Beginnings of the Washington Columbus Celebration Association
With the Quincentenary several years away, John C. Moore of the DC Knights of Columbus, intimately involved in leadership roles in the celebrations since 1965, initiated meetings of interested parties at the Touchdown Club in Washington to place the celebrations on a more permanent footing and plan for the Quincentenary.
The earliest minutes that have been found of what was called “The Christopher Columbus Committee, 1992” record a meeting on September 27, 1988, reporting that “the main topic of discussion was how to grow to make it an eventful celebration for Columbus Day 1992. There was much enthusiasm, but some concern that if we don’t organize a viable Columbus Day committee some other individuals may be coming to D.C. to take over the celebrations in 1992.”
The next meeting, on October 27, featured a presentation by John Williams who spoke on plans of the Christopher Columbus Quincentenary Jubilee Commission for the national and local observance. “He stated that the celebrations will take place from October 1991 through October 1993. This will give many states and groups across the country the opportunity to hold different types of celebrations. There will be national events throughout the two-year period to draw people. He stated that there are approximately 60 Columbus statues which are a real work of art. Among these is the Columbus statue at the Union Station, Washington, D.C., which is perhaps one of the finest pieces of art and the most beautiful statue–Christopher Columbus, the Man, built in the Italian Renaissance style.”
Minutes from February 9, 1989 show fifteen attendees, including Anthony Catalano, Minister, Embassy of Italy; Richard Higgins, formerly U.S. Consul in Genoa; three representatives from OSIA (Order Sons of Italy in America) lodges; a representative from the Union Station general management office, Dr. David R. Curfman, representing the Washington Cathedral Choral Society; and eight representatives from various KofC offices or units, including Carl Anderson, Vice President for Public Policy.
As the meetings continued, the necessity for a formal organization became clear so that the group’s activities could be recognized by the Quincentenary Commission. By laws were drawn up, and adopted on June 29, 1989, which can be considered as the birthday of the Washington Columbus Celebration Association (WCCA). The name chosen reflected the fact that the focus was on the Quincentenary celebrations planned for the Washington, D.C. area in the context of many celebrations then planned in all parts of the country for the big anniversary year.
Three classes of membership were established, each with specified representation on the Board of Governors, with elections to those seats conducted at the annual general meeting within the three classes in whatever manner such members might determine: (1) members of units of the Knights of Columbus; (2) members of units of OSIA; and (3) other parties interested in celebrating Columbus. The Board in turn was given the responsibility to elect officers, and the chairman the responsibility to organize and develop the celebration.
The first officers of the Association were: John C. Moore, Chairman, and Edward Sullivan, Treasurer, both K. of C., and Nina Baccanari of OSIA, Secretary. Other members of the Board also reflected the founding role of the K.of C. and OSIA: J. Kemp Cook, James Olivarri, and Donald Sabin from the former, and Michael Catrone, Rose Caponiti Houston, and Kurt Vener from the latter.
On October 9, 1989, for the first time the Columbus Day celebration at the national Columbus Memorial was under the sponsorship of the Association, in collaboration with the National Park Service, and so it has remained ever since. There were addresses by State Senator Frank Komenda of Maryland and historian Dr. Christopher Kauffman. Guests included Emmanuel N. Pelaez, Ambassador of the Philippines; Carlo Trezza, Counselor of the Embassy of Italy; Teri Doke representing the Mayor of Washington; and Robert Stanton, Regional Director of the National Park Service (now the head of the Park Service).
The program included an historical rendering by a Franciscan friar, dance selections from the Columbus era by Nachtanz, and music by the St. John DeMatha High School Band. Joseph A. DePaul was Master of Ceremonies. The program leaflet listed eighteen wreath-presenters, including two from the K. of C. (one from the Supreme Council and one from the local Knights); the National Park Service; the Embassy of Italy; the Catholic War Veterans; eight OSIA lodges; and five other Italian organizations–all escorted by the K. of C. Color Corps.
The program the next year was similar, with much the same cast of characters, including the master of ceremonies, principal speaker, musicians, and dancers. The primary attention of the WCCA at the time, however, was focused on the impending Quincentenary, rather than the current year’s celebration. In addition to Counselor Trezza from Italy, this year Jorge Fuentes, Charge D’Affaires of the Embassy of Spain, and Mercedes Gimenec, Cultural Attache of the Embassy of Paraguay, were present, along with Valerie Barry, Acting Secretary of the District of Columbia. There were sixteen groups presenting wreaths, reflecting some changes among the Italian groups involved.