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(Photo by George Vogel)

CAVALIERI OF THE ITALIAN GOVERNMENT: Three past presidents of the Princeton/Pettoranello Sister City Foundation and three past and present mayors were named as Cavalieri and were honored with the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic for their work in establishing and maintaining the sister city relationship between Princeton and Pettoranello. From left are Dr. Gilda Rorro Baldassari, the Hon. Vice Consul of Italy in Trenton, who presented the honors, with recipients Domenico Tamasi, Antonio Pirone, Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand, Cate Litvack, Nicholas Carnevale, and Richard Woodbridge.

Knighthood Comes to Princeton As Sister City Foundation Is Honored

Matthew Hersh

You wouldn't know it by looking around, but the Italian equivalent of four knights and two dames are in Princeton's midst.

But you would know it if you had been at Township Hall on Friday, when representatives of the Italian Consul General descended on Princeton to bestow the title of Cavalieri on three good neighbors and three Princeton Township mayors, past and present, who were named to l'Ordine Al Merito della Repubblica Italiana, or, the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic. The honorees, Mayor Phyllis Marchand, two former mayors Cate Litvack and Richard Woodbridge, and Nicholas Carnevale, Domenico Tamasi, and Antonio Pirone, were named for their efforts in establishing and maintaining a relationship with the Township's sister city, Pettoranello, Italy, and the establishment of the Princeton/Pettoranello Sister City Foundation, which works to maintain those ties.

But while the honor is a humbling one, the dames and knights said, they all take pride in building a relationship with a part of Italy that has deep ties to Princeton.

"It's a success story, and the reason it's a success story is because we didn't say 'this is an Italian thing', or 'this is an American thing', it's something between two towns and everybody was welcome from the very first day," Mr. Pirone said Monday, as he took a break from tending to his garden.

The Order of Merit is awarded by the Italian President to those who have excelled in fields that include science, letters, arts, and economy. The recognition, however, is also given for excellence in social and philanthropic aims, such as the Sister City Foundation.

Citizens of Pettoranello began to immigrate to the U.S. in the 1800s, many of them finding employment with Princeton University as stone cutters. Pettoranello, a town in the mountainous region of southern central Italy, was described by Mr. Woodbridge as looking as perfect as a "Hollywood set." Many of the nearly 3,000 descendents of Pettoranello still living in the Princeton area keep their ties to the town, which has a population of around 500.

In 1990, the sister city relationship was established, and received a formal inaugural in 1992, under then-Mayor Woodbridge where the governments of the Township and Pettoranello each established sister city resolutions. Even though the informal relationship between Princeton and Pettoranello was well over a century secure at that point, the resolutions offered official recognition.

And while the relationship, in Mr. Pirone's words, is not an "Italian thing," or an "American thing," the Order of Merit is sacred, and is almost exclusively reserved for Italians.

"It's my understanding that this honor generally goes to Italian citizens and not that often to non-Italians," said Ms. Litvack, who, as mayor in 1990, oversaw the initiation of the sister city effort. "It's a moving experience."

In fact, when learning a year ago that she would be one of six residents to receive the honor, she began to see just how exclusive it was. "I was quite astounded, particularly since I participated in the sister city program because it was a wonderful group of people and it just seemed an important way to recognize the many citizens of the Princeton area whose roots go all the way back," she said.

But for others, like Messrs. Pirone, Tamasi, and Carnevale, the ties are strong ‹ and current.

Not only is the relationship a big success here, Mr. Pirone said, but in Italy as well. "We're still in touch, and we still go back," he said, adding that when he makes his yearly trip, he can run into 30 or 40 people from Princeton in the piazza. "There's a certain tie, and, you know, I guess because of that, the project is a sure success."

Mr. Pirone, who came to Princeton as a 12-year-old in 1948, could only speculate about the the Order being administered to three Americans, but said that it might be a sign of the times. "I don't know if the foreign minister is sending a message here, but I guess everyone is realizing that the world is getting very small and hopefully that effort brings understanding between all of us."

Small indeed. Mr. Pirone said that the initial sister city planning occurred when Ms. Litvack, as mayor, then-Committeewoman Marchand, and Pettoranello Mayor Camillo Paolino, met at a Japanese restaurant at the Princeton Shopping Center.

Mr. Paolino, still the mayor of Pettoranello, is actually a seventh recipient of the Order of Merit, and received the honor in his hometown.

It was a previous effort in bringing the world closer together that helped Princeton establish its long term relationship with Pettoranello. Mr. Woodbridge, who was a member of Borough Council before moving to the Township, worked to create a sister city partnership with Colmar, France.

"That got into higher gear in 1988, so when I moved to the Township and became mayor in '91 and '92, I was fortunate to have had this experience with another sister city program," Mr. Woodbridge said, adding that the timing was good, because both Ms. Litvack, Ms. Marchand, and Messrs. Pirone, Tamasi, and Carnevale ‹ all past presidents of the Princeton/Pettoranello Sister City Foundation ‹ had the program "all teed up."

"I felt confident we could move forward and it sort of took off from there," Mr. Woodbridge said.

"They were the ones who committed themselves to the sister city foundation and fostered the ties that we have with Pettoranello," said Eleanor Pinelli, president of the Princeton/Pettoranello Sister City Foundation. Ms. Pinelli offered the keynote remarks at Friday's reception.

The Princeton/Pettoranello relationship has blossomed, Ms. Pinelli said, not only through the work of the foundation, but through the idea that the effort is, indeed, family.

The foundation has served as a sister city model for other international relationships and has led to the award-winning Pettoranello Gardens, the establishment of an Italian language collection and arts center at the Princeton Public Library, and the offering of Post-Baccalaureate grants for research on Italian and Italian-American themes.

"That's our heritage, that's where we're from, that's our roots," Ms. Pinelli said.

That's what's humbling, she said, but added that the honor doesn't hurt.

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