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. 


Governing Board



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: Mary Altier, Sam Bertuca (President), Ceil Cirillo, Kelly Cuffe (Treasurer), Andreé LeBourveau, Ellen Lowenstein (Secreatary), Susan O'Leary, Mirella Savegnago.

Denise Ward is our new Administrative assistant.

Board Members



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. 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 also chairs 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. 



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 also plays on our Dante Bocce Ball Team each spring and summer.  Connie also helps the Dante Society by serving as our administrative assistant, helping with membership and class registration, and sending out notices for our film and lecture series and other Dante events.


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. 



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. She is currently employed as a fine jewelry sales representative at Dell Williams. 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. 


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.

…and Meet Our New 

Administrative Assistant

Denise Ward

Denise Ward has lived most of the past 20 years in Aptos.  She came here in 1999 with her husband and two sons. After living most of her adult life overseas, she was looking for a wonderful, small town where she could get involved with the community. Her professional life has been diverse and includes conducting intercultural training workshops for UCSC Fulbright Scholars and Humphrey Fellows, teaching cooking classes, and working as an interior designer for architectural firms in San Francisco, NYC and Manila.  In 2017 she created Our Community Reads through the Friends of the Aptos Library and their enthusiastic volunteers. She is also one of the founders of the LivetheWorld group.  An avid traveler, even with her Greek heritage, she claims Italy as her favorite place on earth!

Advisory Board


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. 

Lecture Series 
(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. 

Dante Scholarship
Providing financial support for students pursuing studies in Italian art, history, or language. 

Opera Outings
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

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. 

Since 2017, the Dante Alighieri Society of Santa Cruz has awarded two $1000 to Cabrillo Community College students.

Deadline for the 2021 Dante Alighieri scholarship is tentatively set for 5pm, March 11, 2021. 


All applications must be submitted to Cabrillo College per instructions on form. 
Scholarship Application 

Dante Scholarship Winners

  • 2020: Aja Bond and James Goudge

  • 2019: Alondra Salcedo and 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

2020 Scholarship Recipients

The Dante Alighieri Society of Santa Cruz is proud to award two $1,000 scholarships for the 2020-2021 school year to Cabrillo students of Italian language: 

Aja Bond and James Goudge


Aja Bond  is a student of Art History and Studio Art. Aja’s eyes were opened to the arts and the connectivity to the human experience after a trip to Italy and the Venice Biennele. She plans to transfer to UCSC next fall and continue her art history studies for a Bachelor’s degree and from there, intends to continue graduate work with the intention of curating, research, or teaching.


James (Jimmy) Goudge also had the experience of visiting Italy, and it was especially in Naples he experienced being nourished by both the food and spirit of Italy. His courses of study in Italian Language and Professional Development will help to continue his goal of working in international business, specifically food importing or exporting.



Complimenti e auguri a questi due bravi studenti!


The Dante Alighieri Society of Santa Cruz is a 501(c)(3) corporation dedicated to the study and promotion of Italian culture and language.  

Dante Alighieri Society of Santa Cruz

P.O. Box 1507
Aptos, CA 95001

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Because we are a board-run organization we have no physical address. We serve all of Santa Cruz County