Joseph Maselli was a catalyst for countless American Italian activities in the community, founding the first state-wide organization of American Italian activities in the community, founding the first state-wide organization of American Italians that later became the Italian American Federation of the Southeast, an umbrella organization with over 9,000 members in states: Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.
May 30, 1924 – October 18, 2009
He was the only American Italian in the United States who has successfully organized clubs statewide. Ten years later, he founded the Italian American Renaissance Foundation Museum and Research Library, the first of its kind in the South, which contains more than 400 oral tape histories, vertical files on 25,000 individuals, and 5,500 American Italian books. Today, it has been renamed to the American Italian Cultural Center. To honor Louisiana, Italian Americans who have excelled in athletics, he founded the Louisiana American Italian Sports Hall of Fame.
He was born in Newark, New Jersey and attended Belleville High School, where he graduated 3rd in a class of over 300. After a semester at Rutgers University, he entered the U.S. Army during WWII and eventually was transferred to Camp Plauché in New Orleans and met his wife one week later when he attended a USO dance where she was singing for the troops. Married in 1946, he attended Tulane University on the GI Bill and graduated in 1950, after just 3 years, by attending extra night school classes and summer school classes. Headed for a career in accounting, instead of taking the CPA examination after graduation, he opened a small liquor store which eventually grew to become City Wholesale Liquor company, a local wholesale liquor distributorship which remains in business over 55 years later. He was a true entrepreneur and ran and financed numerous other businesses throughout his career.
Mr. Maselli was an amateur sports enthusiast and loved the Tulane Green Wave. He was also a lifelong boxing enthusiast, with all four of his brothers-in-law being professional boxers. He also boxed as a young amateur before joining the Army. He traveled to Moscow in 1971 with the U.S. Olympic Boxing team and brought the Russian team to New Orleans for an exhibition match against the U.S. team just after the Louisiana Superdome opened. He counted Tommy Lasorda and Angelo Dundee as two of his closest friends and was on a first name basis with Hall of Fame sports figures all over the country. He believed that one of his greatest accomplishments was being one of the three original founders of the Carrollton Boosters in the late 50’s.
By 1975, Maselli focused his energy on civic endeavors and, in particular, on preserving the Italian culture and heritage, and fighting against prejudice on behalf of all nationalities. He founded the Italian-American Federation of the Southeast, an organization comprised of 30 associations throughout the southeastern part of the U.S and the American-Italian Renaissance Foundation which, in turn, developed the Piazza d’Italia and the American-Italian Museum. A founding member of the National Italian American Foundation in Washington D.C., he served as an ethnic advisor to Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush. Mr. Maselli was the publisher of the Italian American Digest which he founded to preserve immigrant values of family tradition, hard work and education. He also led relief efforts in response to several Italian earthquakes.
In 1984, Mr. Maselli developed the “Italian Village” at the Worlds Fair which hosted hundreds of thousands of visitors and became a favorite spot for locals throughout the Fair. Harry Connick, Jr. made his first public appearance on stage at the Village and Bob Hope hosted one of his television specials from there. He was instrumental in founding the American Italian Sports Hall of Fame Banquet and as Chairman of the Louisiana Quincentenary Commission he brought the Spanish Caravels (the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria) to New Orleans and arranged for all school children to visit the ships while they were docked in New Orleans.
Although Mr. Maselli’s lifetime hero was “The Lone Ranger” and despite his aversion to seeking credit for various accomplishments throughout his lifetime, he lived long enough for countless numbers of organizations to have honored him over the years for his civic and charitable works, including, his receipt of The Statue of Liberty Ellis Island Medal of Freedom, the National Conference of Christian and Jews Weiss Award, and the Torch of Liberty Award of the Anti-Defamation League. He has served as a board member of the New Orleans Aviation Board, the Louisiana Ethics Commission, the Metropolitan Crime Commission, The French Market Board and the Advisory Board to the Chancellor of the Tulane Medical School. He was awarded the title of “Grand Ufficiale,” the highest commendation from the Italian government for his lifetime work preserving the Italian Heritage.
He counted his children and grandchildren as his proudest accomplishments.
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American Italian Cultural Center and Museum
537 South Peters Street, New Orleans LA 70130
Museum Hours of Operation Monday thru Friday 10AM-4PM