PHOTO — State Rep. Charles J. Ferraro, R-West Haven, receives an embroidered “Italian American of the Year 2023” jacket from West Haven Mayor Nancy R. Rossi at the city’s 24th annual Italian Heritage Celebration in the Harriet C. North Community Room of City Hall on Friday, Oct. 6. The event, traditionally held on the steps of City Hall, was moved indoors because of inclement weather. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
WEST HAVEN, Oct. 6, 2023 — Republican state Rep. Charles J. Ferraro, a world-class martial artist and an ambassador of his proud Italian ancestry, received the city’s Italian American of the Year award at the 24th annual Italian Heritage Celebration on Friday, Oct. 6.
Mayor Nancy R. Rossi and the West Haven Italian Heritage Committee honored Ferraro, the grandson of emigrant grandparents from the Campania capital of Naples, Italy, during a midday ceremony in the Harriet C. North Community Room of City Hall. The program, traditionally held on the steps of City Hall, was moved indoors because of inclement weather.
The award is bestowed annually on an Italian resident or couple who personifies service in West Haven’s close-knit Italian community.
As the sound of Italian music filled the room at the half-hour cultural event, Ferraro, 70, a lifelong Westie, saluted his Italian lineage with colleagues, friends and loved ones, including his wife, the former Geralyn Ann DeMaio.
Along with descendants of folks from the old country, Ferraro was joined by an array of city employees and residents, fire officials, and local and state leaders, including West Haven Democratic Rep. Dorinda Borer, Milford Republican Rep. Kathy Kennedy and Milford Democratic Sen. James Maroney, who read and presented Ferraro with a General Assembly citation on behalf of West Haven’s delegation.
Ferraro, who represents the 117th District of West Haven, Orange and Milford, was also joined by other local leaders, including North Haven First Selectman Michael J. Freda, a native of West Haven, as well as local business executives, including Simon McDonald, the director of membership and marketing at the Milford Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The honoree also received an Italian flag from Paul M. Frosolone, the president of the West Haven Italian American Civic Association, and Debbie Giordano, the vice president of the association’s Ladies Auxiliary.
Accepting the Italian American of the Year award, Ferraro told the standing room-only crowd, some donning red, white and green, that he appreciated the recognition and thanked his fellow legislators, the mayor, the committee and his wife.
“I’m honored and humbled and filled with gratitude as I stand before you today,” Ferraro said. “I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to the mayor and to the Italian Heritage Committee for selecting me for this honor. I couldn’t be prouder of our Italian heritage.
“I’d like to take a moment also to thank my lovely wife. She deserves my sincere appreciation. She has been my rock through it all, thick and thin. I’m really grateful to have Geralyn in my life. I love you, Geralyn.”
Rossi read and presented a mayoral citation praising Ferraro’s public service, civic-minded contributions, and nearly half-century in martial arts as an artist, a grandmaster and a business owner.
“Since the beginning of your first term in 2014, you have been one of Connecticut’s finest representatives, helping to bring about enduring progress for the communities you serve in the 117th District and for our state as a whole,” Rossi said. “It is clear you have lifted up the state and city you love in lasting ways.”
Rossi then presented Ferraro, a member of the General Assembly’s Italian American Legislative Caucus, with an embroidered “Italian American of the Year 2023” jacket.
The program also included congratulatory remarks by the mayor’s chief of staff, Tom J. McCarthy, the master of ceremonies. Before a blessing by Pastor Philip Jennings of Vertical Church of West Haven, the city’s own Elizabeth Levy sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the Italian national anthem, “II Canto degli Italiani.”
An Italian-flavored lunch after the event was catered by Cappetta’s Italian Imports, Pizza & Catering of West Haven in the First Congregational Church’s Fellowship Hall, at 464 Campbell Ave. opposite City Hall on the Green. Two cakes were provided by Costco of Milford.
Ferraro, a Republican whip who maintains discipline and enforces attendance for the party, is the ranking member of the Energy and Technology Committee and serves on the Human Services and Veterans committees.
During his five terms, Rossi said Ferraro has been “a powerful champion for renewable energy, public safety and health care, along with helping small businesses thrive, making Connecticut more business-friendly, and creating policies and providing funding for programs for older adults and veterans.”
