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American Italian Heritage Association

The History of the American Italian Heritage Association, Museum and Cultural Center

The seeds for the American Italian Heritage Association, Museum and Cultural Center were planted 40 years ago when eight professors gathered at the Syracuse University Law Department lounge to discuss the best way to preserve the Italian culture, ethnicity and history for future generations to nourish.

Based in Utica, NY, the association was established on June 12, 1979, where the first and current president of the Association, Prof./Cav. Philip J. DiNovo, resided. The organization was formed with the expressed purpose of recording and preserving Italian heritage.

For 32 years, Phil was a professor of Business Administration and chairman of the department at Morrisville State College, then known as Morrisville Agricultural and Technical College. In 1998 Prof. retired from teaching and moved to Albany always building the membership of the association.

One of the prestigious highlights during the history of the association occurred on June 5, 1994. On this date the Italian Vice Counsel of upstate New York, Dr. Arturo Anzalone, bestowed upon Phil DiNovo the rank of Cavaliere in the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy (OMRI) at Antonio’s Banquet Facility in Washington Mills, Oneida County. OMRI is the highest ranking honor of the Republic. It is awarded for “merit acquired by the nation” in the fields of literature, the arts, economy, public service, as well as social, philanthropic and humanitarian activities for long and conspicuous service in civilian and military careers.

Prof./Cav. DiNovol is a visionary pioneer who founded the association and grew the association to more than 1,000 members residing in 40 states and Canada to become a dedicated and influential cultural organization and a source of pride for all Italians and non-Italians alike. It is now the largest museum on the east coast dedicated to preserving our Italian heritage. Dues are only $25 a year.

Museums are never easy to establish and maintain. Due to the persistence and dedication of Professor DiNovo, the first American Italian museum was located in Utica for 13 years from 1985 to 1998. When Phil retired from teaching, the artifacts he collected were moved with him to Albany. After an 11-year hiatus, where the artifacts were put into storage, the museum began a rebirth and took root at its current spot on Central Avenue in the town of Colonie, a suburb of Albany.

Purchased in 2004, it took five years to restore the first floor of the building, which was opened as the museum on October 4, 2009. The site for the 4,000 square-foot museum is a former Catholic church, Our Lady of Mercy, which was built by Italian immigrant laborers in 1922. The building was purchased as a repository for Italian-made artifacts. The 11-room museum houses several exhibits including a Hall of History, two rooms dedicated to telling the story of Italian immigrants, another room to honor Italian folk art and to exhibit old photos, music and arts rooms, a special exhibit to honor those who served in battle and a gift shop.

The Cultural Center opened five years ago on August 21, 2014, after another five year renovation effort to bring the second floor of the building up to building code standards. An art gallery, memorial chapel, library, art gallery and classroom occupy the second floor cultural center. Italian language courses and cooking classes are also offered at the cultural center.

The campus also houses a thrift shop, called A Second Chance, where donated new and used items are for sale to benefit the association, museum and cultural center.

The concept behind the vision and mission includes the notion that sustaining our Italian heritage reinforces the values of sacrifice that made for compassionate families and cultures, rather than creating the self-centered society that has emerged today.