For many years, UNICO chapters were for men only. There was, and still is, a Lady’s Auxiliary branch of the organization — and that notion is no different here in Kearny. But things changed in 1997, when UNICO decided the chapters should be open to women.
And while the Kearny chapter has had numerous women among its ranks, it’s always been led by men. Until now.
Annamarie Latushko of Kearny last month was sworn-in as the first woman president of the Kearny chapter of UNICO. She was sworn-in by and replaces Louis Pandolfi, who served as the charitable organization’s president following the untimely death of its former president Joseph Sgalia.
The Observer spoke with both Latushko and Pandolfi. The former president says he expects great things will happen under Latushko’s leadership.
“As you know, Italians, sometimes, don’t always agree easily on things. But she conducted her first meeting in September and it went very well,” Pandolfi said. “I think she will do a great job. She says I am her mentor, though I don’t know whether I’d say I am a mentor. But I will be here for her during her presidency as I am sure all of our members will be.”
Now before we get to Latushko, we should say that UNICO Kearny, though small in number, is generally very active in the community. They host bus trips to casinos for fundraisers, sponsor flea markets and perhaps most importantly, offer scholarships to teenagers of Italian descent who are heading off to college — among many other things.
Unfortunately for all involved, the COVID-19 pandemic brought a lot of their annual activities to a halt in March. It ended their annual fish and chips dinner, canceled bus trips and more. But after months of quiet, they began meeting, again, in the summer. Before that, the scholarship committee was able to meet remotely and award the usual money for nominated graduating seniors.
So while it’s not always been easy — the chapter has, indeed, survived the pandemic, and now, under Latushko’s leadership, is looking to move ahead with a lot of great things for 2020-2021.
Among Latushko’s goals for her first year as president — expanding membership.
To join UNICO, one must be of Italian descent — or be married to someone of Italian descent. (We never knew about the clause allowing the spouses — and in fact, we’re told there are several current members who, themselves, are not Italian by birth, but by marriage if you will.)
“We’d love to see new members join,” Latushko, herself just a member for nearly four years, with her husband, Dennis, said. “We recently brought our good friend, Bob Vignola, into UNICO — and it would be great if new members joined us.”
Overall, Latushko says she’s elated to be the first woman to lead Kearny UNICO.
“It’s just exhilarating,” Latushko said while she and her husband vacationed in South Jersey. “We’re looking for fundraising goals to be met this year. We want to continue to do what we’ve been doing, from tricky trays to bus rides and more. This is such a friendly group of members who really get along well. And we always want to be active and doing things for the local community.”
And one way UNICO will be there for the community this year is in raising funds for those in need because of the effects of COVID-19. So, while there will be the traditional — there will also be some new things, too, under Latushko’s leadership.
It was a long time coming, but after 23 years of admitting women to UNICO, Kearny’s chapter finally has a woman at the helm.
“I couldn’t be more proud,” Pandolfi said. “Annamarie brings a fresh perspective. She’s a great leader. We will see great things from her and the entire chapter.”
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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.