Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Colacinos and the Apas – The Rest of the Story!

by Anthony Apa

On April 6th 1909 13-year-old Antonio Colacino and his father, Dominico, boarded S.S. Moltke in Naples, Italy and sailed for a new life in America.  Their journey across the Atlantic lasted 13 days ultimately arriving at Ellis Island in New York on April 18th.  I can only imagine the rush of feelings (fear, hope, joy, wonderment) they had on this sunny mild 70-degree spring day.  As with millions of immigrants, they weaved through the Ellis Island immigration process and then journeyed halfway across the U.S. settling in Chadron, Nebraska.
Antonio was born in Cortale, Italy on August 21, 1898 to Dominico and Mary Colacino.  The village of Cortale is in the Province of Catanzaro, Region of Calabria of southern Italy.  It is not unlike many ancient hill towns (comune) in southern Italy inhabited with about 2,000 residents.  Cortale is perched on a hilltop to defend itself from invaders and protected from harm by its patron Saint, San Giovanni Battista.   Cortale is situated in the middle of the “toe” of Italy about 10 miles from the Tyrrhenian Sea on the west and Ionian Sea on the east.  It basks in the Mediterranean sun and climate. The hillsides are dotted with olive trees and village roads are narrow and steep.  As you weave through the village you will find the occasional piazza (city square) where vendors sell vegetables, cured meats, cheeses, and flowers.  The residents sit on benches and play cards and discuss politics.
Seven years after the birth of Antonio, his future bride, Costanza Ape (pronounced Ahh’ peh’), was born on November 3rd, 1905.  She was born in a similar small Italian mountain village two hours to the east.  Crosia is perched above the Ionian Sea coast in Province of Cosenza, Region of Calabria.  

Crosia lies along the Ionian Sea in southern Italy
Costanza was born to Coluf Menotti Ape and Consiglia Curia. Before Consiglia’s birth, Coluf departed Naples on July 17th, 1905 and arrived in America on August 1st.  Coluf would establish himself working for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad for seven long years before he would send for his daughter, Costanza, and Consiglia. Costanza was seven years old and arrived with Consiglia at Ellis Island on the SS Berlin May 15th, 1912. Their passage was paid by Coluf and their destination was Rapid City, South Dakota.
The village of Crosia that Consiglia and Costanza left behind was across the valley 1.5 miles to the northwest from Calopezzati, Coluf’s natal village.  Both villages are like Cortale. They are small comune basking in the Mediterranean climate with palm trees and cactus along the roads and olive trees on the hillsides that have been harvested each October for centuries.    
These immigrant stories are not dissimilar to the stories of millions of Italian immigrants that came to America in search of a better life and escaping the poverty of southern Italy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  What makes this immigrant story unique to Chadron, is that these proud Italian immigrants decided to settle in northwestern Nebraska and southwestern South Dakota, ultimately converging in Chadron, Nebraska.  These two families merged and yielded three restaurants and a well-known Dance Hall and Supper Club in Chadron.  These restaurants and Dance Hall are still discussed today, although the stories are becoming rare as time passes and memories fade.
These immigrants are more formally known as Dominico and Mary Colacino, the parents of Tony (Antonio) Colacino, and Nick (Coluf) and Angelina (Cosiglia) Apa (the “e” was replaced by an “a”), the parents of Nancy (Costanza) Colacino (Apa).  Tony and Nancy’s Supper Club was the subject of an earlier story in Chadron’s Golden Age Courier by Larry Miller in 2012.  The story was titled, “A blast from the past – COLACINO’S.” Now, as Paul Harvey, said, here is “the rest of the story.”
By January 1920, Tony Colacino was living with his parents, Dominic and Mary, as renters at 103 Maple Street not far from the railroad yard where Tony, at age 12, started his 47-year career working for Chicago and Northwestern Railroad.  Three months later (June), Tony would marry his wife of 38 years, Nancy Apa, in Rapid City, South Dakota.  Tony was 21 and Nancy was 15.  Family lore states that their marriage was pre-arranged by their parents, but it is unknown if their marriage arrangement was completed in Italy or the U.S.  A few years later, Tony and Nancy moved up the street to 115 Maple where they welcomed their first daughter, Mary Catherine Colacino in March of 1930.  In the early 1930’s, the Colacino’s tried their hand at the restaurant business, in the White Lunch, located on the west side of first and Main Street.  Tony and Nancy operated the White Lunch until the early-1950’s. One of their waitresses was a young Chadron High School student, Frances LaRue Overturf.  She worked for Tony and Nancy in the White Lunch in the late 1930’s before and after her graduation in 1937.
Tony and Nancy had groceries regularly delivered.  The person delivering groceries was Louie Apa, Nancy’s youngest brother.  This is when Fran met, Louie.  Louie and Fran Apa were married in 1938.  Then, as they say, life happened.  Louie was drafted into the Navy in 1943 and, as with most lives in the 1940’s, everything was unsettled before, during, and after WWII.  During this time, the Colacino’s continued operating the White Lunch. 
Louie Apa operated the popular Sun Confectionary

