseph Franzalia and 25 other Italian-Americans organized Northwest Florida Lodge No. 2422 as an Italian fraternal organization in Fort Walton Beach. Later that year, the members joined the Sons of Italy and renamed the chapter Joseph B. Franzalia Lodge No. 2422 to honor their founder. Through the efforts of more than 200 members, the Sons of Italy No. 2422 provides food, fun and fellowship in Northwest Florida while promoting Italian Americans’ proud heritage. McNeal recently spoke with Emerald Coast Magazine writer Joyce Owen about the Sons of Italy’s community involvement.

EC: What is the purpose of the Sons of Italy?

MM: Our lodge celebrated its 30th anniversary in September, and though our membership is aging, we remain active both as a social group and a civic organization that supports local and national charities. With fundraisers such as the Amici d’Italiani Golf Tournament and the Festa Italiana, the Franzalia Lodge is able to donate more than $20,000 each year to charities such as the American Cancer Society, Cooley’s Anemia, Children in Crisis, Fisher House of the Emerald Coast, Hospice, the Sacred Heart Foundation, the Waterfront Rescue Mission, the Special Olympics, Elder Services, the Arthritis Foundation, and Sharing and Caring. The Sons of Italy also provides $1,000 scholarships to Okaloosa County high school seniors. This year, the lodge honored 16 deserving students.

EC: How was this year’s Italian festival?

MM: The Sons of Italy hosts the Festa Italiana to promote the organization and to increase membership. We held Festa Italiana on July 26 and 27 at the Emerald Coast Conference Center on Okaloosa Island. It was truly a fabulous event, with thousands of visitors feasting on homemade Italian cuisine and enjoying two days of entertainment. Pastries, gelato, wine tasting and imported pasta, cheeses and olives were available at our own Mangia, Mangia store. We also expanded the entertainment options with a karaoke contest, Showtime Kids and a kids’ art show.

EC: Everyone loves Italian food; do you offer any dining opportunities?

MM: The lodge is open to the public for Pasta Night between 5 and 7:30 p.m. on Fridays. Each week, a different team prepares the meal. We all have our own sauce recipes, and of course, we all think we make the best sauce. The cost is $7 and includes spaghetti with meatballs or sausage, garlic bread and salad. Drinks and Italian desserts are extra. There’s a regular crowd that shows up when we open at 5. Each week, we serve between 200 and 250 people. When the snowbirds are here, the lines are out the door and down the street. We are one of their regular roosting places.

EC: What other activities are offered at the lodge?

MM: We are holding free line-dancing classes on Tuesdays from 6 to 8 p.m. One of our members taught us bridge, and now we play on our own on Wednesdays at 10 a.m. The lodge is also available for private events through our rental manager. It has a dining hall with long tables that can accommodate large groups. We rent the facility for weddings, birthdays and anniversary parties.

For more information on Sons of Italy Lodge No. 2422, call (850) 872-2758 or visit the Web site at sonsofitalyfwb.org.