By Robert Lucke
That Havre had a huge Italian community at one time is a given. Much of it has disappeared now, but still there are a few old names that are in Havre to this day. Maybe no one knows more or lives so closely to the old Havre Italian community yet than Mary Filicetti.
Consider this. She still lives in the house in east Havre that her mother and father bought just after they were married. Not only that, but Mary and all of her brothers and sister were born in that house which was built in 1907 and her folks purchased it in 1915. Her father was Francesco Filicetti and came directly from Italy around 1907 as an 11-year-old boy with his father. He went to work as a waterboy for the Great Northern Railway.
Filicetti's mother came to Havre in 1913.
"Mother came over here to marry my dad. She came to Havre to live with her sister, Mrs. Granier, until they were married," Filicetti said. "Mother said it took 30 days on a ship to get from Italy to New York and when they left Italy, it was warm and it was cold in December in New York and they didn't even have any warm clothes."
"She was 17 years old and traveled with a female companion," continued Filicetti. "She had a brother who worked in the coal mines in Pennsylvania who met her in New York and got her on a train. She couldn't speak a word of English and got by only by gesturing for what she needed. Brave, wasn't she? She and dad were married on March 29, 1914."
Children born to the Filicettis were Sam, Natali, Mary, Antoinette, Carmelle and a nephew, Ben, was raised with the other children.
As with most of Havre's Italian community, they were strong Catholics.
"In fact, during my mother's later years she never missed a mass ever. She walked to church every day of her life. We children were taught to love God and to love our parents," Filicetti related.
These days Mary Filicetti cannot understand how the house could have ever held so many people.
"Mother and dad lived here with her three brothers-in-law and us children. Now there isn't enough room for me alone," said Filicetti, looking around and laughing. "They all worked for the railroad. I worked for the railroad myself and counting all the years that my father, my uncles and I worked, we had over 150 years service with the railroad, all in Havre."
"I remember hearing about a big railroad strike in 1922. My dad wouldn't cross the picket line, so he purchased some cows and sold milk until the strike was over," Filicetti said. "My mother would get up at 3 a.m. each day and sterilize bottles and fill them with milk along with everything else she had to do during the day."
Italian was the spoken language in the Filicetti house until Mary and her siblings went to school.
"Mother always insisted we speak English. When we went to school, we didn't speak a word of English," Filicetti related. "I speak it yet today, but there are not many Italian people left here to speak with. We always had to speak English at home after we learned it, but when we went to Mrs. Granier's house, we had to speak Italian."
Havre's Italian community, most all located in the east end, would get together at each other's homes to play cards and talk. Children were seen but not heard and were content with just about anything when it came to gift giving, Filicetti remembered.
"When we came home from school every day, there was mother at the front door with milk and cookies," Filicetti recalled. "That was the way of all Italians. We knew that we were loved very much and we were very happy. Sometimes I think that children today don't know what they are missing."
Favorite meal? Don't need three guesses for that.
"Spaghetti and meatballs," Filicetti said, while smiling. "As we grew older, we liked the American food. We brought that into the house and either Americanized the Italian food or the other way around."
In later years, Mrs. Filicetti lived in close proximity to the Shanty Motel. She was always sharing a meal or something out of her garden with motel guests.
And talk about those Italian gardens in east Havre.
"All the Italians had great gardens. I remember one time when mother was going to cut down her garden tomatoes from 125 plants to only 50. Italians were great for vegetables and raised excellent tomato plants," Filicetti said.
Mary Filicetti started working for Woolworth in Havre at 11 cents an hour. In time she managed the store, being one of only three women Woolworth managers in the United States. Then she went to work as a bookkeeper for Havre Jobbing. Then she turned to the railroad, and retired from there with 31 years of seniority.
So how large was Havre's Italian community? No one knows, but Filicetti remembered some of the family names in Havre. They are Alfred Bachini, Oscar Bachini, Vosco Bachini, Michael DeRosa, Alfred Barsotti, Mike Dedaro, Paul English, Frank Filicetti, Rosario Filicetti, Nick Filicetti, Joe Faltrino, Louis Granier, Vincent Granier, Mike Granier, Mikel Lencioni, Pete Lini, Mack Lini, Nero Mariani, Adello Mariani, Joseph Marra, Frank Marra, Tito Mosini, Caesar Morelli, Frank Morelli, John Morelli, Vito Morelli, Sirofino Mazzuca, Sam Mazzuca, Julius Morelli, Angelo Papillo, Tony Possenti, Sam Possenti, Engeni Priete, Daniel Perissini, Tony Perissini and James Sanato.
What a history for Havre, and to think that so much is still easy to find. Just ask Mary Filicetti!