I have been working on a documentary (still untitled) of Elkhart’s Italian neighborhood which was located in the Harrison Street area of town. During the course of filming the documentary Frank Lucchese, a friend of mine who grew up in that neighborhood, had arranged more than a dozen interviews with the oldest, original residents of that area. The first generation of immigrants who came here were primarily from Volturara Appula (Italy) which is located in the province of Foggia. It is a small mountain village of about 500 residents.
Our first, and oldest, interviewee was Nicholas J. Russo, Sr. who was one month short of being 99 years old when we spoke with him on February 1, 2010. He was born on March 21, 1911 and when I heard him speak the year of his birth I was astounded. I have archival pictures from 1915 which most would consider very old, but to hear a man say he was born in 1911 was particularly awesome! He died last Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at age 99 years and seven months.
He was looking forward to being interviewed on that winter’s day and did a particularly fine job recollecting the “good old days” as he put it. He seemed full of energy (and memories) and certainly didn’t look like a man who was nearly 100 years old. Later, we gave him a copy of his interview and showed it to him on TV. Listening to him talk was like being transported back to the early days of the neighborhood. Most of the people he spoke about were original neighborhood immigrants/residents who have long since been gone. He was there in the midst of it and his memories of his life and the neighborhood have been preserved.
When I interview someone it usually involves them discussing some private areas of their lives that, ordinarily, would not come up in casual conversation. It is a privilege to be allowed into that intimate area and I am grateful to them for their trust. Thank you, Nick, for leaving these fond memories for future generations.
Watch a little of his interview:
Portions of Nick’s interview will be included in the documentary, which is estimated to air on our local PBS station, WNIT channel 34 (Elkhart/South Bend) sometime early this winter (2011). In addition to the documentary DVD, his full interview along with full versions of the other interviewees will be available on separate DVDs. The collective memories of these Italian-American friends is too valuable lose, and that is why each person’s interview has been preserved in its entirety.
Broadcast times as well as DVD availability will be listed on this blog, the Stories Retold website, the Stories Retold Facebook page, and the Elkhart History Facebook page. I suspect that WNIT will also list it on their website schedule, but probably not until closer to broadcast time.