HUDSON — After more than 40 years, the Pasco Italian-American Civic Club recently closed its doors, but not before leaving a sizable gift to the community it served for nearly half a century.
The club, based in Hudson and at one point claiming membership throughout Pasco County, donated most of its remaining $94,000 in funds to five nonprofit organizations, giving $48,000 to the Independence Fund to pay for the construction of three track chairs for severely disabled veterans; and $11,025 each to Shriners Hospitals for Children, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, St. Joseph's Children's Hospital and HPH Hospice.
"Our club was always willing to do anything for charity," said August Buonauito, club president. "We always wanted to help people in need."
The Italian-American Civic Club, organizers say, was formed around a single concept.
"The motto of our club is amiciza, the Italian word for friendship," said vice president Thomas Mollica. "That's the whole premise."
Starting in 1972 as a small group that first met at Anthony's Pizzeria in New Port Richey, the civic club soon relocated to its own clubhouse on Maryland Avenue in Hudson — a house built by its members.
"We did everything hands-on," said Mollica. "And we were among friends."
Soon expanding to about 300 members, the organization became known for its bingo games, feasts, dinner-dances featuring live entertainment, holiday events, luaus and traditional Italian festivities such as the Feast of San Gennaro.
"Our meals featured home-cooked Italian meals," said Anthony Parisi, a founding member and past president. "The best pasta you could eat."
True to its philanthropic spirit, the club donated proceeds from these events to a number of charitable causes. It offered college scholarships to local students and contributed to Catholic churches in the area. And members hosted holiday toy drives for needy children.
"Imagine an Italian Toys for Tots," said Mollica.
Through the years, the club counted many recognizable names among its membership, including Pasco County commissioners Jack Mariano and Pat Mulieri and prominent physician Dr. Joseph Pino. Its headquarters was the site of men's and women's socials, and occasional weddings and other special events.
"You'd see people as old as 80 up and dancing at the club," said Joanne Mollica, Thomas' wife and a club member.
As the years passed, however, the club saw its membership dwindle, and in early December it dissolved — but not before donating its remaining funds to a number of local charities.
What the club did take away was priceless memories of food, fun, laughter and family.
"I've enjoyed every minute," said Buonauito.