Ferraro was honored for legislative achievements in energy and technology in 2021 and 2022. He has been named the West Haven Republican Town Committee’s 2023 Republican of the Year.
Outside of politics, Ferraro is a 10th-degree black belt, the highest level of recognition given in the martial arts community.
He is the founder, president and grandmaster of Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan, a composite style of classical martial art influenced by the Northern Chinese arts, the Southern Chinese arts and the Okinawan discipline of Karate, with schools throughout the United States and South America.
Ferraro was inducted into the Martial Arts Hall of Fame in 1996, named the Grandmaster of the Year in 1998, and selected to “Who’s Who in the Martial Arts” in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002.
He has also owned and operated the West Haven Academy of Karate for 48 years and has participated in and conducted “hundreds of fundraising events” to help people in need.
In observance of Italian American Heritage Month, West Haven recognizes the unique and vibrant traditions of Americans of Italian descent and celebrates the story of generations of Italian sons and daughters who came to the U.S. seeking hope and opportunity to reach for the American dream.
Ferraro’s maternal grandparents left their home in southern Italy and came to America for a brighter future, arriving in Canada in the 1940s before settling in New Haven’s “Six Corners,” a predominantly Italian neighborhood with six corners that converged at the intersection of Columbus Avenue.
In the daring spirit of Italians who charted a course for millions of immigrants who followed their crossing to America, Ferraro and his grandparents are a testament to the diversity and promise of the United States.
Ferraro, born in New Haven in 1952, was raised by his Italian mother, Jennette Bissonette, and his Irish stepfather, James Savidge, in the heart of Savin Rock Park, West Haven’s bygone amusement park.
The family homestead was on Marsh Street, across from Harvey Tattersall’s West Haven Speedway, formerly Donovan Field. In the late 1960s, the house and road were dismantled to pave the way for the Savin Rock Urban Renewal Project.
Savidge, affectionately known as “Big Jim,” was a prominent Democratic political warhorse in West Haven and worked as a dispatcher at the Department of Public Works.
Ferraro’s mother stayed home to raise her three children, including his younger siblings, Linda and James.
Ferraro, a 1970 graduate of West Haven High School, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Southern Connecticut State College in 1975 and received a Master of Science degree in fishery biology from Murray State University in Kentucky two years later.
Ferraro and his wife, who were high school sweethearts, have been married for 45 years and live in West Shore. They have two sons, Christopher and Brandon Ferraro, and two grandsons, Roman, 7, and Leo, 6.
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— MICHAEL P. WALSH, Public Relations Information Coordinator
State Rep. Charles J. Ferraro, R-West Haven, receives an embroidered “Italian American of the Year 2023” jacket from West Haven Mayor Nancy R. Rossi at the city’s 24th annual Italian Heritage Celebration in the Harriet C. North Community Room of City Hall on Friday, Oct. 6. The event, traditionally held on the steps of City Hall, was moved indoors because of inclement weather. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
Master of ceremonies Tom J. McCarthy, Mayor Rossi’s chief of staff, opens the program. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
West Haven’s own Elizabeth Levy sings the Italian national anthem, “II Canto degli Italiani.” Levy also sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
The crowd faces the Italian flags during the singing of the Italian national anthem. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
Emcee Tom J. McCarthy, left, bows his head as Pastor Philip Jennings of Vertical Church of West Haven offers a blessing. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
Representative Ferraro receives a General Assembly citation from his colleagues, Sen. James Maroney, D-Milford, second from left, and Rep. Kathy Kennedy, R-Milford, as emcee Tom J. McCarthy looks on. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
Mayor Rossi delivers remarks about Representative Ferraro’s dedication to the General Assembly’s 117th District. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
Representative Ferraro receives a citation from Mayor Rossi for his “remarkable legacy of public service and mentorship” as chief of staff Tom J. McCarthy looks on. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
Representative Ferraro receives a folded Italian flag from West Haven Italian American Civic Association President Paul M. Frosolone, right, and Debbie Giordano, the vice president of the association’s Ladies Auxiliary, as Mayor Rossi and chief of staff Tom J. McCarthy look on. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
An “honored and humbled” Representative Ferraro thanks Mayor Rossi and the Italian Heritage Committee for selecting him for the Italian American of the Year award. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)