The Dante Alighieri Society of Santa Cruz was chartered in 2002 to encourage continuing study and understanding of Italian achievements in the arts, literature, science, and industry and to promote appreciation of Italian culture through the study of Italian arts, language, and other cultural activities within Santa Cruz County.
The Dante Alighieri Society of Santa Cruz is a 501(c)(3)corporation.
History of the Santa Cruz Chapter
The Dante Alighieri Society of Santa Cruz was co-founded in 2002 by Michela Martini and Jane Hancock. Michela Martini, a native of Genoa and a free-lance writer, was an Italian language lecturer at UCSC and Cabrillo College. Jane Hancock, educator and musician, had recently returned from a choral tour in Italy. Their vision was to create an Italian organization that would promote the best of the Italian culture in a city that has such a prominent legacy of Italian heritage.
Michela Martini served as the first director of the Dante Alighieri Society of Santa Cruz for two years, helping to create a solid foundation for the society before moving to Boston in 2004. Jane Hancock continued to ably lead the organization until her departure from her post as President, and from the Board, in mid-2012. See current list of board members here.
History of the International Dante Alighieri Society
The Dante Alighieri Society, founded in Italy in July 1889, was named after Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), a pre-Italian Renaissance poet from Florence and the author of The Divine Comedy. Dante is considered the father of the Italian language; It was through the powerful and experimental verses of Dante's Divine Comedy that Tuscan became the literary language of Italy.
The Society’s purpose is to promote Italian culture and language around the world, and "to safeguard the Italian spirit beyond the national frontiers."
Article One of the Society's constitution states that the aim of the "Dante Alighieri" is to safeguard the Italian language and culture, to promote the Italian identity in the world, to nourish the spiritual ties between expatriates and Italy, and to develop among non-Italians a knowledge and appreciation of Italian civilization.
From its very beginning, the Society received an enthusiastic welcome, particularly among the many Italian communities that had established themselves throughout the world. In 1926 headquarters were officially set up in Rome. There are currently 450 "Dante Societies" in more than 60 countries around the world, with the number continuing to grow.
In 1948 the Society was restructured to give each chapter the autonomy to conduct its activities independently, under the direction of its own elected officers, in a manner that best suits local needs, preferences, and capacities while adhering to the Society's basic principles.
The Dante Alighieri Society of Santa Cruz is governed by a volunteer Board of up to15 people, including a president, treasurer and secretary who serve 3-year renewable terms. The Dante Board meets 3-4 times per year.
The current governing board is: Mirella Savegnago (President), Kelly Cuffe, Andreé LeBourveau, Ellen Lowenstein (Secretary), Susan O'Leary, Connie Bertuca (Treasurer), and John Racioppi.
Laurie Aiello is the Administrative assistant.
Mirella Savegnago was born and lived in Milano, Italy for 40 years, before traveling with her family. Together they have spent several years in San Luis Obispo (CA), Oxford (UK), and Nanjing (China). Luckily for us, Mirella recently moved to Aptos along with her husband Francesco Mazza, CEO of Spectra-Mat, a SAES Group company in Watsonville. Their son Lorenzo, an osteopath, lives and works in Milano, and their daughter Arianna is a student at UC Davis, studying Chemistry. Mirella is passionate about getting in touch with people from different countries and the value and fun that come from connecting with people from diverse cultural backgrounds. She has worked internationally in marketing and management for more than 25 years. Since 2018, Mirella has been teaching Beginning to Advanced Italian language classes for the Santa Cruz Dante Society. She is also actively involved in teaching Italian cooking classes and in connecting with others interested in travel and exploring other cultures through the group LivetheWorld. For more about Mirella, go to her Linked-in page.
Connie Bertuca has been a member of Dante forever. She discovered Dante through early language classes and movies at the Vet’s Hall downtown, Santa Cruz. That dates her! Sandwiched between classes, movies, and bocce have been memorable trips to Italy with Sam and family and being part of a wonderful group of readers in Dante’s Book Group. She appreciates all the energy and enthusiasm from the Dante board, language instructors, and members over time and is delighted to be a part of this bunch of forward-thinking dynamos!
