Passing the Torch

Steve DeGenaro Steve DeGenaro

In this column La Gazzetta will introduce notable members of our local Italian American community. We will hear from men and women whose ancestors’ contributions have resulted in today’s outstanding, productive citizens. 

Questa è un'intervista che La Gazzetta ha ottenuto da Steve DeGenaro. DeGenaro ha fatto molti viaggi in Italia per studiare ed esplorare il paese. Dopo tanti viaggi ha deciso di prendere la cittadinanza italiana e da gennaio 2023 è diventato ufficialmente cittadino italiano. DeGenaro ha anche parlato del suo negozio "Sigaro", un luogo dove i clienti possono andare a fumare sigari, uscire con gli amici e ascoltare la musica di Frank Sinatra e Rat Pack ed arredato in stile italiano antico.

Steve DeGenaro hails from Liberty Township in Trumbull County, Ohio. He is an entrepreneur who initiated businesses that have endured. Steve, along with his wife Mary, have made several trips to Italy, each time increasing their desire to learn more. It is from his history with Italian culture that led Steve to seek Italian citizenship. Let’s give him a chance to talk about this and other matters.

La Gazzetta (LG): We appreciate this opportunity to chat with you. To begin, can you let our readers know something about your hometown and family roots in Italy? 

Steve DeGenaro (SD): My grandfather’s parents, Stefano and Caterina, were from the area around Naples Italy. Both were from Avelino. My grandmother’s parents were Antonio Meloni and Angelina Scarnecchia from Barrea near Sulmona in Abruzzo. I knew Angelina, who lived to a very advanced old age. She transmitted many of the old country traditions that we still practice such as the Feast of the Seven Fishes, polenta before Lent, and so on. Thanks to her, I feel a strong affinity for Barrea, her hometown, and for Italy in general. In the 1950s, my family settled in Brier Hill, on Margaret St. Then we moved to Liberty Township.

LG: Where have you traveled in the country?

SD: We’ve visited Rome, Naples, the Amalfi Coast, Florence, Siena, Tuscany, and Umbria. I’ve enjoyed every town I’ve ever gone to in Italy. Unfortunately, I’ve not made it up to Barrea, which has either been snowed in when I was in Italy or I’ve not been able to budget enough time to get up there. It is high on my priority list and I’m hoping to make it there in fall of 2023. My wife and I like Italy so much that we are considering buying property to “snowbird” there for 3-4 months a year. To that end, and for more romantic and nostalgic reasons, I recently succeeded in obtaining dual citizenship.

SD: Around 2016, I started digging into the citizenship aspect. A friend of mine had mentioned it to me. I did my own research. Initially, I thought I’d go through my DeGenaro side. To my surprise, that line of connection ended when my great-grandparents naturalized not long after they arrived. Back then, the process required renunciation of their home country allegiance. Next, I turned to my maternal grandparents’ side and found that my great-grandmother hadn’t become an American citizen until late in life, during WWII. When my father was born in 1940, his mother was still technically a citizen of Italy.

But there were still complications. Italy didn’t consider women full citizens until 1947, a right won under the Italian constitution. I found a lawyer in Italy and filed what is called “an appeal to the 1947 rule,” essentially asking the court to acknowledge that my grandmother was a citizen with all rights and that she passed these to my father who passed them to me. After many delays (primarily because of the Covid pandemic), we went to court in November 2022. I received word in mid-January 2023 that my citizenship is acknowledged and recognized. Thus, I’m now a dual citizen. The legal precedent is not that I am becoming a citizen. In the eyes of the Italian government, I’ve always been one and the court decision just confirms it. 

LG: In addition to having been born American, you’ve always been an Italian citizen, too, in the eyes of Italy! Tell us about your businesses.

SD: I’m a respiratory therapist, and I own a medical oxygen business and a medical consulting company. When COVID started, I began rehabbing houses with Jaime Garayua, a partner and friend. We smoked cigars together and had long talked about opening a “top-shelf” smoking lounge and cigar store. We wanted to place it in downtown Youngstown but ran into problems. What brought me to Hubbard was the fact that I had a friend who owned a winery there, Woodland Cellars, with a storefront in the center of town. A building was available next door and we liked the location because of the close proximity to the winery. We secured possession in 25 days. We call the smoking lounge SIGARO. 

LG: I hear from Hubbard friends that the venue is quite unique.

SD: SIGARO is both a retail cigar store and a membership lounge. We bought an old house and renovated it using architectural salvage materials, a lot of antiques, and repurposed industrial material. There’s a stained-glass window from a mansion in Youngstown. There are light fixtures from a warehouse in Cleveland’s Flats. There’s vintage furniture from old stores in Youngstown and Warren. And the décor features antique tobacco items such as a folk-art quilt made with old silk cigar box labels, Cuban legal documents from the late 1800’s granting companies the right to use brand names for their cigars, old steel industry memorabilia from the Mahoning Valley’s past, and political memorabilia from Youngstown’s glory days. 

There’s always Frank Sinatra/Rat Pack music on the speakers, subdued lighting, a fireplace going in the winter, a deck to enjoy the outdoors in the summer, and old movies on the big screen upstairs (unless a football game or boxing event is playing). It’s a very cool place to hang out and relax. We’re at 230 N. Main St. in Hubbard. 

LG: Thank you for the opportunity to learn more about your love of Italy, the quest for Italian citizenship, and your latest business venture.

SD: Thanks for the opportunity to tell my story. Both the citizenship and the cigar lounge have been true labors of love, and I’m always happy to talk about them or, better yet, show them off in person! 


Passing the Torch April4