Three area residents were recently honored with Leonardo da Vinci awards, an annual recognition given to Italian-Americans of achievement.
Honored were Kankakee cardiologist Dr. Mario Massullo; Bert Jacobson, who as been president for six years of the Americo Vespucci Lodge of the Sons of Italy in Kankakee County; and Marie Marsalli, president of the Grand Lodge of Illinois and Wisconsin for the Sons of Italy.
The awards are given once a year at a joint banquet honoring persons from Illinois and Wisconsin. This year’s ceremony was held at White Eagle Banquets in Niles. They are the highest individual awards given by the Italian-American organization and go to a dozen people in the fields of public service, community, medicine, education, jurisprudence, communications, performing arts, science and entrepreneurship.
Marsalli, who helped found the awards 18 years ago, was given a Special Legend citation.
The three honorees, she said, were the most ever given to members of the Kankakee Lodge.
“I was love to hear the stories of the honorees,” she said. Her own Italian heritage dates back to her parents, Lorenzo and Maria Rose of Tuscany. Lorenzo served in World War I as a medic in the Italian Army. He was captured, escaped and came to America, where he worked his way through the Great Depression.
“Times were hard, but we survived,” Marsalli said of her family. A member of the Sons of Italy for more than 50 years, she has served three terms as the president of the two-state region.
She was a human resources administrator for Valspar and was a longtime volunteer at the Kankakee Area YMCA.
Massullo’s paternal grandparents immigrated to America after World War I. They raised two sons, both of whom became doctors and both of whom served in World War II.
Mario Massullo wanted to become a physician to be like his father. “I saw the enjoyment my father had in his work and felt that it would be a good fit for me, so I pursued medicine,” he said.
Massullo graduated from the University of Notre Dame, went to medical school at Ohio University and completed his residency and cardiology training at Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine.
He helped start the coronary bypass program in Kankakee and has a special interest in critical limb ischemia, opening up blocked arteries in legs to prevent the amputation of legs.
Jacobson’s maternal grandparents were from Italy. Much of his outlook on life, he says, were shaped by two uncles, his mother’s brothers, Primo, an entrepreneur, and George, an organic farmer.
Jacobson has a doctorate in anthropology from Washington University. He had a 40-year career in healthcare. He was director of education at St. Mary’s Hospital, director of organizational excellence for St. James and other hospitals, and president of the Illinois Alliance for Continuing Medical Education. In 2008, he was appointed dean of environmental and institutional sustainability at Kankakee Community College.
In addition to serving as president of the local lodge, he has been a member for the American Cancer Society, Habitat for Humanity and the Kankakee Valley Symphony Orchestra.
Jacobson said he was humbled to be honored. He said he was shaped by the values of his Italian heritage as he was growing up.
Marsalli explained that the awards are designed to show achievements by Italian-Americans as a means of combating negative stereotypes.
“That’s still an everyday battle,” she says.