Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

Judy Santacaterina
Judy Santacaterina

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News Release

Contact: Tom Parisi, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-3635

May 22, 2007

NIU’s Judy Santacaterina featured
in documentary on Italian Americans

DeKalb, Ill. — Judy Santacaterina, an adviser in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and longtime coach of the Northern Illinois University forensics team, will appear in a new documentary tracing 150 years of the Italian-American experience in Chicago.

“And They Came To Chicago: The Italian American Legacy,” narrated by actor Joe Mantegna, will premiere at 11 p.m. Sunday, May 27, on NBC Channel 5 in Chicago.

An encore presentation will air at noon Monday, May 28, on Channel 5, and an expanded version of the documentary will air at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 5, on WTTW Channel 11, with additional telecasts planned.

The documentary examines how the distinct regional customs and traditions of early settlers laid the foundation for burgeoning Italian enclaves in Chicago and helped steer the course of the city’s history.

Grandmother hosted 'Italian Hour'

Executive producer Gia Marie Amella spent two hours interviewing Santacaterina about her grandmother, Amabile Santacaterina, a popular Italian-language broadcaster in Chicago from the 1930s to the 1960s.

“After coming to Chicago from Venice, Italy, my grandparents became very involved in the South Side Italian-American community of Roseland,” Judy Santacaterina says. “My grandmother started reading copy for the radio and that grew into her own show, the ‘Italian Hour.’ She was like the Wally Phillips of the Italian-American community.”

Amabile’s program focused on culture and occasionally featured celebrity guests. “I have a photograph of my grandmother at the radio station interviewing Rocky Marciano,” Santacaterina says. “I always wonder what the heck she was asking him about because she didn’t know much about boxing.”

In 1980, as a student at NIU, Santacaterina conducted her master’s thesis on her grandmother’s work in broadcast. In her documentary interview, she recounts highlights from Amabile’s career, including her contributions to the war effort. During World War II, the U.S. government recruited Amabile and her husband to make propaganda recordings that were broadcast in the Italian countryside.

Chicago's famous Italian Americans

The documentary also pays tribute to a number of local luminaries, past and present, including the University of Chicago’s Enrico Fermi, whose pioneering work in nuclear physics garnered him the Nobel Prize; Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, one of the nation’s most influential religious leaders; and Mother Frances Cabrini, the first American to achieve sainthood.

More about the documentary, including a trailer with a clip of Santacaterina’s interview, can be found online at Santacaterina will attend a premiere of the documentary at the Chicago Cultural Center on Thursday night.

In addition to her advising and forensics team responsibilities, Santacaterina teaches public speaking and performance at NIU. She and her husband, NIU communication instructor Matt Swan, live in DeKalb.