The national organization Order of Sons of Italy in America was started in 1905 to help Italian immigrants assimilate into American society. The group established homes for the elderly, orphanages, credit unions and gave scholarships to help Italian-Americans to succeed in their new country. During the World Wars, the lodges gave to the Red Cross, and many Italian Americans served proudly in the military. Our name was changed to “The Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America” in 2017.
In October of 2010 three men of Italian descent, Bill Scutti, John Carochi and John Rigirozzi along with several of their friends and family members applied for a charter to form a lodge in the OSIA organization in Fremont County.
“All three of us founders had belonged to the Pueblo Lodge #2738 for several years,” stated Rigirozzi. “The goals and beliefs of the Sons of Italy support and celebrate our Italian heritage – [we saw] a need in this local area.”
Scutti explains, ”It took time but we got enough people signed up to start OSDIA Royal Gorge Lodge #2866. The Lodge started from ground zero. This whole experience and process have been life-changing for me and my family.”
On Oct. 23, 2010, with 42 charter members, the Royal Gorge Lodge was chartered by National OSIA as the sixth lodge created in Colorado. The first meeting was held on Dec. 8, 2010, and on Jan. 22, 2011, the first officers of the lodge were installed by the Grand Lodge of Colorado.
The lodge immediately became involved in community activities and fundraising for various projects.
The Royal Gorge Lodge coordinates with many community organizations. Contributions and volunteerism have helped Orchard of Hope, Blossom Day Committee, Fremont Foundation, and military send-offs and Christmas boxes. Our donations to the state and national offices support Alzheimer’s research, autism, cancer, Cooley’s Anemia and other charities.
Spaghetti dinners twice-yearly have been a fixture in the community. Homemade meatballs and Carochi family’s famous spaghetti sauce are served with a fresh salad, bread and homemade desserts. Even with the woes of the coronavirus upon us, we had a successful drive-by dinner in November 2020 in conjunction with St. Michaels Catholic Church, serving nearly 400 people.
Our annual Wine-Tasting events at Pueblo Community College Fremont Campus is an afternoon of socializing. Attendees also enjoy discovering wines and other beverages from local sources as well as domestic and imported wines, especially from Italy. Great snacks and desserts are served to as many as 200 friends.
The Italian Festival began in 2012 with booths, games and entertainment in the Macon Plaza. Our Heritage Tent featured a display detailing the many contributions to the business community, the coal mining industry and education in Fremont County by Italian settlers and their families. Photos, newspaper articles and a model of a coal tipple allow descendants of Italian American residents to connect with the lives of those who made an impact on our area in earlier decades.
By 2018 the event had outgrown Macon Plaza and was moved to Veterans’ Park. This larger venue allowed for more food vendors, more community vendor booths, all-day entertainment and fellowship.
“We hope to be able to resume the Festival in 2021,” Carochi states. “Our members and, really the entire community missed this fun event in 2020. We will be back when we can gather again, bigger and better than ever!”
Through our scholarship program, we have awarded $35,000 to students of the Italian heritage as of the 2020 school year. Lodge members have also provided $4,200 to the Pueblo Community College Fremont Campus specifically to students in the nursing and trade programs.
“The Italian families who immigrated to the United States valued the education they and their families could obtain,” said Cathy Rigirozzi, Scholarship Chair. “We support our Italian-American students with our scholarships and other contributions to education in Fremont County.”
The Royal Gorge Lodge canceled the Italian Festival, wine-tastings and our monthly meetings in 2020. We have been able to continue our board meetings via Zoom, and have made a couple of attempts to get members together outside and with an all-member Zoom call.
A “Thank You” event for first responders and caregivers was held in the St. Thomas More Hospital parking lot, providing these essential workers with free cannoli. We have been conducting raffles to allow the lodge to continue supporting our community and our charities in many ways. We appreciate all of the support from Fremont County for all of the support we receive.
The Lodge and its members look forward to again hosting the Italian Festival. Plans are being made for another drive-by spaghetti dinner in the Spring, and we hope to find a creative way to continue our wine tasting events.
In October 2020 a celebration was in the works to mark 10 successful years of the Royal Gorge Lodge. Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic put a stop to any gatherings. Nevertheless, the group has a lot to commemorate and will join with the community in celebrating when we can.