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Broadcasting duo given Italian Festival honor 2 others also added to Flags of Fame

To their listeners, they were known as Mama and Papa.

To others, they were known as philanthropists, performers and a bridge between the old country and Buffalo.

Longtime radio broadcasters Emelino and Mary Rico were among the four names added to the Sorrento Cheese Italian Heritage Festival's Flags of Fame, a local Italian-American hall of fame, at a ceremony Monday in Filippo's Ristorante on Hertel Avenue.

Joining the Ricos on the list were State Supreme Court Justice Frank Caruso and former Common Council Member Dominic Bonifacio.

Bonifacio, who was honored for helping create the Massachusetts Avenue Project, formerly heading the Butler-Mitchell Boys Club and aiding in other West Side-related projects, said he considered the award a tremendous honor.

"I will remember this until the day I leave this earth," he told the audience.

Lenny and Rosetta Rico, Mary and Emelino's children, accepted the award on behalf of their parents, who died in 1993 and 1985, respectively.

"My parents were pretty much the center for Italian-American immigrants," said Lenny Rico, who continues broadcasting their show, "Casa Rico," to this day.

He said that listeners tuned into their shows on WWOL and WHLD because the Ricos spoke Italian and performed serial skits and other entertainment.

"They played primarily Italian music that was not available here," he said, adding that his parents also played mandolin and guitar.

"Mom and Dad were hams," he said, laughing.

He said they appealed to other European immigrants as well.

"In the 1930s, there weren't many Polish radio programs," he said. "So the closest European connection was the Italian show."

Carl Russo, the 97 Rock radio host who presented the awards, said, "It was a common sight to see mothers and grandmothers making spaghetti sauce [and listening to 'Casa Rico'] all across Buffalo."

Apart from their radio show, the Ricos encouraged performing arts in the area.

"They did a lot to promote culture," Rosetta Rico said. "They did things like bring operas into the city. . . . They were teachers for a lot of people."

They were also known as philanthropists and supporters of projects, such as Our Lady of Fatima Shrine in Lewiston.

"One of the legacies they left us was 'do good and forget about it,' " said Rosetta Rico.

Images of the inductees will appear on flags that will be added to the 23 Flags of Fame banners that fly along Hertel Avenue during the Italian Festival. This year's festival begins Thursday and continues through Sunday. Hours are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and until 10 p.m. Sunday.

e-mail: kreedy@buffnews.com

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