The Ivory Soap Family:  Another National Title for the Legendary Taylor Street. 

The Ivory Soap Family:  Another National Title for the Legendary Taylor Street. 

The following quote is found in the prologue of the Taylor Street Archives website: “…a people who excelled in virtually everything that the larger society had ordained for them:–from digging sewers to enterprises in which only the most talented and courageous could excel.” Adding to our list of national champions is the Bell (nee: Romano) family.  Crowned 2006 national “Ivory Soap Family” champions.  

The centuries of accumulated traditions and values that were carried across the great ocean and deposited in the near-west side immigrant community, which came to be known as Chicago’s Little Italy, continue to resonate through the layers of generations and add to our list of national titles.    

The Bell family, whose roots trace back to the great immigration of southern Europeans to America and ultimately Chicago’s Taylor Street, the port-of-call for Chicago’s Italian American immigrants at the turn of the 20th century, were the winners of the 2006 “Ivory Soap Family” national title.   

Impressed with the family’s traditions, Proctor and Gamble bestowed the “Ivory Soap Family” national title on grandmother, Mary Rose (nee Ruffolo) Bell, 52, her daughter, Sandra Mecklenburg, 32, and granddaughter, Alexandra.  

They were one of the eight finalist families, from throughout the United States, that advanced by winning their regional contests.  The rigorous screening process, in search for that family that would best complement the launching of Ivory Soap’s third generation of new products–Ivory Lavender Bar Soap and Body Wash–included the composing of essays and the posing for photos.  The Chicago-area event was held at the DuPage Children’s Museum. The Bells impressed and became the Midwest finalists.  All 8 regional winners were hosted in New York, at the Waldorf Astoria, during the finals.

Aside: The family, which actually consists of 4 generations, is led by matriarch Catherine “Kay” Ruffolo, but the contest only called for 3 generations to appear.  Arguably, one could state that the winners were the Ruffolo/Bell family.

The values and traditions, acquired through their heritage and had carried them past the Midwest finals, also catapulted them to the national “Ivory Soap Family” title.  Those roots, which trace back to the shores of southern Italy and ultimately to Taylor Street’s Little Italy, won the day.  “Those traditions truly embodied the essence of Ivory, as they celebrate the simple, everyday moments in life and the importance of sharing wisdom from generation to generation,” cited the Ivory Soap representative. “Those long standing traditions, which include starting Christmas celebrations beginning at midnight, won over the judges.”  The Ruffolo/Bell family was presented with an oversized check for $40,000, which prudently was set aside for college tuitions.  

The day after they were crowned winners, the generations, which now included the great grandmother, Catherine “Kay” Ruffolo, toured the Statue of Liberty and Staten Island where they traced their family’s ancestry.  Their itinerary included an appearance on the nationally televised Today Show, where they met the incomparable Tony Bennett, who was also invited as a guest that day.  

Live interviews on both radio and television continued to project the glitter that was the Ruffolo/Bell family…the raw material of which originated in a land that initiated a renaissance that brought the world out of the dark ages.  Needless to say, the seeds of those traditions and values found their way here to America where they flourished in the near-west side immigrant community that Jane Addams had once labeled “The Hull House Neighborhood.”  

Editor’s note:  The grand patriarch and matriarch immigrated to America shortly after the turn of the 20th century.  Franceso Ruffolo’s emigrated from Marano Marchesato province of Cosenzo Calabria.  Rose (nee: Esposito) Ruffolo’s emigrated from Acerra, Calabria.  They met, married and resided at 1013 So. Peoria Street.  Their only son, Rosario “Russ” married Catherine “Kay” Battiata in 1949.  Their three children:–Frank, Russell and Mary Rose were also born on Peoria Street in Little Italy.  The entire family eventually domiciled in Oak Park.   Kay’s parents, Peter and Mary Battiata, also emigrated from Sicily around the turn of the 20th century.  The various family components presently reside in the DuPage County area where the matriarch of the family, Kay Ruffolo, still leads the tradition of gathering at midnight on Christmas Eve.

Aside: Rose nee Esposito’s and her younger sister Josephine emigrated, with their mother, from Acerra Italy prior to WW1. Josephine is known through out Taylor Street’s Little Italy as Josie of Sheridan Park dame.