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Shirley Martignoni Fedeli, formerly of Amici Italiani of Rockford, IL, now living in Michigan with her husband Gene, was recently awarded one of Italy’s highest honors. The President of Italy, Sergio Mattarella, has conferred upon Shirley Martignoni-Fedeli the most prestigious honor of Cavaliere dell’ Ordine della Stella d’Italia (Knight of the Order of the Star of Italy). The distinction is bestowed upon individuals of Italian heritage living outside of Italy for extraordinary contributions to the preservation of the Italian spirit and promotion of Italy’s prestige and friendly relations with other countries through various activities. It is the highest honor the Italian government can bestow upon a person of Italian heritage residing outside of Italy.
The ceremony took place on June 2, 2015 at the National Italian- American Sports Hall of Fame on Taylor Street in the heart of Chicago’s Little Italy. Italy’s elected representative for Italian citizens living in North and Central America, Senatore Renato Turano, presented the Ribbon and Medal of the Order to her. The event was sponsored by the Italian Consulate of Chicago.
Shirley’s recognition by the Italian government was for 30 plus years of promoting and preserving Italian heritage and culture in Rockford, Illinois. She is a charter member of the Greater Rockford Italian American Association (GRIAA) and currently serves as director emeritus.
In the 1980s, she founded Amici Italiani Adult and Youth Dance Troupes. She performed traditional Italian folk dances for the adult troupe for many years. In 1993, she, along with Gene, founded Pappagallo, the Italian cultural newsletter that is published twice a year by GRIAA. The publication is devoted to promoting Italy, its people and culture, both past and present. She was lead editor for 20 years. Also, she co-chaired the Cultural Tent for 20 years at Festa Italiana. In 1994, Shirley and husband Gene were inducted into GRIAA’s Hall of Fame, the association’s distinction of highest honor. Shirley was instrumental in organizing Rockford’s Ethnic Heritage Museum, located in South Rockford, the neighborhood where the early Italian immigrants settled. She served numerous terms as president of the museum. She and Gene were curators for the Italian Gallery for many years.
Shirley is a dual citizen of the United States and Italy, having received Italian citizenship in 2010. As a citizen of Italy living abroad, she votes in Italy’s elections.
The award was presented on June 2, 2015, on the occasion of the Italian National Day of the Republic. The June 2nd celebration commemorates the institutional referendum held by universal suffrage in 1946, in which the Italian people were called to the polls to decide on the form of government following the Second World War and the fall of Fascism. With 12,717,923 votes for a republic and 10,719,284 votes for the monarchy, the male descendants of the House of Savoy were sent into exile. To commemorate it, a grand military parade is held in central Rome, presided over by the President of the Italian Republic. There are important celebrations in all the Italian embassies, and foreign heads of state are invited.
The Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity (Ordine della Stella della Solidarietà Italiana) was founded by Italy’s first president of the Italian Republic in 1947 to recognize the efforts of expatriates and foreign nationals who made outstanding contributions to the reconstruction of Italy after World War II. In 2011, the Order was reformed as the Order of the Star of Italy because emphasis was changed from post-war reconstruction to promotion of Italy and friendly relations with other countries.