The IAPBC promotes Italian-American ideals of community involvement, culture, heritage, and family while creating opportunities for personal and professional development. We extend one hand to greet and one hand to give by providing scholarships to eligible students of Italian descent to assist them in obtaining a higher education. Also, the club has extended a helping hand to individuals and families in need of financial assistance. All this is made possible by membership dues and your participation in our club functions, which include the Morra Tournament, the annual golf outing, Viva la Panza and the Christmas Gala.
What started out in 1938 as a small gathering of Italian American business owners and at the invitation of persons involved in politics, the Viva La Panza Club has grown into the Italian American Professional and Business Club (est. 1970). Each year, the IAPBC hosts the largest networking dinner event in Northeast Ohio honoring the original club with the name “Viva La Panza”.
Joseph Licitri, who owned the Belt Line Grocery Store on Grant Street in Akron, Ohio, was responsible for hosting the original dinner gathering in the rear of the old store. The store had a small kitchen, and the men feasted on a fine Italian dinner, including a delicacy food called “tripe”.
At that time the group wanted to show their appreciation to those persons who helped many of the Italian immigrants come to America to start a new life in the land of opportunity. The Italian community enlisted lawyers, judges, and politicians who were well versed in the process needed to help individuals come to America, enable them with passports, and help find jobs for the heads of the households.
Unfortunately, back in those days, many of the immigrants could not speak or write the English language. Therefore, they needed the help of professionals who were educated and knew the immigration process. One such individual of Italian heritage who made sure that the event was held each year was Richard Percoco. Mr. Percoco was active in the political areas of Akron, Ohio. He knew many of the Akron politicians and would seek their assistance to help Italian families bring their loved ones to America.
In return, many of the Italian business owners of Akron would gather votes for the men who were campaigning for a political office. This is why, even today, the Viva La Panza Dinner is held one week before the November elections. Local politicians are invited to dinner to pass their campaign material, and to get to know many of the people who attend the dinner.
During the early years of the event, after the party had grown, it was held at various places. But due to its immense popularity, the Italian American Professional Business Club became the host of the event. It enlisted the banquet services of the well-known Todaro’s Party Center in Akron. Since the 1990’s, The Todaro’s Party Center has been the site of the event and has had an attendance of over 650 people.
As witnessed by anyone who has attended the dinner, everyone has a good time over a fine meal, a chance to meet the candidates, and enjoyment of listening to many old stories of the past. Of course, the delicacy food “tripe” is still part of the menu. More importantly, not only does the Italian Community get to meet the candidates for political offices, the proceeds from the event goes to fund scholarships that are given out each year to students of Italian heritage who qualify for higher learning.
The IAPBC presently has an annual budget of over $120,000 that is supported by a volunteer Board of Directors and membership base of over 125 men and women. In addition to the Viva La Panza dinner, the club hosts events throughout the year including Martedi Grasso (Fat Tuesday), a Morra Tournament, scholarship luncheon honoring the student recipients and their families, participation in area Italian festivals, a golf tournament and Christmas Gala. Members meet informally once a week for lunch at either Akron Family Restaurant or D’Agnese’s on White Pond Dr. and for Wine Down Wednesdays the third Wednesday every month.