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Nurturing a love affair with Italy

Italian groups flourish at Novi community

Created date

August 20th, 2013
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Vern and Noni St. Amand spent four years living in Rome when Vern worked in marketing for General Motors. Decades have passed since they lived abroad, but the St. Amands still maintain a close connection to the Italian culture that they fell in love with many years ago. Vern and Noni have since retired and now live at Fox Run, an Erickson Living community in Novi, Mich. Fox Run is home to a large Italian-American population, and three years ago a group of residents formed a club to celebrate Italian food, music, history, culture, and art. The St. Amands belong to that group, aptly named La Bella Vita Club, and about two years ago, they helped to form a spin-off Italian conversation group for anyone who wanted to learn how to speak Italian. Our interest in joining the Italian club was so we could restore our conversational fluency, Noni says. We hadn t spoken Italian in over 35 years, and we know that one of the best ways to maintain your memory is to learn a new language.

Like a little family

Since September of 2011, Vern, Noni, and about six of theirFox Runneighbors have been meeting every Saturday to practice speaking Italian and to study the language. The group uses instructional audiotapes and corresponding workbooks to learn Italian. The St. Amands gave each of the members an Italian dictionary to help them in their studies. Bruno Morelli, another member, who spent his school years in Italy, guides the group in pronunciation accuracy. It s like a little family. It s a very nice thing, Vern says. We tell people, Don t be afraid of making a mistake; we re all here together, and we re all in the same boat.

Learning by teaching others

Ozzie Ostrander joined Vern and Noni as a member of the Italian language club. Like the St. Amands, Ozzie lived in Italy for part of his career in the automotive industry. Ozzie previously worked for Ford, and he lived in Turin, Italy, during the 1980s. When the St. Amands left Fox Run to spend this past winter in Florida, Ozzie took over teaching the Italian classes. I lived in Italy for a year and a half working for Ford Motor Company, Ozzie says. I made a lot of good Italian friends and learned quite a bit about the language, but not to the extent that I am learning now that I am teaching the classes. Ozzie says learning to speak Italian, especially mastering all of the verb conjugations, is a good mental challenge. He enjoys the unique perspective he is getting from simultaneously learning the language himself while also teaching it to other people. They are very interested, very avid students, Ozzie says of his neighbors taking the classes. I think they re enjoying it, and I certainly can learn a lot from trying to teach somebody else.

Conquering new challenges

Frank Barresi has quickly risen to the head of Ozzie s class. Frank says he s always thought the Italian language was beautiful, and he was intrigued when he heard about the opportunity to take Italian classes at Fox Run. Coming from a Sicilian family, I have always been able to speak some Italian, but I didn t know the grammar of the language, Frank says. The program we re using is the equivalent of a college textbook, and it s not an easy course. Frank, vice president of La Bella Vita Club, has persevered despite the challenges of learning a new language. He s made a lot of progress in just a few months and says he now has a grammatical foundation for the language he grew up hearing his parents speak. Recently, the conversation group took on a new challenge together. The St. Amands also belong to an Italian conversation group in Sarasota, Fla. Through their affiliation with that group, Noni says, she ran across some Italian novels she thought would be fun for the Fox Run Italian language club to read together. She purchased copies of Omicidio Alla Moda, an Italian murder mystery that is set in Milan, for each member. Noni says the group has been reading the book one chapter at a time, but Frank, with his newfound language skills, was enjoying it so much that he finished the entire thing and is now hoping to read more books in Italian. Even at 92 years old, I m smarter than I was three months ago, Frank says.