Meet the unofficial mayor of The Hill, Joe Barbaglia
Some people call him Mayor Joe Barbaglia. Considering everything he does for the neighborhood, it’s hard to imagine he actually owns his own business and has time to work there. His office at Southwest Auto Parts is papered with photos of his beloved daughter Nina Barbaglia, Monsignor Vince Bommarito, police officers and firefighters, parades and others who make up the fabric of his life lived on The Hill.
A native, Barbaglia heads up The Hill’s Easter egg hunt, the soapbox derby, the fireworks at Sublette Park, the Christmas lights on Marconi Avenue, the Columbus Day parade, the St. Ambrose golf tournament and the Giro Della Montagna, an annual bike race in the Gateway Cup series.
But his biggest claim to fame may be the product of his time working on the Giro: The Dogaloni. “We had this hot dog, and we had cannelloni dough – rolled the hot dog in the dough, breaded and deep fried them and served them on a stick. When we bring ’em out there, people love ’em. We sold about 600 at the race, and we kept making them for the next five years. People still ask for them.”
It only makes sense that Barbaglia would dream up such a successful Hill novelty. He praises the area at every opportunity. “It’s probably the best neighborhood you could grow up in in your life. It’s like being in a small town, so tight-knit with family and friends. The volunteers here are over-the-top. If you have $10 or $1,000, everybody pitches in and makes things happen. That’s what it’s all about … helping each other and not worrying about what’s in it for me."
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He admits, however, that The Hill hasn’t always been perfectly harmonious. The long-time rivalry between the Sicilians and the Lombards was strong when his parents met.
“My dad was Lombard; my mom was Sicilian. Back then a Sicilian didn’t marry a Lombard. But it was OK because my dad was the kind of person who would help anybody. I remember he’d go over to an older lady’s house and help her fix things. She’d try to pay him and he’d say, ‘Just say a prayer for me.’ He’d fix it all.”
Being the product of a union between the Lombards and the Sicilians made Barbaglia a human bridge between northerners, southerners and non-Italians alike. Perhaps none of his rituals speaks that more clearly than the bread.
“I go to Vitale’s every Friday, and they give me loaves of bread. I take them to Milo’s, and regular people all break bread and hand it around. And it’s hot – so hot you can barely touch it. When you break it open, it fills the place with smells. People come from as far away as Arnold for it. Things like this, there’s nothing like it. It’s something you can’t purchase. You can purchase a new car, a new house, but you can’t purchase what we have. It’s not available like that. It’s something you gain over the years – trust in people.”
Carmen Troesser is a longtime contributing photographer and writer for Sauce Magazine.
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