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James Saraceni is recognized as the outstanding Italian American for 2023

By Press Release

Press Release:

James Saraceni
James Saraceni

James Saraceni is the son of Thomas and Louise (Belluci) Saraceni. His grandparents, Arthur and Amelia (Soccio), immigrated to America from Vasto, Italy, which is located on the Adriatic Sea. They had the courage to leave their country, for a better life, at the young age of sixteen. They had twelve children. His maternal grandparents, Biaggio and Anna Bellucci also came to America in the early 1900s. He has strong Italian roots.

Jim grew up on the south side of Batavia. He is a 1980 graduate of Batavia High School, furthering his education at Genesee Community College and the University at Buffalo. He has worked in the banking and real estate business for the past 37 years and currently works at Prime Lending. He has been married to his wife, Christine Antinore for 33 years. They have two daughters, Samantha (Cody Ruhlen) and Alex (Doug Zalenski). Their granddaughter, Finley Christine, is the apple of their eye. 

He served on the Paolo Busti Board of Directors for 15 years. He held the office of Treasurer. He has volunteered for the United Way, is a frequent donor to the Red Cross, and for many years enjoyed volunteering at the St. Anthony’s Lawn Fete. 

Family is extremely important to him, and a huge part of his life. He not only is involved with his children, but with his nieces and nephews. He can be seen cheering them on at all their activities, or swimming in his backyard, and enjoying a traditional Italian meal. 

Jim feels strongly that growing up on Hyde Park, in a neighborhood composed of large Italian and Polish families, was instrumental in shaping his life. He said, “The Italian and Polish cultures rooted us together, taught me the importance of family, both immediate and extended, how to be resilient, and to work hard. It taught me how much was given to us, and that we need to pay that forward to keep the spirit of our parents and grandparents alive.” Jim’s family values, love of church, pride in his heritage, and commitment to Italian traditions, have made him the ideal candidate for the Outstanding Italian American 2023.

Photo submitted by Annette LaBarabera

Paolo Busti Cultural Foundation names five 2023 scholarship winners

By Press Release

Press Release:

The Paolo Busti Cultural Foundation Scholarship Awards Dinner will be held on Wednesday, June 7 at 6 p.m. The Foundation is excited to be able to celebrate its heritage together. It promises to be a wonderful evening of friendship, pride and of course a delicious Italian food, it will be hosted at Batavia Downs. 

Tickets are $35.00 and may be purchased from Board members and Ben’s Appliance. The Foundation will also have tickets available to purchase for our Spring 20/20 Raffle, which supports our Senior Scholarships.

The Foundation is pleased to honor our 2023 Outstanding Italian-American, James Saraceni, on this evening as well.

Kaylie kratz

Kaylie F. Kratz, a Notre Dame High School senior and is the daughter of John and Jill Kratz. She plans to attend SUNY Cortland majoring in Early Childhood Education. Kaylie is a member of National Honor Society and was named Student of the Month for Excellent Academic Involvement 9th thru 12th grade. She also accepted the Mercedes Mahoney Mancuso Memorial Award for students excelling academically despite obstacles. 

Kaylie was awarded Future CEO Award for demonstrating growth and excellence. She also was Employee of the Month in response to her leadership in the workplace.

Kaylie participated in Environmental Action club and LE3. She was a after school/summer camp activity coordinator 9th thru 12th grade and participated in chorus at Notre Dame.

Kaylie volunteered at St. Joseph’s Regional School for various fundraisers and at the Notre Dame high school office. She also prepared healthy meals at Commit to Well to donate to the food pantry and hospital. 

Kaylie’s experience growing up Italian, inspired her to see the love that family shares for each other and the deep admiration for the Italian Culture. She will always remember her Italian experience that will remind her to honor her culture.


Cooper J. Fix, a Batavia High School senior and is the son of Aaron and Kristen Fix. He has been accepted at Oswego State University and plans to major in exercise science/physical therapy. Cooper was inducted into the National Honor Society for 8th-12th grade and National Art Honor Society for 11th and 12th grade.

Cooper participated in link crew, swimming, football, track and field, tennis and source of strength just to name a few extracurricular activities. He was the recipient of the 2022 Judd-Gouinlock Citizenship Award and
2023 NYSPHAA Sportsmanship Award.

