The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) celebrated the rich heritage of Italians and Italian Americans last week at its West Coast Gala, which was held at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco.
Silicon Valley leaders, such as ClearStreet’s Kim Polese and CREAGRI, Inc.’s Dr. Roberto Crea, joined Recology’s John A. Legnitto, Snaidero USA’s Anna Paola Snaidero and authors Aili and Andres McConnon, as honorees at the gala held on June 21, 2012.
The evening began with a cocktail reception in the Fountain and Crystal Room followed by dinner in the Venetian Room. Radio personality Filippo Voltaggio sang the American and Italian national anthems.
At the podium, NIAF President Joseph V. Del Raso welcomed more than 200 guests to the Foundation’s annual West Coast Gala. “Tonight, Italian Americans in all fields come together, not only to celebrate our heritage but to take a moment to recognize the accomplishments of some very special and innovative members of our Italian American family,” said Del Raso.
Del Raso recognized gala co-chairs Jeffrey M. Capaccio and Marcella Leonetti-Tyler, NIAF regional vice presidents for the far west (north) and far west (south), respectively, and thanked the Foundation’s leadership, including Gabriel A. Battista, Robert E. Carlucci, Joseph M. Della Ratta, Arthur J. Furia, Frank Giordano, Joseph D. Lonardo, Giacomo Marini, The Honorable Anita Bevacqua McBride, and John F. Scarpa, for their support.
 NIAF Chief Operating Officer John M. Viola, who served as the master of ceremonies, kicked off the evening’s awards ceremony.
Anna Paola Snaidero, who serves as vice-president of advertising and public relations of Snaidero USA, received the NIAF’s Special Achievement Award in Business. Born in Pordenone, Italy and married to the son of Snaidero’s founder, Mrs. Snaidero came to Los Angeles 16 years ago. Although the Snaidero brand was established 35 years ago in the United States, it was not yet very well known.
Therefore, Mrs. Snaidero developed the Snaidero USA’s public relations office to build the brand and a stronger recognition of the Italian label within the Americas.
Roberto Crea, Ph.d., chief executive officer, founder, and president of CREAGRI Inc., was presented with the NIAF Special Achievement Award in Biotechnology (Science and Medicine).  Remembering his Calabrian origin and his studies at the University of Pavia, Dr. Crea thanked California for the opportunities and freedom of ideas offered to him.
Dr. Crea has dedicated more than 30 years of his life to the biotechnology field as a scientist, investor and entrepreneur. He was one of the initial four scientific co-founders of Genentech, Inc.  His scientific contribution was instrumental to the development of human insulin, and other DNA-based human therapeutic drugs. He also founded Creative Biomolecules, Inc., Creagen, Inc., Bioren, Inc. and CreAgri, Inc.
Kim Polese, chair of ClearStreet, Inc., a social finance startup focused on helping people eliminate debt and achieve long-term financial health, received the NIAF Special Achievement Award in Technology.  Ms. Polese is a prominent Silicon Valley entrepreneur, innovator and business leader. As the founding product manager of Java, she led its launch at Sun Microsystems in 1995 and went on to co-found Marimba, Inc., which developed the first generation of internet-based software management. During her 25 years in Silicon Valley Ms. Polese has always been on the leading edge of technology.
John A. Legnitto, Vice-President and Group Manager for the San Francisco region of Recology, accepted the NIAF Special Achievement Award in Environmental Citizenship. Mr. Legnitto leads Recology operations in San Francisco, which has been identified by The Economist Intelligence Unit as the Greenest City in North America. Mr. Legnitto is responsible for the overall management of the city’s resource recovery system and Recology’s business development initiatives in San Francisco.
NIAF also honored Aili and Andres McConnon, coauthors of Road to Valor: A True Story of World War II Italy, the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation. This book, published in June, chronicles the life of Gino Bartali, champion Italian cyclist and World War II hero, whose legendary story reflects the Italian soul and character. Bartali used his bicycle to save the lives of Jews when the Nazis occupied Italy. The McConnons, who are siblings, received the Mazzei Award in Thought Leadership for their outstanding contributions to research, scholarship and innovative thinking.
In addition to the honorees, the Gala also showcased San Francisco’s vibrant international community while celebrating the rich heritage of Italians and Italian Americans. Blues guitarist and musician Johnny Rivers, along with Hollywood great Frank Mancuso, led the list of celebrities who attended the event. During the program, Viola asked guests to turn their attention to the video screens and view the web page of the Italian American Relief initiative at, an effort to unite Italian American organizations, corporations and individuals with a single objective of assisting Italy in times of need.
The coordinated effort will provide immediate response whenever natural catastrophes and other disasters occur in Italy. He announced that the Chrysler Foundation has agreed to donate $100,000 and will partner with NIAF on this initiative.
Highlights of the evening also included a live auction of an overnight stay at The Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica, paired with dinner for two at Drago Centro, followed by backstage passes to ABC-TV’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! Also on the auction block was an overnight stay in one of the suites of the Fairmont San Francisco Hotel, with breakfast and a rental of a Fisker automobile.
The previous evening, NIAF hosted the second in a series of Frank J. Guarini/NIAF Media Forums in San Francisco. NIAF’s John M. Viola and Jeff Capaccio joined Consul General of Italy Fabrizio Marcelli in welcoming guests to Italian Consulate in the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco.
NIAF President Joseph Del Raso introduced the distinguished speaker Aili McConnon, co-author of Road to Valor: A True Story of World War II Italy, the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation.  Ms. McConnon gave an overview of how she and her brother, Andres, decided to research the story of the legendary and historic Italian cycling champion. McConnon explained that Bartali was the “Joe DiMaggio of Italy; he permeated Italian society and was a man of internal conviction.”
Journalists, media professionals and Gabriella Ziccarelli, a NIAF scholarship recipient in 2012 and Juris Doctor candidate at Santa Clara University, were joined by NIAF leadership at the event. Also on hand was Mauro Battocchi, who will be succeeding Fabrizio Marcelli as Consul General of Italy in San Francisco. To close the evening, Consul General Marcelli awarded the distinction of Officer of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic to Jeffrey M. Capaccio, who received a standing ovation.
The assembled honorees and guests finished their dinner with desserts specially prepared by Fabrizio Galla and Gary Rulli of Ristobar. Wines from Italy’s Le Marche and Veneto regions were donated by Lorenzo Scarpone of Villa Italia.
Proceeds from the NIAF West Coast Gala support the Foundation’s philanthropic and educational programs. Virtu Financial, LLC was a West Coast Gala Platinum Sponsor of the evening. CREAGRI, Inc., De Cecco USA/PMI, Del Grosso Foods, Inc., Emporio Rulli, Snaidero USA and Villa Italia also joined NIAF as sponsors.
L’Italo-Americano wishes to acknowledge and thank Elissa Ruffino of NIAF for the information and assistance she provided for this article.

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