Mutual Aid: The Generous DiGiacomos
Italian immigrants in the early twentieth century faced the challenges of building a life in their new country by standing together. Reluctant to seek aid from the government or outside agencies, they supported each other through social and professional networks of their own. Italians who were well-established in town gave aid where they could to those just arriving.1
One such pillar of the community was Joseph DiGiacomo, called by the Wooster Daily News “The best-hearted man in Wooster.”2 He came to Wooster in 1900 when his uncle, Andrew Massaro, encouraged his family to journey to America.3 In 1922, he built the “DiGiacomo Building” next to the railroad station. The three-story flatiron-shaped building boasted over forty rooms, towering over the tracks. DiGiacomo operated his grocery on the first floor, and housed fellow Italians in the large apartments on the upper floors.4 He quickly became a mentor for newcomers, tutoring them in English, preparing them for citizenship exams, and serving as an integral member of the Italian Society.
DiGiacomo’s daughter, Rose, ran a restaurant in the DiGiacomo Building. Opening at 5a.m. every morning, she welcomed the railroad workers for breakfast. A generous spirit, she was known for providing help to locals with no money for rent or food, taking them in and feeding them from her restaurant, and volunteering at St. Mary’s Church. She received a Papal award in 1963 for her charitable efforts.5 DiGiacomo Green was dedicated in 2008 as a park that stands at the site of the former DiGiacomo Building, commemorating Joseph DiGiacomo and the Italian immigrants who lived there.
1 David T. Beito, From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State: Fraternal Societies and Social Services, 1890-1967. (Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 2000).
2 “Italians Are Coming Here,” Wooster Daily News. April 25, 1910.
3 Dominic Iannarelli, “Joseph DiGiacomo’s Work Done,” A Touch of Italy in Wooster. (Wooster: The Daily Record, 1968).
4 Elinor Taylor. “56-Year-Old ‘High-Rise’ Built by Joe DiGiacomo,” Daily Record. August 4, 1978.