Volunteering is a big part of Cooper’s life; he volunteers at community closet, soup supper and is a collector and greeter for Sunday Mass at Ascension Parish. He has been a part of National Honor Society projects, Source of Strength community projects and Make a Difference Day.

Cooper quoted Benjamin Franklin “Never base your life’s decisions on advice from people who don’t have to deal with the results of your decisions.” This quote has guided Cooper to support his ability to lead and know life is what you make it!


Sean Czyryca, a senior at Le Roy High School and is the son of Michele and Mark Fuller. He will be attending Hillborough College in Tampa, Florida majoring in General Studies.

Sean participated in soccer, baseball, football, basketball, chorus, drama club and peer counseling. He is a member of St. Joseph’s Parish in LeRoy and Our Lady of Mercy RC Church.

Sean volunteers at Eagle Star, DePaul and is a Blood Donor. Sean enjoys to sing, especially a Frank Sinatra tune, and of course, dance!

He stated that participating in school musicals has given him the confidence to pursue his future career goals.

Sean believes growing up in an Italian environment has shown him love for family, church and food!

aden chua

Aden J. Chua, a Batavia High School senior who will be graduating Summa Cum Laude and is the son of Allison and David Chua. Aden plans to attend Genesee Community College and then further his education at a 4-year college to achieve his goal as a Screen Writer and Theology major. He is a member of the National Honor Society, Tri-M Musical Honor Society and was offered Key Scholar Grant from Elmira College.

He has participated in many activities: jazz band, musical demons, concert band, chorus, strings in sync. orchestra, marching band, production club, musicals, drama club and cross country. The clubs he participated are: Source of Strength, Z club, Umoja, baking club, video game club, board game club, and was a Mr. Batavia candidate.

Aden volunteers at the Community Closet, The Veterans Home, ARC and the Community Garden along with 5k Race for Autism. He attends BASE Classes at Northgate Free Methodist Church, a participant in overnight camping trips.

Aden believes bring Italian means putting your family above all except God. Being there for your family though difficult times and joyous times is what accomplishes a full life.


Michael A Marchese, a Summa Cum Laude recipient and senior at Batavia High School is the son of Paul and Sandra Marchese. He will be attending Paul Smith College to earn a Bachelor Degree in Environmental Science. He was inducted into the National Honor Society and received Service and Academic Excellence Award in his sophomore year. 

Michael has participated in band for 8 years in the percussion section and orchestra for 12 years as a cellist. He participated in cross country and track for 6 years, earning a section patch for cross country for 2 years. He also participated in indoor track for 5 years earning a sectional patch and Tennis for 1 year.

Michael is completing his Eagle Scout Award by participating in The Boy Scouts, Scouts BSA(12 years), Senior Patrol Leader and Assistant Patrol Leader. He also participated for 2 years in the National Leadership Training. 

He volunteers for the Rotary Club Fly-in Breakfast, Student Council, Boy Scouts fundraisers and community service programs.

Michael’s Italian Heritage has taught him to connect with family. Knowing when the pasta is done boiling, learning to be a speaker and be heard and a good cook! Now that’s Italian!

Paolo Busti Cultural Foundation names four 2021 scholarship winners

By Billie Owens


Amanda Bergman, senior at Notre Dame High School, is the daughter of Keith and Gina Bergman. She believes her Italian-American heritage can be summed up in how she has been raised with emphasis placed on values stemming from faith, food and family.

Amanda is a member of the National Honor Society, ranking first in her class. She plans to attend Robert Wesleyan College to pursue bachelor’s degree in the Science of Nursing.

She has been involved in Drama Club, Softball, Choir and Winter Cheerleading. Amanda has also volunteered at the Wyoming Association for Catholic Youth, Diocese Youth Board at the Catholic Center in Buffalo, and she is active at the St. Padre Pio Parish in Oakfield.

Amanda has volunteered for Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, Crossroads House, and Stone’s Buddies, which is a support group for pediatric patients with Crohn’s disease. She looks forward to caring for patients, working with their families and making a positive impact in their lives.


Natalie Clark, daughter of Paul and Patricia Pellegrino Clark, Batavia High School senior, ranks 13th in her class, and believes her close knit Italian-American family, along with the Batavia community has shaped her into the well-rounded person she represents.

Natalie plans on attending Niagara University to pursue an undergraduate degree in Nursing, with plans to achieve her goal of pediatric Nurse Practitioner.