After WWII Louie and Fran Apa settled in Chadron and ran the Sun Confectionary located on the east side of Main Street, just north of the Post Office. The Sun Confectionary was home to many High School and Chadron State College students as a “hang-out” to get ice cream or a Coca Cola.  Louie and Fran transitioned into the restaurant business when Tony and Nancy Colacino sold them the White Lunch in the early 1950’s.  Tony and Nancy moved east of town to what became Colacino’s Supper Club and Dance Hall. This was the continuation of what became a four-decade run of restaurants operated by Apa’s and Colacino’s.
 King Louie's on West 2nd Street
Louie and Fran left the White Lunch and started King Louie’s café on north side of west second street in 1955.  At the same time, the Colacino’s were operating Colacino’s Supper Club east of Chadron.  Louie became known as “King Louie” and King Louie’s café was known for its Saturday lunch specials and chicken fried steaks.  The Colacino’s were famous for their spaghetti and meatballs and pastries. Louie and Fran expanded their operation to a second restaurant, the 24-hour restaurant known as King Louie’s Grill, on the west side of Chadron.  It was positioned east of the Truck Stop and its primary service was to feed weary truck drivers and the 2 a.m. bar crowd.  They left the restaurant business in the late 1970’s.  Nancy Colacino died in 1958, but the Supper Club continued until the early 1970’s.  Tony retired and later died in California in 1986. Frances Apa died in 1976 followed by Louie in 1994.

Inside "King Louie's" Cafe.  Recognize anyone?
(Okay, Louie – seated in the center – is the easy one to identify!)
The restaurant business was a “family affair” for the Colacino’s and Apa’s. When the United States calls itself a “Nation of Immigrants,” the story behind these two families epitomizes this slogan. They left small southern Italian mountain villages with only what they could carry.  They endured a two-week sea voyage, entered the United States, and became patriotic citizens of their new adopted country in search of the American dream. These immigrant ancestors created as series of Chadron restaurants that are the source of many stories from the 1930’s to the 1970’s.  If you personally don’t hold any of these memories, or were born after 1970, and want to learn more, take a walk down Main Street Chadron today.  Find a greying baby boomer and ask them if they have a story about eating or working at Colacino’s Supper Club, the Sun Confectionary, White Lunch, King Louie’s Cafe, or King Louie’s Grill.  If they were raised in Chadron or attended Chadron State College during those decades, I would prepare yourself to listen to a fond memory of simpler times that ends with a large smile.
Editor's Note: Many thanks to Tony Apa, the author of this story and the youngest son of Louie and Fran Apa – and the namesake of Tony Colacino.  This story was developed with the help of his sisters Bunny Nitsch (Apa) and Lucy Bartlett (Apa).  We have lots of memories from all of the Colacino-Apa locations mentioned in the story.  The White Lunch down by the old Safeway at 1st and Main, playing the pinball machines at the Sun, lunches at King Louie's, dances at Colacino's, and so much more.  (See additional photos in our Early Chadron Gallery) Thanks, Tony, for sharing a great story!