Kelly Cuffe is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, growing up along the coast in Pacifica. Kelly earned a BS in earth sciences from UCSC and MS in coastal geology from USF Tampa. Kelly returned to Santa Cruz in 1999 and has since been working as a coastal planner with the California Coastal Commission. Her strong interests in coastal landscapes and physical processes of the earth, as well as wine, music and art history, inspired Kelly’s interest in both the physical and cultural landscape of Italy. Kelly has taken a few Dante language classes to help make her travels to Italy richer and more culturally interactive. She continues to study Italian with folks she met through the Dante Alighieri Society. Kelly is helping the Dante Society with our web update and attempts to keep our Dante Society Facebook page up to date with classes, film and lecture events, and other bits of interest.
Andrée LeBourveau is a Santa Cruz native who fell in love with Italy when she represented Santa Cruz on a trip to its Sister City, Sestri Levante. Since then she lived and studied for a year in Venice, where she perfected her Italian language skills, led art tours throughout Italy, and spent a month studying in Sicily with Cabrillo College's Italian Language program. Andree is a much-exhibited artist who is employed in Cabrillo's Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) Division as their Visual Resource Curator; she is also employed as a Library Resource Specialist at Cabrillo’s Robert E Swenson Library. Andree is one of several artists that make up the Printmakers at the Tannery (PATT). Andree is the lead person organizing our Dante Society Lecture program, and is the Society’s liaison with Cabrillo College, which enables us to provide the Italian Film and Lecture series and other events at the VAPA 1001 Forum. Most recently, Andree has been one of the lead persons involved in getting the Dante website updated using a new design platform.
Ellen Lowenstein is a sculptor, working primarily in stone. Ellen served as associate professor at Skyline College, where she was head of the sculpture department for 33 years. Already in love with Italy, an opportunity to study marble carving in Liguria further cemented the relationship. Seven plus visits later it continues to grow. Ellen is recognized by many Dante members and guests as the person that welcomes them when they first come in to our Film and Lecture series events. Ellen and her husband John Lunden reside in Soquel.
Susan O’Leary was born and educated in Russia, where she earned her college degree in Physical Education. She has had a variety of job interests, from health and fitness to retail. A few years ago, she became interested in adding a fourth language to the three she already speaks (Russian, English and Spanish) and began studying Italian in the Dante language classes. Her success there led her to complete the Cabrillo College Italian class series. Today she is employed as a part-time aide in those Italian classes. We honor Susan as one of our most successful graduates of the Dante language program! She and her family reside in Santa Cruz.
John Racioppi was born into a large Italian family in Belleville, NJ. His childhood experience created a lasting bond with his Italian heritage. His family traces back to both Puglia and Calabria. John and his wife Mary, moved to Scotts Valley in 2002 when John worked for Borland and then subsequently for a number of technology startup companies. John is currently the CEO of Robosig, a FinTech company building automated trading systems. John is active with a number of not-for-profit organizations including the University of Pittsburgh Alumni and One America Works. John and Mary have visited virtually every region in Italy and particularly enjoy Italian cooking and wine. The Racioppi’s have also hosted 20+ Italian exchange students each summer. John now has numerous friends who live in Milan, Verona, and Parma. The Racioppi’s have two daughers, Emily and Jessica. John’s newest “project” is working to obtain Italian citizenship.
Laurie Aiello has been a Santa Cruz resident since her time as an undergrad of Psychology at UC Santa Cruz. She and her husband, Anthony, raised two kids, Chiara & Gabriel, in this community and are making the most of their time as empty nesters, going to live events and learning to sail as members of the UCSC Sailing Club. Professionally, she has worked in Human Resources primarily in the areas of HR Information Systems, training, and website design. Currently she is an online coach, working with clients local and across the country doing home fitness and nutrition. She is also a free-lance photographer, one of the curators of Open Show Santa Cruz, and volunteers for various non-profit organizations in Santa Cruz County. While not Italian herself, her husband, Anthony, is full-blooded Sicilian with family living in Monterey and Italy. They love that Dante helps them stay connected to the family heritage and our local Italian community here in Santa Cruz.