She is a member of the National Honor Society, BHS Student Government, Source of Strength Club, Link Crew, Prom Committee and a member of Homecoming Court.

Her involvement in sports included Varsity Cheerleading, Softball and Dance. Natalie’s cheer squad was awarded Section V Girls Champions 2017 and Cheerleading Second team All-County (Division 2, Small A school sectional title) in 2019.

Natalie balanced her learning and sports to achieve Scholar Athlete Award from seventh through 12thgrade.  

She also was awarded the Elmira College Key Award and BHS Gold Award Honor Roll.

Her family encouraged Natalie to be active in her community, to give of herself for others. Her volunteering at “Friends of Strong,” Youth Camp Cheer volunteer, and her religious education has given her the confidence of helping others.

Natalie, from a young age, believes the importance of her faith has encouraged her to fulfil her goals. Natalie said “I need to work for what I want and when I work hard, everything is possible.”


Alex Hale, son of Larry and Diane Hale, is a senior at Batavia High School. He attributes the value he has received by growing up in a Italian American household has had a tremendous impact on his life.

Alex plans to attend Niagara Community College to study Health Services, in hopes to one day to become a physical therapist. He has also committed to play baseball for NCC, which has been a huge part of his life,

Alex has been a high honor student since fourth grade to the present, ranking 28thin a class of 153. He has been involved in basketball, football as well as baseball, in which he has received many awards. He was also involved in Faith Formation at Ascension Parish, attending Religious Instructions and as a altar server at Resurrection Parish.

Alex has been active in the community, volunteering for the Michael Napoleon Memorial Foundation, basketball summer camps, Crossroads House, and the Ricky Palermo Foundation, which holds an annual golf tournament and fundraisera for the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.

Alex said he is proud of his Italian heritage and "it is very important to carry out Italian traditions.”


Bryn Wormley, senior at Batavia High School and daughter of Christine Cecere and Brian Wormley, is a member of the National Honor Society ranking eighth in her Class of 2021. 

Bryn participated in the Link Crew, received Honorable Chemistry Award, Keuka College Scholarship Award and Top 10 Senior Class Award.

Currently she's a student in the Health Career Academy, a stepping-stone to her next phase in learning at St. John Fisher College in Pre Health Professional studies, with her goal to be a Physical Therapist or Physician’s Assistant. She also looks forward to being on the St. John Fisher College Women’s Basketball Team.

Bryn said she "is more willing to give her time and work hard for others."

Volunteering is part of who she is --assisting in bowling fundraisers, helping out at meat raffles, serving at concession stands, and she likes to write encouraging letters to nursing home residents and those who reside at the NYS Veterans' Home in Batavia. During the coronavirus pandemic, she did chores for the elderly, too. Bryn has volunteered at training camps to help children develop social skills. 

Italian-American values have taught her the value of caring for others.

Laurie Napoleone named by Batavia Downs Gaming as Italian-American of the Year

By Billie Owens


Press release:

Batavia Downs Gaming is pleased to announce that Laurie Napoleone is the historic racetrack’s recipient of its annual Italian-American of the Year award. Napoleone will receive her award on Oct. 13, Columbus Day, with a special trackside ceremony after the seventh race. Mr. Joe Gerace, the first recipient of this award, will act as Master Ceremony.

She’ll also be joined by other past award winners, Chuck Zambito, Ray Cianfrini, Joe Teresi, Charles Ruffino and Russ Romano.

Laurie (Pero) Napoleone is the wife of Mark Napoleone and the proud mother of four children, Mark Jr., Ashley, Christen, and her angel, Michael. She is the daughter of the late Charles and Marien Pero, and the sister of Charles, David and Adelyn Pero.

Laurie earned her bachelor of science in Nursing from Niagara University in 1982 and started working as a registered nurse after graduation at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester. After her marriage to Mark in 1983, she returned to her hometown and began working at St. Jerome Hospital, where she stayed for 15 years. After playing a role in the initial stages of the merger between St. Jerome Hospital  and Genesee Memorial Hospital, she decided on a career change into a school setting.

She worked for the Batavia City Schools as a school nurse / teacher at Robert Morris Elementary School. She earned a master‘s in Nursing from the University of Phoenix in 2004. Laurie then took her love for healthcare as well as teaching, and is currently employed by the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership. There she is an instructor in the Health Careers Academy, a program for high school seniors who are interested in pursuing a career in healthcare while gaining college credits.

