Conference gathers Italian-Americans to Ogden

Friday , July 18, 2014 - 3:21 PM

BS_071714_ITONA Cathedral_02-1

Deacon Lynn Johnson explained the history of the cathedral and artwork during the International...

OGDEN — How can you not like an organization that was originally named “The Friendly Club”?

This past weekend, about 300 Italian-Americans, and a few Italians, descended on Ogden for their biennial conference.

Every other year, the International Tyrolean-Trentino Organization of North America — ITTONA, for short — gathers somewhere around the country to renew old acquaintances, make new friends and continue the traditions of the old country. Twenty years ago, ITTONA held its 11th national convention in Ogden. Since then, it’s been from San Francisco to Solvay, N.Y.; Minnesota to Manhattan. This year, the 21st convention returned to Junction City.

The organization exists for those whose roots go back to the Tyrol and Trentino areas of Northern Italy and Austria.

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“It’s just kind of to keep the culture fresh,” says Terry Tremea, of Clinton, president of the local Trentini Italians of Utah club. “We’ve always tried to involve our younger kids, to teach them to keep our heritage going.”

This year’s conference began with many of the attendees arriving at the Salt Lake International Airport on Thursday. Local club members were on hand to greet the visitors — including the mayor of Cloz, Italy, who is attending this year’s event — and to transport their baggage to Ogden.

“Since Ogden is famous for the railroad, and we now have passenger trains, our visitors are riding the train to Ogden,” Tremea said.

They took light rail from the airport to downtown Salt Lake, then transferred to FrontRunner for the trip to Ogden.

On Friday morning, conference attendees hopped on a bus and traveled back to Salt Lake City to tour the Cathedral of the Madeleine and then spend some research time at the LDS church’s family history center, before going over to City Creek for lunch. On Friday evening, the conference held a traditional Italian polenta dinner at the Ogden Eccles Conference Center.

Saturday’s activities included time in downtown Ogden, at the farmer’s market and Union Station. Saturday evening involved a western cookout and tickets to the Ogden Pioneer Days rodeo.

The conference concluded Sunday with a mass at St. Florence Catholic Church in Huntsville, followed by a Dutch oven meal in the Ogden Valley.

Some of the ITTONA members remember their last conference in Ogden, and Tremea said they had just two requests.

“They said, ‘You’ve got to do the rodeo, and you’ve got to do the iron pots,’ ” he said.

By “iron pots,” of course, they meant the Dutch oven meal, Tremea said.

“They really loved that,” he said.

Weber County’s connection to the area around the province of Trentino, Italy, goes back to the 1930s. According to Tremea, immigrants from these small villages in Northern Italy came to America in the ’20s and ’30s to escape the ravages of war and poverty. Many ended up in the coal mines of Rock Springs and Superior, Wyo.

“And they soon found out that wasn’t the best work,” he said. “It was very, very difficult work, let alone living in Rock Springs, Wyo.”

Indeed, Tremea tells a story about his great-grandmother arriving in Wyoming from Italy: “She finally got there to meet her fiance, and the next morning — after getting there in the middle of the night — she woke and all she saw was sagebrush. She said, ‘I left my mama for this?’ ”

Some of these Italian immigrants left Wyoming, and settled in western Weber County. Many of them became farmers in places like West Weber, West Warren and Taylor.

In 1937, a few of the families in West Weber organized what they called The Friendly Club. Frank Tremea, Terry Tremea’s father and past president of the Trentini Italians of Utah club, was born the year The Friendly Club was organized.

“He’s basically been a member of the club all his life,” Terry Tremea said of his father.

The Friendly Club was primarily designed to provide a social outlet for these Italian families in the community.

“The club remained as a social gathering spot — things like weddings and dinners and parties were held there,” according to Frank Tremea, who lives in Clinton. “They had a hall — a cannery that they remodeled — that still stands in West Weber.”

Then, in the mid-1980s, a Trentino organization from the eastern U.S. invited the Ogden club to join it. The Ogden club accepted.

“We were no longer called The Friendly Club,” said Frank Tremea. The local chapter became the Trentini Italians of Utah.

Frank Tremea says there are still five or six of the original club members in the area.

“They’re all in their 90s now,” he said.

Keeping this Italian heritage alive isn’t easy, Terry Tremea says.

“It’s kind of sad,” he explained. “We have 150 people coming from out of state this time, and the last time Ogden hosted it we had 500 people.”

Frank Tremea said there used to be 25 ITTONA clubs in the United States and Canada. Now, there are maybe 15.

“Hey, people are awful busy today,” he said. “It’s hard to compete with everything going on.”

But Frank Tremea says he’s excited that the Ogden club is hosting the national conference, whatever the size.

“I love my Italian heritage, and want to let as many people know about it as I can,” he said.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272 or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SEMarkSaal.

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