June 13, 2024

WASHINGTON, May 26, 2017 – Leaders in military, public service and non-profit received awards from the Sons of Italy Foundation (SIF), the philanthropic arm of the Order Sons of Italy in America® (OSIA), the nation’s largest and oldest organization for people of Italian heritage.

Rear Admiral Margaret DeLuca “Peg” Klein (U.S. Navy, Ret.), Honorable Jessica Garfola Wright (Major General, Ret.), and Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind President & CEO Tony Cancelosi were honored on May 25 at the SIF’s 29th Annual National Education & Leadership Award (NELA) Gala hosted at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Rear Admiral Margaret DeLuca “Peg” Klein (U.S. Navy, Ret.) received the 2017 SIF National Education & Leadership Award (NELA) for her commitment to country and leadership. She was commissioned from the Naval Academy in 1981 and served on multiple tours, accumulating over 4,500 flight hours. She then served as the Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Defense for Military Professionalism, a position that was created in 2014 to help the professional and leadership development of service members until her retirement in March of this year. She spoke about the influence her father had on her life, saying that “he figured out how I could pursue a career in aviation in the Navy” when a recruiter recommended otherwise. Her father, himself, was in the Navy Reserves and was a private pilot.

Honorable Jessica Garfola Wright (Major General, Ret.) received the 2017 SIF Award for Courage and Patriotism for her distinguished 35-year career of military service. Upon graduation from the Officers Rotary Wing Aviator Course at Fort Rucker, Alabama, she became the first female Army aviator in the Army National Guard. She retired from the Army in 2010 as a Major General, and then served from as the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness until her retirement in 2015. “I accept this award with humility, but it is not about me, it is about the possibilities and the opportunities that this land affords you-and particularly the military, my profession, my profession of arms.”

Anthony J. Cancelosi received the2017 SIF Humanitarian Award for his work in the nonprofit community. For twelve years, Mr. Cancelosi has served as President and Chief Executive Officer for Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind (CLB), a nonprofit organization founded in 1900 that provides services in the greater Washington region to people of all ages who are blind or visually impaired-regardless of ability to pay-that help improve their economic independence and quality of life. In accepting this award, he noted his father, who was in the produce business and would bring home fresh produce to give away to friends and neighbors. “He taught us how to give,” he said, “and I think that’s one of things a lot of Italians have-a giving and passionate heart.”

In addition to honoring these distinguished individuals, the SIF awarded 11 highly selective scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students of Italian descent for exemplary academic performance, school leadership, and community service.

For the 15th straight year, actor Joe Mantegna served as the Master of Ceremonies of the NELA Gala. Among the guests were:

Dozens of wounded servicemen and women, veterans, and their families were special guests of the SIF and were recognized at the NELA Gala for their service to the country. A special presentation was made recognizing the SIF’s recent $20,000 donation to Help Our Military Heroes, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing fully equipped, adaptive minivans to our country’s most severely wounded, injured, and ill service men and women who sustained their injuries while on active duty since the start of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The SIF’s annual NELA Gala has raised an excess of $33 million and has hosted many distinguished individuals. Past attendees have included U.S. presidents, members of Congress and the Cabinet, and foreign diplomats. Previous SIF honorees include President Bill Clinton; President George W. Bush; Italy’s President Giorgio Napolitano; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia; former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta; Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro; Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne; entertainers Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Annette Funicello, Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinise; and sports legends Mario Andretti, Geno Auriemma and Tommy LaSorda.

The SIF has contributed nearly $165 million to scholarships, medical research, disaster relief efforts, cultural projects, veterans’ causes and other special projects. With the help of Filial Lodges and State Lodges, the SIF donated over $150,000 to help relief efforts for the Central Italy earthquake that struck the Marche, Lazio, Umbria, and Abruzzo regions last August.

The proceeds from the NELA Gala help fund its philanthropy.