Along with her husband, Laurie is the co-founder/member of the Michael Napoleone Memorial Foundation. After the passing of their youngest son, Michael, at the age of 8 to Burkitt’s lymphoma, (an aggressive form of blood cancer) the Napoleones created a foundation in Michael’s memory. It  helps families facing the challenges of a pediatric cancer diagnosis, supports research efforts in pediatric blood cancers, and assists youth sports and youth activities in the community.

Laurie speaks on behalf of the foundation and is a strong advocate for the families; has lobbied in Washington for more support of research efforts; and is passionate about the Foundation’s mission.

In her free time, Laurie enjoys entertaining with family and friends, Zumba, and writing.

Batavia Downs Gaming is proud to honor Laurie Napoleone as its 2014 Italian-American of the Year.

Le Roy native's 'Documente' exhibit is more than just paintings

By Daniel Crofts

The painting above is titled "The Clash of Cultures," in it artist Tom MacPherson shows us some of the dynamics of his family history.

It's part of a new exhibit at Genesee Community College's Rosalie "Roz" Steiner Art Gallery called "Documente: The Italian American Family Album," which includes original egg-tempura portraits, old-fashioned furniture, photographs, music and stories. It will be on display through Aug. 27.

"Clash of Cultures" depicts MacPherson's two grandmothers in 1940s Le Roy. Grandma MacPherson (foreground) was a Methodist (the ribbon around her waist reads "Methodist Church of Le Roy") of Scottish ancestry, whereas Grandma O'Geen (Gugino) was Italian and Roman Catholic.

While Grandma MacPherson stands outside, Grandma O'Geen stands secure in the "bastion" of her Catholic household (behind the front door), with Swiss Guards from the Vatican guarding the entrance, St. Peter (the first Pope) standing by her side, and Pope Pius XII (upper left) keeping watch overhead.

Born in Batavia and raised in Le Roy, MacPherson now teaches studio art at SUNY Geneseo. His family history is kind of a microcosm of Le Roy's overall past.

His Scottish forebears came to Le Roy in 1801, before it even became a town.

"They were the ones who set the tone for what the local culture would be all about," MacPherson said. "And then my Sicilian relatives had to blend into that."

From the MacPhersons' immigration from the Scottish Highlands to the O'Geens' (who changed their name from Gugino to more easily fit in with American culture) immigration from Sicily in 1896, "Documente" is a detailed panorama of the artist's roots.

Included are the adventures of intrepid MacPherson aunts, elderly Italian aunts praying their Rosaries, the persecution of Italian immigrants by the Ku Klux Klan in Le Roy, and the experience of fathers and uncles in overseas wars.

Scenes re-creating household decor circa 1940-60 add three-dimensional reality, an intimate visit into the artist's everyday world at that time. 

Here in "The Pioneer," MacPherson depicts his bold, adventurous great-aunt Kitty standing on the rocks of her ancestral Scotland.

"No, I'm Not Colonel Sanders" depicts great-uncle Rossolino Barone. Like all of MacPherson's portraits, this is based on a family photograph -- in this case, of uncle "Ross" at a family wedding in the 1970s.

In the background is the drug store that he owned in the Rochester suburbs, and overhead are angels borrowed from Fillipino Lippi's "Madonna with Child and Saints."

MacPherson incorporates images from Italian Renaissance art into his portraits in order, in his words, to "infuse my relatives with their heritage."

"I wanted my Italian relatives to be able to relate to their heritage," he said. "And I wanted (the Renaissance elements) to say something about their personalities."

In the case of uncle Ross, the angels are showering roses on him for the kindness he showed other people.

Great-aunt Catherine MacPherson is the subject of "The Conversion of Great-Aunt Catherine." Catherine was an Army nurse during World War I, and she converted to Catholicism in France after seeing the bravery of the priests and nuns who took care of the wounded and dying.

She is set against the background of her ancestral home in the Scottish Highlands, and the overhead image represents her conversion (when she "saw the light").

The subject of "The Walking Dead" is MacPherson's father, Neil Lewis MacPherson. According to the written description next to the portrait, Neil came back home a "changed man" as a result of his experiences in World War II. MacPherson chose to illustrate this by appropriating the figure of death (right) from German artist Hans Baldung Grien's "The Three Ages of Death."

