ALUMNUS OF THE MONTH
This month’s Alumnus of the Month spotlight belongs to
Antonia “Tonia” (Vitale) Alfano, Class of 1984.
Not only does Tonia Alfano co-own one of the most popular restaurants in Jacksonville, she is also the first “Alumnus of the Month” spotlights that does not feature someone that graduated from Routt Catholic High School. Read on to find out why we found the story of this great woman and family so intriguing…
In 1978, Mr. and Mrs. Vitale along with their three children, Tonia (13), Sam (11), and Suzie (2), moved to the United States of America. Of all the wonderful cities and towns in this great nation, they found themselves in Jacksonville, IL. Devout Catholics, Mr. and Mrs. Vitale were thrilled to find out that there was an opportunity to provide their children with a Catholic education right here in Jacksonville. Although nobody in the family spoke a word of English when they first got to Jacksonville, Mr. Vitale went to the Church of Our Saviour where he met the late Monsignor Driscoll who also spoke Italian, and found out all the information he needed to enroll his oldest two children at OSS.
Tonia began her OSS education as an 7th grade student and was immediately immersed in the culture. She quickly made friends and her English improved every single day. Shortly after moving to Jacksonville her parents opened Leo’s Pizza and, although she was only 13 and her brother only 11, they were expected to help their parents at the restaurant when they were not in school.
After graduating from 8th grade, Tonia attended Routt Catholic High School for her freshman and sophomore years. She loved the school, adored her friends, and although she only attended Routt for those two years, she still considers Routt to be her high school. Her classmates agree, always sending her invitations to their class reunions. Leo’s was really starting to take off though, and with her being the oldest and becoming fluent in English, her parents needed her. In true Sicilian fashion, Tonia put the needs of her family before her own and became their right-hand woman, no longer attending high school while in Jacksonville. Every summer the Vitale’s would travel back to Italy to visit family and that is where Tonia took extra classes and officially graduated from high school.
Tonia has fond memories of attending Routt and Our Saviour, mainly for the relationships she was able to establish but also for the memories she has of eating lunch at school. “We only got to eat pasta and different types of Italian food (at home), so when we got (to school) and had different American foods like PB&J and Mac & Cheese, we couldn’t wait,” says Tonia. “For my brother and I, lunch time was a delicacy…years later I realized my Mom’s food was the real delicacy!”
Immediately after graduating high school, Tonia went into the family business full time and started her family. Together she and her husband Sam had three beautiful children: Pete, Filie, and the late Leo, who tragically passed in 2013. That summer was an extremely hard time for the Jacksonville and surrounding communities, as four young adults tragically lost their lives within one month of each other but even amongst the tragedy, when Tonia looks back she remains positive. “The Routt community and the Jacksonville community, we consider our family...I don’t think anyone could’ve done more than our community had and for that I will always be grateful,” says Tonia. “I love my Jacksonville. I would not trade it for any town in America. It would be nice if it was a little bit warmer in the winter! But still the Our Saviour, Routt, and entire Jacksonville community is one of a kind in my eyes and always will be!”
What started as a six-table restaurant in 1978 has now turned into a thriving business that seats over 150 people. There are three families that run Leo’s Pizza: the Alfanos, Tonia’s brother, Sam Vitale, and her sister, Suzie Lansaw. She is proud to say they are now on the 3rd generation, which is her daughter, Filie and her son, Pete. At any given time a customer may see just one of the families or all of the families working together, depending on how busy they are.
Although she is an owner, Tonia leads by example and can be seen doing everything from washing dishes, to cooking food, to cleaning tables, to serving the good people of Jacksonville. Tonia doesn’t have just one favorite item on the menu, although she did admit “pizza is my number one but my pasta I can’t live without! I am very proud of our menu and would never put anything on there that I don’t like. It has to be flavorful!” The Leo’s family celebrated 40 years of business last September and they could not be more proud, as well as thankful. “I want to thank the Our Saviour and Routt community for helping my family get started!” says Tonia. “All in all my family is loud but big-hearted. Everyone has been there for us and I always try to be there for everyone else. I try to remind myself every day, ‘what does God expect of me?’ And I try my best to do just that.”
If you know of a Routt graduate who you would like to nominate as a future Alumnus of the Month, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.