Sam (Salvatore) Bertuca is a FBI (full blooded Italian). He received his BA, MA and teaching credential from California State University at Long Beach and was a public-school teacher in Santa Cruz County for 36 years, before retiring. Sam and his wife Connie have been to Italy several times, including visits to the villages of Sam’s parents in Sicily and Calabria. He continues to study Italian and has a deep appreciation for his heritage. Sam has served as the Board President and plays on Team Dante for the Santa Cruz Bocce League.
Mary Altier (www.maryaltier.com) is a travel photographer and writer whose work has been published in the U.S. and beyond. Also a teacher for many years in PVUSD, she loves telling the story of the world's people and places through her work. She has Italian citizenship from her paternal grandfather who was born NE of Naples. When not traveling, she and her husband, John Walker, make their home in La Selva Beach. Mary joined the Dante Board soon after the organization's founding in 2002 and served 18 years. She has been the curator of the society’s Italian Film Series since 2006 and oversees the annual collaboration with the Santa Cruz Film Festival. She continues to serve on the Dante Scholarship Committee which selects up to two recipients per year for scholarships awarded to current Cabrillo students and those transferring to 4-year university programs with a focus on Italian art, language, or culture.
David Terrazas has been a Santa Cruz resident for over 30 years and throughout his life pursued his interest in world culture and enrichment through travel and the arts. He and his wife, Monica, are raising three children, Isabela, Amalia and Nathaniel, here in Santa Cruz. They actively participate in cultural events and enjoy museum going and cinema. Professionally, David is an attorney and partner at Brereton, Mohamed & Terrazas located in Downtown Santa Cruz. David previously served as a Santa Cruz City Councilmember and Mayor. He has been actively involved in the work of the Santa Cruz Sister Cities Committee and currently serves on the Sestri-Levante Subcommittee. David is a boardmember of Santa Cruz Rotary and chairs the club's International Committee.
Ceil Cirillo loves her Italian roots and has visited Italy many times to see family members still living in the Calabria/ Catanzaro region where her father emigrated from in 1918. Both of Ceil’s parents were Italian and Ceil grew up in Connecticut in a community with many Italian immigrants. Ceil has been living in Santa Cruz since 1990 when she was hired as the Executive Director of the Redevelopment Agency of the City of Santa Cruz to assist in the rebuilding of the City's downtown following the Loma Prieta Earthquake. In that capacity she also helped establish the Tannery Arts Center at the former Salz Tannery. She currently serves on the Cabrillo College Foundation, is the chair of PAMF/Sutter Community Board and the community member on UCSC's Long Range Development Plan. She loves sharing Dante's Italian movie experiences with friends.
Irene Chissotti Bargetto was born and raised in Chieri, Piemonte, Italy, where she graduated with a degree in Accounting. Before she moved to the United States, she traveled to many regions in Italy and various European countries. Her passion for foreign languages brought her to California. She also speaks French and Spanish. Irene returns to Italy every year to visit her family and to keep well connected to her Italian heritage. Over the years, Irene has enjoyed tutoring family members and friends in Italian. She is currently teaching conversational Italian for the Santa Cruz Dante Society. She lives in Soquel with her husband, Peter, where they raised their bilingual son, Simone, and daughter, Sabrina. Irene is the Business Manager for Santa Cruz Ear, Nose and Throat Medical Group in Santa Cruz and also helps her husband with their winery business, Soquel Vineyards.
Michela Martini is a native of Genoa, Italy. She has worked as a linguist and a published literary translator. She taught Italian for several years at various schools (including Indiana University, Suffolk University, UC Santa Cruz, and Cabrillo College). Michela co-founded the Dante Alighieri Society of Santa Cruz in 2002, along with co-founder Jane Hancock. Michela and her husband also helped start the Santa Cruz Dante Society Italian Film series, which continues to screen Italian language films (with English subtitles) monthly during the Spring and Fall.
