South Philadelphia Lions show their pride

Barbara Ricci presented an award to 3rd District police captain Frank Milillo at Tuesday’s gala.

Staff Photo by Bill Chenevert

Barbara Ricci doesn’t seem 82. The retired teacher and resident of the 2300 block of South Woodstock Street is clearly a beloved fixture of the South Philadelphia Lions Club and, on the phone, she sounds 22. Taking on a fair share of duties for the club, she did a bit of emceeing on Tuesday evening at the Waterfall Room, 2015 S. Water St., and as she took hold of the microphone another member hollered “go get ’em, Barb!”

She loves being a Lion and was even a Lioness, the all-female version of the club that merged with the South Philadelphia Lions in 2008. She says, worldwide, they boast 1.4 million members in 206 countries.

“At present, we have about 55 members. We do a lot of good,” she said of the local constituents.

This week, they honored the three South Philly Philadelphia Police district captains in celebration of their 81st charter anniversary.

Ricci listed the good deeds her club takes on, all of them with at least some form of fundraising involved: a Valentine’s dinner; an Italian Festival in October; a Christmas luncheon for blind and visually impaired adults and children and another for Hispanic youths at St. Thomas Aquinas, 1719 Morris St.; volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House; donations to organizations that serve the blind; $2,000 of annual scholarships to four outstanding South Philly students; and a football banquet that honors players, coaches and parents.

“Our motto is we serve – our slogan is liberty, intelligence and our nation’s safety,” Ricci said. A former president led a toast on Tuesday that’s said to be used around the world: “Not above you, not beneath you, but with you.”

Ricci remembers Tuesday lunches in the 9th Street Italian Market at Palumbo’s, the famous restaurant and club that burned down in 1994. Melvin Jones is said to be the founding member, establishing a charter in ’35.

“I was invited to a Christmas luncheon for blind children, and I sat at a table with seven blind children and three adults and I wasn’t a member at the time,” Nick Montone, a resident of the 500 block of St. Michael Drive and a 50-year Lion, said. “The children got up and sang Christmas songs. I was so touched by that moment that I decided I was going to become a member.”

Another member, Jason Douglas, has often led spirited dances and celebrations with the same children.

Montone says “it’s a nice organization to belong to.” The 77-year-old banker and father of two told a story that gala co-chair Rita DiAntonio joked is a well-shared one. After studying at Penn’s Wharton school, he was encouraged to attend Brown University but didn’t want to attend if it entailed typing. But his wife stepped up and offered her typing skills for three years – he had heard of Bob Fosse gifting Gwen Verdon a gold life-saver pendant when she stepped in for Liza Minnelli in “Chicago” and had a custom-made life-saver pin made for his wife.

“I had it special made and my wife wears it like a code of honor,” Montone said.

At Tuesday’s party, attendees recited the pledge of allegiance and Nancy Sumner led the room in singing “God Bless America.” Rev. Nick Martorano, a 2010 South Philly Review Difference Maker, led a prayer blessing Lions supporters and wishing them to receive new members, something Ricci and Montone both admit the club needs.

Captains Louis Campione (1st District), Frank Milillo (3rd District) and Deborah Francis (17th District) were honored, though Francis was not able to attend because her grandmother passed away this past weekend. Milillo accepted a plaque and said “I hope your organization is around for many more years.” Campione graciously said “it’s not us, it’s the officers out there” but thanked the Lions and said “you do a lot for the community.”

Contact Staff Writer Bill Chenevert at or ext. 117.

Barbara Ricci presented an award to 3rd District police captain Frank Milillo at Tuesday’s gala. Staff Photo by Bill Chenevert

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