Arts & Culture

Legendary Wrestler Ilio DiPaolo Honored With Weeklong Gala in Abruzzo, Italy

By Tony Farina

The Abruzzo region is often referred to as one of the most beautiful places in all of Italy and is the home of legendary wrestler Ilio DiPaolo, known worldwide for his hall of fame ring career and his philanthropic deeds and community involvement in Buffalo where he eventually settled and where the restaurant he started as a pizzeria in 1965, after his wrestling career was over, still stands under the leadership of son Dennis.

Located between the sea to the east and Rome, Abruzzo, known as the green region of Europe, is also noteworthy for licorice, harvested in the area since Roman times, and outstanding pasta dishes that are high on flavor and low on fuss.  The Abruzzo cuisine is a tourist delight and stands out with a heavy emphasis on goat and lamb, reflecting the area’s heritage of farming and herding.

And it was in the commune of Introdacqua in Abruzzi, the great wrestler’s home town, where an all-day festival was held on Aug.18, 2023, as part of a weeklong celebration honoring the incredible legacy of Ilio DiPaolo, the town’s favorite son, who was born in Introdacqua on Nov. 18, 1926.  He left Italy in 1949 for Venezuela where his wrestling career began, a worldwide hall-of-fame journey that eventually landed him in Buffalo where he made his home with wife Ethel.

Over 3,000 people attended the main-event gala Aug. 18 in Introdacqua that treated guests to 10 overflowing tables of Italian pasta dishes, meatballs and sausage, assorted salads, Italian patries and delicacies, and fresh fruit.

In 2019, Introdacqua officials presented the DiPaolo family with a beautiful bronze bust of Ilio DiPaolo that is now permanently housed in the town’s library for public display in the dedication section showcasing all kinds of artifacts from the wrestler’s legendary career including posters, pictures, announcements, articles, and books.

Dennis DiPaolo with wife Karyn, on left, with bust of Ilio DiPaolo.

The celebration was covered by Abruzzo Centro News, stating “Premiazione: Borsa di Studio ‘Ilio DiPaolo’ 2023.”  And Centro News complimented the talents of the 2023 winner of the Ilio DiPaolo Scholarship Fund, Ceciia Bonaventura:  “She is an extraordinary flutist, a true talent that carries the name of Introdacaqua, Citta Musicale, in Italy and in Europe.”

It was a gala befitting the honoree, Ilio DiPaolo, with son Dennis graciously addressing the gathering in Italian for posterity that was recorded and translated into English as follows:

“I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Panfilia Colangelo, Massimo Tardio, Giannia Restano, and the entire scholarship committee for their hard work and dedication in making this a wonderful and memorable event.  Mayor Christian Colasante and Carla DeBennedito, thank you for your support and for helping in this week of celebrations.  Special thanks to Anna Marie and Carlo DeCellis of Pacento for all you do for our family and to Ron Corbo, of New York, for his generation donation to help fund the scholard on behalf of my father, Ilio DiPaolo.”

DiPaolo family and friends at Introdacqua Gala

Dennis went on to say the family is proud to recognize the young people of Ilio’s hometown and support them in their future endeavors.

“This year’s winner of the Ilio DiPaolo Scholarhip Fund is Cecilia Bonaventura, flutist,” he added, noting that she began studying the flute at the age of seven and continued to improve at the Luisa D’Annunzio Conservatory of Music in Pescara.

Dennis closed by saying “we wish her much success in the years to come.  On behalf of my Aunt Giovanna, Uncle Tomasso Phelan, and our entire family, we will forever be grateful to all of you at Introdacqua.”

Ron Corbo, scholarship contributor, with Scholarship winner Cecilia Bonaventura, Dennis DiPaolo, Michael DiPaolo

In La Piazza Cavour in Introdacqua, an authentic and artistically – designed cement staircase has the following words on each of the stairs, describing the magnificence of the great town of Introdacqua and its legendary wrestling hero, Ilio DiPaolo, “The Giant Wrestler from Abruzzo.” The English translation reads as follows:

“Between two green pine forests is he hiding in the middle of one?  Our beautiful country is in the valley.  When you arrive, you see it, and you can’t resist!  If you sew onions here, bandits are born!  This village is enchanted, timeless, where fountains gush, and there is excellent wine.  As in a fairy tale, the notes fly here, and the bells hang from the twigs.  It is a magical village, full of art and love where the poet D’Angelo and the wrestler DiPaolo were born.  My Introdacqua, beautiful Introdacqua. ‘Mignorinella’ overlooks the balcony.  Splendid country of musicians and choirs.  The more you live it, the more you fall in love.”

The Scholarship Fund was born after Ilio’s tragic passing in 1995 when friends and family organized the fund in Ilio’s name.  It was led by Bud Carpenter, Jim Kelly, and Randy Ribbeck of the Buffalo Bills.  The fund to date has awarded close to $1.3 million in scholarships and donations for the less fortunate in the community.   Philanthropy has become synonmous with the DiPaolo family with many young people and community organizations well served by the giving led by the DiPaolo family, including late wife Ethel and all the members of the family including grandson Ilio.

Bud Carpenter, president of the Ilio DiPaolo Scholarship Fund and a member of the Greater Bufflalo Sports Hall of Fame, continues to lead the organization to support such groups as the Greater Adaptive Sports and the Center for Handicapped Children, expanding the sholarship to include women’s wrestling as well as Ilio’s hometown in Italy.

The Ilio DiPaolo Scholarship Fund has been honored by the NYS Section VI Hall of Fame, WNY Wrestling and Coaches Hall of Fame, and numerous other organizations, thanking all for their contributions.

About the author

Tony Farina

Tony Farina is an award-winning newspaper and television reporter, former chief speech writer for the NY Attorney General, and former First Assistant Comptroller for the City of Buffalo, in addition to being a U.S. Navy Veteran who served during the Vietnam War.

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