Dante Society Activities
The Dante Society of Santa Cruz supports a variety of activities for its members and others interested in learning more about Italian language, history, art and culture, including:
Italian Language Classes
(Fall, Winter and Spring) A variety of classes from Beginning to Conversational Italian taught by native Italian speakers.
Italian Film Series
(Fall, Winter and Spring) We screen recent and classic Italian language films with English subtitles at Cabrillo College VAPA Forum Room 1001. We are fortunate to have film historian, Logan Walker, provide an informative introduction before and host a Q&A session after each film.
Santa Cruz International Film Festival
We also sponsor an Italian language film as part of the SCFF, held each Fall, and provide a special reception for Dante members and their guests.
(Fall, Winter and Spring) We are also fortunate to have interesting lectures by visiting and local experts on Italian history, art, music and more.
Dante Bocce Team
(Spring and Summer) We sponsor a Dante bocce team for fun recreational play with other community members. We also try to get Dante members to play casual bocce the month prior to when league play begins.
Italian Dinner Gatherings
Informal gatherings at Italian restaurants throughout Santa Cruz County.
In August, we celebrate what has become the Italian national holiday that occurs in the middle of August (generally August 15) with one of our Italian restaurant sponsors.
Providing financial support for students pursuing studies in Italian art, history, or language.
When the opportunity presents itself, Dante members have attended live performances and simulcasts of famous Italian operas.
Art History Group
Italian art lovers gather monthly to watch DVD lecture series on Italian art and artists.
Italian Book Club and Readings
As opportunity arises, Dante members and guests are invited to book readings. If you would like to form an Italian book club, let us know so we can announce it to our members.
If you know of an event coming up, or if you would like to help organize an event that you think would be of interest to Dante members please let us know.
Dante Academic Scholarship
given in honor of Roger Fargeon
Begun in 2013, the Dante Alighieri Society of Santa Cruz has awarded at least one annual $1,000 scholarship for academic achievement in Italian language, history, art or art history. The Dante Alighieri Scholarship awards students continuing at Cabrillo Community College or going on to a 4-year college or university and majoring or minoring in one or more of the above-listed subjects.
As of 2021, this scholarship is being given in honor of Dante Alighieri Santa Cruz's much-loved, long-standing former Italian instructor, Roger Fargeon who passed away earlier in the year. Roger, whose mother-tongue was Italian, but who also spoke English and French fluently, had his life disrupted when he and his family were forced to flee Egypt in the 1950s following a coup d’etat. Due to his brilliance and dedication to academics, he still managed to graduate from one of Italy’s finest universities (Bocconi ) and later, upon his arrival in California in the 1970’s, obtained an MBA from San Francisco State University. For his dedication to: education, all things Italian, and the students in all levels of his Dante Italian classes, we honor him.
Dante Scholarship Winners
2023: Keyla Hernandez
2022: José González
2021: Mikayla Welsh & Erica Risi
2020: Aja Bond & James Goudge
2019: Alondra Salcedo & Valentin Barbosa
2018: Isabella Squatrito and Julia Ramos
2017: Chloe Nelson and Renata Zacarias
2016: Chiara Carbone
2015: Carrley Husfelt
2014: Mollie Peterson
2013: Steven Milazzo
2023 Scholarship Recipient
The Dante Alighieri Santa Cruz Scholarship Committee would like to introduce you to our 2023 scholarship recipient, Keyla Hernandez
Keyla graduated from Watsonville HS in 2020 and is currently a student at Cabrillo, with the intention of continuing her education at San Jose State. She’s tied to her Watsonville community ina variety of volunteer activities through her church and SC City Schools.
When she arrived in California at 17, she knew no English, and she considered it a big enough obstacle that she didn’t want to go to school. As she became more proficient, she became tied to the idea of continuing her education, and it was at Cabrillo that a world of different subjects was opened up to her. And it was actually through her Italian 1 class that she could improve her English because "the class is in English (she) discovered that Italian and Spanish are similar."
Her educational goal is to become a Spanish teacher so she can teach students about other cultures and languages. So now, Keyla can add Italian to her other 3 languages: Spanish, Zapotec, and English.
Auguri, Keyla! Complimenti!