There were huge portions of food, fellowship, fun and entertainment inside the Knights of Columbus Dillon Council Home on Douglas Avenue in North Providence for the Johnston Democratic Town Committee’s unique super show that was entitled “A Tribute to Frankie Valli.”
“Wow,” exclaimed Mayor Joseph Polisena after Mike Panarello, a DPW foreman who portrays the Four Season’s legendary falsetto singer, put on an outstanding performance. “I heard he was good; but this show was absolutely incredible!”
For starters, as JDTC Chairman Richard J. DelFino Jr. said, “We have Arnie to thank for this great night and Linda Folcarlli to thank for all the super raffle prizes. This was his idea, he brought it to the committee and we went from there.”
Arnie is Arnie Vecchione, who is Johnston’s long-time DPW Director, who also happens to be Panarello’s boss.
“What a show Michael put on tonight,” said Vecchione. “I’m glad so many Johnstonians were here and actually heard just how great he does Frankie Valli.”
However, even before attendees enjoyed a sumptuous dinner prepared by classic chef and DPW foreman Peter DelPonte that began with salad and included salad, pink vodka sauce penne, boneless stuffed chicken breast and rice and green beans and ended with an ice cream brownie sundae, the famed banquet hall was filled with applause.
Although there was consistent applause after Panarello performed two-dozen of Frankie Valli’s famed hits as well as several medleys, Polisena delivered an emotional presentation that tugged at people’s heart-strings.
“Tonight we are going to pay tribute to and honor a great person … someone who has given over 50 years of unselfish service to Johnston,” the Mayor began. “That person has held public office … that person has been a role model for all of us … that person was a member of the Town Council and served in the State Legislature. And that person is still working hard for our people today.”
Polisena, who was holding a blue folio that included an Official Commendation from the Town of Johnston, continued before adding “that person is 92 years old … that person is our beloved Mary Cerra.”
Applause then filled the room as Town Sergeant Steve Mullane escorted Cerra to center stage. The applause continued and was followed by presentation of the commendation that Polisena said was “for decades upon decades of dedicated public service, unselfish commitment and outstanding diligence to the Citizens of Johnston.”
But Polisena wasn’t through showering Cerra – who is perhaps the JDTC’s oldest and most respected member – with gifts. He took a decorated gift bag and took out a wooden case that contained a key to “our town, not city” as the Mayor said “that was saved for special occasions for special people. Therefore, Mary, it is with great pleasure that I present you with a key to the Town of Johnston … not the vault!”
Cerra then thanked Polisena and “all my friends here in this room” then made her way back to her seat alongside long-time friend Connie Laorenza with Mullane at her side. She then settled in and listened to Panarello’s prolific performance that surpassed everyone’s expectations during an evening that took a page out of the Four Seasons famed hit December, 1963 that begins with the line “Oh what a night!”
Make that a great night and as the lyrics go “I didn’t even know her name.”
However, last Friday everyone knew the names Mary Cerra and Mike Panarello, the co-headliners as it worked out for an excellent evening that featured super singing and speeches and classic camaraderie that have become the JDTC’s trademark and has led to recent years of unmatched success.