Here are a few other "Documente" displays:

A series of photographs in honor of MacPherson's cousin, Frank O'Geen.

"La Vita Mia"

"What Ya Gonna Do?" (a portrait of an aunt surrounded by religious icons)

"The Adventures of Great-Uncle Pete" (To view a video explaining this one, click here.)

Having explored the history of the two sides of his family in this exhibit, MacPherson is now working on a book on the subject. He hopes to have it published within the next few years.

Roz Steiner gallery is located at 1 College Road in Batavia and is open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Admission is free. Gallery Director Shirley Tokash Verrico always welcomes group tours (though children's groups may not be appropriate, as some of the images are more suited to adult audiences).

For more information, email Verrico at [email protected] or call 343-0055, ext. 6490.

Raymond Cianfrini to be honored at Batavia Downs Casino

By Billie Owens

Oakfield attorney Raymond Cianfrini will be honored on “Italian-American Night” Aug. 27 at Batavia Downs Casino. The lifelong Genesee County resident is well known as a civic leader and volunteer.

He will add the award “Batavia Downs Casino 2010 Italian-American of the Year” to his list of honors at ceremonies inside the winner’s circle at the Genesee County harness track.

After graduating from Oakfield-Alabama Central School, Cianfrini attended the State University of New York at Albany for his undergraduate studies. He received his doctorate in jurisprudence from the UB School of Law.

He has been a practicing attorney in the Village of Oakfield for 38 years and served as Genesee's assistant county attorney from 1972 to 1974 and its assistant district attorney from 1974 to 1976. Cianfrini also served for two years as an associate professor of Criminal Justice at Genesee Community College and as recording judge for the NYS Racing and Wagering Board at Batavia Downs.

The active 64-year-old currently represents Oakfield and Alabama (District 1) on the Genesee County Legislature after having served as Mayor of Oakfield from 2000 to 2007.

Cianfrini and his wife, Karen, a registered nurse at United Memorial Medical Center, have been married for 37 years.

They have three children and four grandchildren. Son Michael is a partner with him in the Cianfrini Law Firm at 31 Main St. in Oakfield. Daughter Christy Cianfrini Connor is an epidemiologist in San Diego. Another son, Steve, is a helicopter pilot serving with the Army in Afghanistan.

Raymond Cianfrini was the 2007 recipient of the coveted Paolo Busti Cultural Foundation Award of Excellence as Outstanding Italian-American and was a charter inductee into the Oakfield-Alabama Central School Hall of Fame in 2004.

He is also a photographer who worked for the Buffalo Bills from 1988-94, which included the team’s four visits to the NFL Super Bowl.

Anyone wishing to make reservations to attend the Aug. 27 festivities may contact Arna Tygart at (585) 343-3750, ext 437. A special Italian buffet will be served and live music will be featured with The Formula Band.

Batavia Downs announces winner of second-annual Italian-American award

By Howard B. Owens

Charles Zambito will be honored by Batavia Downs on Aug. 29 as the second Genesee County resident to receive its now annual "Italian-American of the Year" award.

Joe "The Mayor of Batavia" Gerace received the first award last year.

Zambito, an attorney who was born and raised Elba and now serves as a Genesee County legislator, will receive the award inside the winner's circle at Batavia Downs.

The award honors a local Italian-American who has made a significant contribution to the community.

Zambito was elected to the Genesee County Legislature in 2001. He serves as the legislature’s liaison to the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce and Genesee Community College.

A father of three, Zambito, 57, is a trustee of St. Padre Pio Roman Catholic Parish, where he also serves as a lecturer and usher. He is chairman of the Town of Elba Republican Committee and member of the county GOP committee.  Zambito is a former attorney adviser to the Genesee County Mock Trial Program, member of the Batavia Rotary Club, Genesee-Orleans Cornell Club and active with the Paolo Busti Foundation.

Zambito and his wife, Pat, will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary in September.

Italian-American Night is one of several ethnic celebrations at the Downs during racing season, now through Dec. 5. Anyone wishing to make reservations to attend the Aug. 29 festivities may contact Arna Tygart at (585) 343-3750 (Ext 437).  A special Italian Buffet will be served and live music will be featured with The Formula Band.

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