Merrill’s Italian settlers celebrate 100 years
Wednesday, July 23, 2014 10:55 AM
Nearly 400 people convened in Merrill July 11-12 to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of an Italian settlement near Merrill.
The Italian flag flew over the Smith Center in Merrill July 11-12 as nearly 400 descendants of the Schulz Spur Nove held a multi-family reunion.
Nove – nine in Italian – refers to the nine Italian families who settled in the Schulz Spur area north of Merrill starting 100 years ago. The nine families represented included Ricci, who were the first to settle in the area in 1914, Pezzi (1916), Olivotti (1917), Vignali (1917), Borelli (1918), Monti (1918), Bosi (1918), Iatonni (1921) and Bondioli (1922). Descendants of those original families came from 17 states and Canada to attend the celebration of 100 years since the first family arrived in Lincoln County.
A delegation of three people from Italy also attended, They represented Consulta degli Emiliano-Romagnoli nel Mondo, a group interested in the history of the region of Italy that most of the families came from.
Merrill Mayor Bill Bialecki presented an official proclamation recognizing the celebration.
The two-day event included a bus tour of homestead sites and special locations around Merrill, bocce ball games, genealogy information, heritage stories, catered Italian meals and opportunities to reunite with family members and old friends.
“People just talked non-stop,” said Peggy Anderson of DePere, a granddaughter of Luigi and Ermelinda Ricci.
Anderson got the idea last July for a family reunion to celebrate the 100th anniversary of her family’s arrival in the Merrill area. The idea soon spread to include all nine families.
“I called a couple of people from each family and we started meeting at Salvo’s,” she said. “We would have 35-40 people show up at the meetings.”
Planning for the event started last summer.
“It was like organizing nine family reunions at the same time,” Peggy said. “Every month we met, it got bigger. It was a pretty involved process.”
A web site was set up by Peggy’s son, Jonathan, so that family members from farther away could register. The initial plan was to have the reunion at the Lincoln County Sports Club, which is on Schulz Spur Road. However, around January, as anticipated attendance passed the 300 mark, the venue was changed to the Smith Center.
For the celebration, each family created a display board of their history. An Italian entertainer was hired to play and sing for the guests.
With more than 60 children in attendance, activities were provided for the youngsters.
The original nine families came to America to escape poverty in Italy. They immigrated to Illinois and worked in the coal mines before finding a better way of life as farmers in Wisconsin. As each family settled in Lincoln County, they sent word to the other families to join them. They had made enough money in the coal mines to buy land, and each family purchased approximately 100 acres. Through hard work, they cleared the land, built homes and barns and cultivated the earth.
Today, their ancestors include judges, politicians, teachers, business people, tradesmen and nurses.
“We had some pretty notable people,” Peggy said. “These families all started out very poor and uneducated.”
None of those in attendance listed farming as an occupation.
The genealogical information that Peggy worked with was originally assembled by the late Ron Kolka.
Peggy herself grew up in the Schulz Spur area. She remembers how all the men made wine and the children attended the Schulz Spur School. In fact, other students not from the nine families who attended Schulz Spur School were invited to the reunion as well.
“You didn’t realize you lived in a really special community until you left,” Peggy said.