playing cards

Galileo guys gather for good times

on January 22, 2010

Louis Fantin limped into the brightly painted building, as he often does on Tuesdays, and took a seat at a round table. At 85 years old, he dealt the cards and studied his hand a little slower than he used to.

“Come on, hurry up,” his opponents yelled, hassling their friend.

“These guys yell at me all the time, like typical Italians. They don’t care if I can’t see,” Fantin said as he explained his eye condition that results in poor vision. “If I’d known I was going to live this long, I would’ve taken better care of myself.”

His eyesight may be fading, but his wits are fully functional, he proved as he explained the card game Pedro.

“It’s a simple little game, because it has to be simple for Italians,” the Italian-American man said, once again poking fun at his nationality.

Fantin has been a member of Richmond’s Galileo Club for 16 years. And that was nothing compared to his comrades sitting around the table.

Jimmie Rampoldi has been a member for 64 years. He’s 88. The Richmond native has especially enjoyed visiting the club since his wife died two years ago.

“We have good food here and camaraderie, you know,” he said.

Food and friends are not all the Galileo Club offers its 325-plus members, which includes the women’s auxiliary (the female part of the club). The expansive red, orange and yellow building on the corner of Virgina Avenue and 23rd Street has a ballroom, two fully-stocked bars, a dining hall, a kitchen and bocce ball courts. It used to have slot machines, too.

“People love the building,” said Joe Ursini, 61, who grew up two blocks from the club and is now its president.

The building, which is rented out for weddings, banquets and other events, has been home to the Galileo Club since its inception almost 80 years ago. There are about a dozen active Italian clubs in the East Bay, all belonging to the Italian American Federation.

“Clubs are competitive, but a good kind of competitive,” Ursini said. “They brag about, our sauce be better than their sauce.”

“We always provide a good pasta,” he said. And it’s always served in big bowls, Italian family style.

The Galileo Club has members ranging from their mid-20s to mid-90s. Some families have third and fourth generation Italian Americans as members.

“What’s really sad is you don’t hear the language a lot,” Ursini said, adding that many members were not born in Italy.

“A lot of guys were born in California, but they love wine,” he said. “They love the vino.”

Wine and pasta are often served at club events, which include holiday parties, bereavement get-togethers, and the most raucous event, the monthly men’s night to celebrate recent birthdays.

“That’s the bread and butter,” Ursini said.

Member Don Diani volunteered his time recently to prepare for this month’s famous – or infamous – men’s night at the Galileo Club. Diani is 77.

“I’m the youngest guy here with this group,” he said, looking at the men playing their weekly card game.

“And the meanest,” 81-year-old Frank Pericoli chimed in, adding that his own Italian last name translates in English to “danger.”

Between jokes, Diani headed back to the kitchen to receive a shipment of raviolis for this month’s men’s night. The club ordered nearly a box of pasta for every man. And raviolis are only the first course, followed by roast chicken, not to mention salad, dessert and wine.

Diani used to be the club’s president and still takes on other jobs. His wife is the president of the women’s auxiliary. But however rewarding the responsibilities may be, Diani admits his tasks aren’t always a breeze. He organizes the seating for the men’s nights. This month, 232 men reserved a chair.

“This guy don’t want to sit with him because he stinks. He don’t want to sit next to him because he eats too much,” Diani said. “You ever hear what they say about men? Once an adult, twice a child.”

1 Comment

  1. jack dalton on February 16, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    Very nice article. It’s too bad that old Italian clubs sometimes die out. The younger generation just don’t seem to care about keeping them going. Also it costs so much money to keep them afloat. I’ve gone to the dinners at the Richmond Galileo Club and one word I won’t say about the food is “Basta -Basta” (enough-enough)!



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