The Debs



What would we do without friends? They make us laugh…they bring us tears. They are the rocks upon which we lean…they are the needles that prod us to take risks. They complement us…they contradict us.  Because of them we are forever enriched…because of them we have grown in ways we never could have or would have.  The journey of friendship continues.  Its magic continues to nourish us.  Those who have gone remain in our thoughts and hearts… continuing their journey…continuing to flourish with us. What better gift than friends who resurrect blissful memories of times that forever remain tender on our minds. 

The Taylor Street Archives (TSA) is filled with the names and stories of the boys who grew up on Taylor Street and the clubs to which they belonged.  The DEBS were one of the rare groups of girls that formalized their bond with each other by also identifying themselves as a club.  

The DEBS, blossoming teenagers during their Camelot days of the 1950s, were all products of the east end of Taylor Street’s Little Italy.  They resided, for the most part, in what Jane Addams had labeled, the Hull House Neighborhood.  Hull House formalized their identity as the DEBS when the world famous settlement house became their meeting place.  Other girls from St. Mary’s H.S. began joining the DEBS once they began to utilize the Jane Addams Hull House. The stated purpose of the Debs was: — friendship, fellowship, social, deeds to benefit the underprivileged, charity fund raising, etc.  

Most of the DEBS were campers at the Bowen Country Club (BCC).  Many of the debs became employed by BCC during the summer in positions such as counselors, Counselor in Training (CITs), CDAs (we never knew what that meant), etc.  The core members during those 1950s summer camp years were Annette Scala, Francine Tarsitano, Tomasine Garippo and Jackie Bagnolo. Their mentors, at that time, were Lu Caruso, Lois McConnell, Rosie Ranieri and MaryAnn Altier.  

Bowen Country Club, the Hull House Summer Camp, nurtured and ultimately cemented their growing friendships between and among the DEB members.  That friendship endured beyond their college days… beyond the displacement of the neighborhood by the expressways in 1957…beyond the virtual destruction of the neighborhood by UIC in 1963… beyond their marriages and motherhood…and continues into their retirement years when grandchildren and the sharing of pictures began to take center stage in their conversations.

The Debs remained as a group until 1954…after which came marriage and children.  It wasn’t until the 1960’s, a decade later, when they began seeking each other out again.  It was at this time that three (3) more members were added: Marge Bakowy who married Mike Vitallo in 1959, Katherine Avent who married Frank Ragucci in 1956 and Leonilda DiOrio who married Don Romano in 1955.  They gathered at each other’s homes on a monthly basis…revisited the BCC with their combined families…and, on occasion, socialized as married couples.  

Beginning in 1984, they renewed their friendships with a vigor:–dinner the 2nd Tuesday of each month and week-ends to Galena, Lake Delevan, and Fontana.  It was during one of their trips to North Carolina or Santa Barbara that they became inspired to create their “over–the-hill” calendar.   The hi-light of each meeting, besides the reminiscing about old times, is the non-stop conversations sharing experiences such as:– raising children, illnesses, deaths, divorces, and a host of subjects that could only have relevance to friends sharing a common genesis…friends who can identify with and share each other’s peak moments.   All of the above was seasoned with a healthy dose of laughter…before, during and after eating.      

Their famous Christmas parties were a sharing of the ugliest and/or funniest gifts you can imagine.  Their children and grandchildren (nephews and nieces included), both grown and those who are not yet fully grown, eagerly looked forward to the retelling of the stories of their escapades.  Stories that are, more often than not, identified with having grown up “Taylor made.”  The relevance of those stories were amplified because of their neighborhood roots in Taylor Street’s Little Italy, the port-of-call for Chicago’s Italian American immigrants, which Jane Addams herself had labeled “The Hull House Neighborhood.”  (Editor’s note:  The members of the Debs, with one exception, Marge Bakowy, grew up on Taylor Street.  However, she had the good fortune to marry an Italian boy from Taylor Street.  One could truthfully surmise that the Debs were wop-sided.)    

As life-long friends, they were comfortable confiding in each other.  Liberal doses of, “Knock it off…you’re wrong,” were intermingled with words of compassion and empathy.   Their compassion for each other never interfered with their honesty toward each other…and visa versa.  After all, isn’t that what true friends are for?  The diverse political and social views each acquired produced their share of honest and heated discussions.  

The founding members and their spouses are:

Francine Tarsitano* James Underdown 1959 Wheaton

Annette Scala* Robert Hoyt 1958 Lombard

Tommie Romano* Vincent Romano 1957 Skokie

Jacqueline Bagnolo

Rosalyn Casale* John Nicoletti 1957 St. Charles

Myrna Cuzzone* Paul Pellitiere 1959 Cicero

Louise DePalma* Jerry Dominick 1958

Margie DeTolve* Dr. Joseph Daddino 1961 Barrington

Arline Filishio*        

Paulette Casale John Bryson 1962

Theresa Volpe* Bernie DeMeo 1957 Norridge

Marilyn Ferraro* James Passarella 1968 Elmwood Pk

Rosalie Caringella* David DeMarte 1959 Wheaton

Antionette “Cookie” Valerio Sam Salerno 1957

Lucille Pinio Dick Piemonte 1958

MaryAnn Saviano

Joined during the 1960s:

Marge Bakowy* Mike Vitallo 1959 St. Charles

Katherine Avent Frank Ragucci 1956

Leonilda DiOrio* Don Romano 1955 Plainfield

* Currently active 

Family Tree

Individual members of the Debs may have submitted their Individual/Family Tree Application and now occupy a branch on the Taylor Street Archives Family Tree.  There you will find their individual profiles, which will take you as far back as the town from which their immigrant parents or grandparents had emigrated.  They will likely be found under their maiden names.  They can be located via the “search” button.  

In some instance, where their spouse may have submitted their Family Tree application, 

their name would also appear. 

In addition to the stories such as Bowen Country Club, the reader can, in addition to the website, peruse the following web sites that can provide the reader with a better understanding of the DEBS story. 

Web Sites:

Hull House

Bowen Country Club

Jane Addams

Taylor Street

Near-west side

Little Italy 

A 1950s picture of the Debs, taken at the Hull House Bowen Country Club is attached.