About Our Honorees
John M. Viola
John M. Viola has built his career in community leadership and development, with a focus on work in the Catholic and Italian American communities. A graduate of Fordham University with a dual degree in Sociology and Anthropology, Mr. Viola was the co-founder of ELITE Learning of Brooklyn, a non-profit organization dedicated to the fundamental reform and improvement of inner-city education, including numerous programs to foster the teaching of the Italian language to Italian American youth, and others dedicated to service travel.
Rossella Rago "The Cook"
We’re not sure what sizzles more—Rossella’s personality or her marinara sauce. The Brooklyn-born beauty is the bestselling author of Cooking with Nonna: Celebrate Food & Family With Over 100 Classic Recipes from Italian Grandmothers, and Cooking with Nonna: A Year of Italian Holidays: 130 Classic Holiday Recipes from Italian Grandmothers. A natural entertainer (she’s a member of the Screen Actors Guild, with parts in “The Thomas Crown Affair,” “Confessions of a Shopaholic,” “Gossip Girl” and “13 Going On 30” amongst her credits!), Rossella is host of the wildly popular online cooking show, Cooking with Nonna, which she created in 2009. Since its founding, the Cooking with Nonna empire has grown to include a rabid social media following, highly sought-after tours of Italy, and a bevy of branded products from culinary tools to t-shirts, all carefully designed or selected by Rossella and her Nonna Romana. Her deeply rooted heritage finds its source in Mola di Bari, a small fishing village commonly referred to simply as Mola, where her parents were born. If you’ve listened to even one episode featuring Rossella, you’ve heard of it. She is fluent in both Italian and her ancestral regional language of Molese, and she has always been proud to represent her paese in all she does—including her victory as ‘Miss Mola USA’ in 2003, so we’re not kidding when we say she likes a challenge.
John is originally from New Jersey and began his casino career in Atlantic City, NJ with Caesar’s Casino. From there he worked his way up with the Harrah’s Casino group, spending nine years in various management positions at their Atlantic City property. He left Atlantic City and accepted a position as casino manager for the Lucayan Beach Casino Resort in Freeport, Grand Bahama which was managed by a subsidiary of Carnival Cruise Lines. Currently, John is the GM/COO of the Silver Slipper Casino located on the beach in Hancock County, MS. Silver Slipper was the first casino in the State of Mississippi to be designed and built on land. The casino, which employs 550 people, opened in November 2006 and currently features approximately 1,000 slot machines, 28 table games, live Keno, a retail shop, and 3 award-winning restaurants. John and his wife Bridget currently reside in Pass Christian, MS.
Located in the real Little Italy of the Bronx. David’s grandfather, on his mothers side, father Genarro started his butcher shop in 1920 on Arthur Avenue. David’s father Michele /Mike of Mike Deli arrived in 1947 and worked in the same location in the famous market and took over in the early 60s. David has worked in the same location with his father since he’s 12 years old. David has always been creative and has an eye for making a world of flavors with the new twist in Italian food. David also shared his culinary expertise with some of his famous celebrity friends like Michael Badalucco, Robert DeNiro , Chazz Palminteri, Joe Pesci, Leo DeCaprio & many more who have a great appetite!
John M. Viola (continued)
In 2009, after serving as a Marketing and Acquisitions Consultant with AllPlayers.com, Viola returned to non-profit work when he joined in the creation of the Pope John Paul II Family Academy in Brooklyn, N.Y. , serving as the Academy’s General Director, and the Director of the Madonna della Neve Foundation, which he created to oversee the fund development initiatives around Catholic education.
From 2012-2018, Mr. Viola served as President and Chief Operating Officer of the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF)- the first President in NIAF’s history who was not elected from the Board of Directors. During his tenure at NIAF he created the Italian American Leadership Council, the NIAF Region of Honor program, and redefined many of the Foundation’s long-standing programs and partnerships.
Viola has dedicated himself to an active participation in the Italian American Community, serving on the Board of Directors for the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago, La Scuola d’Italia Guglielmo Marconi in New York City, the Two Sicilies in America Foundation, and the American Initiative for Italian Culture (AIFIC) in Washington, DC.
Viola has recently joined forces with the team behind the Italian American Experience, the creators of the wildly popular Italian American Podcast, in the creation of new initiatives designed to bring younger Italian Americans closer to their heritage. He is a Knight of the Order of Merit of Savoy and serves as the United States Delegate for the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George, one of the oldest Chivalric Orders in the world.
Outside of the Italian American sphere Mr. Viola also serves as President of the Florida Panthers Foundation. A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Viola traces his ancestry to the Vallo di Diano in the province of Salerno, Puglia and Sicily.
Michael Badalucco (Continued)
Michael went on to Xaverian H.S. and got his first taste of theatre there in musicals like A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum and dramas like Shaw’s St. Joan. He began his formal acting studies at the State University of New York at New Paltz. It was there that he cut his teeth on stage, performing in over 20 plays. He graduated with a B.A. in Theatre Arts in 1976. In 2003, his alma mater conferred upon him an honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts, citing his “extraordinary success while never losing perspective on what is important in life.” His first speaking role was in the feature film Raging Bull, directed by Martin Scorsese, which led to additional roles in movies such as Broadway Danny Rose, directed by Woody Allen. Throughout the 1990’s, Badalucco appeared in a series of memorable supporting roles in such acclaimed films as Miller’s Crossing, Sleepless in Seattle, Jungle Fever, The Professional, and Mac. His performance in the romantic comedy One Fine Day,prompted star Michelle Pfeiffer to recommend Badalucco to her husband,David E. Kelley, for a role in his ABC television series The Practice. Not only did Badalucco get the part, but his performance as Jimmy Berluti would ultimately serve as his breakout role. In 1999 he received the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. Next, on the big screen, he portrayed serial killer David Berkowitz in Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam. He then stepped into the shoes of notorious gangster George “Baby Face” Nelson for the throwback Coen Brothers comedy, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and appeared in their subsequent film, The Man Who Wasn’t There. He continues to pursue his craft on television, stage and screen.
In addition to Badalucco’s love of acting, he has been involved with a number of charitable organizations which include The Jimmy Fund and The Little Sisters of the Poor. In 2003, Habitat for Humanity of Los Angeles presented him with the Building Hope Award. He received the Heart of the City Award from Heartshare Human Services of New York in 2005. In 2013, he was inducted into the Diocese of Brooklyn Hall of Fame. Mr. Badalucco is privileged to support Italian-American causes through his work with the National Italian American Foundation and Arba Sicula, an organization which preserves, studies, and promotes the language and culture of Sicily. He is also a proud member of the New York Athletic Club, Tiro A Segno of New York, and The Italian American St. Joseph Society of New Orleans, where he has served as Grand Marshal of its annual parade in honor of St. Joseph.