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Planning a family reunion to celebrate a 100-year-old anniversary has stirred up a lot of excitement in Shelby County among members of the Biagi family.
On July 6, members of the Biagi family, not only from Shelby, but from all over Kentucky and the United States, will gather on Magnolia Street at the home of Greg Biagi to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the family’s coming to America.
The arrival of the Biagi family in Shelbyville in 1913 culminated with the establishment of many Biagi businesses, including photographers, engineers and appliance store owners.
“When Smith-McKenney closed, that made Biagi’s the longest running retail business in Shelbyville,” said Stephen Biagi, owner of Biagi’s Appliances. “The funeral home has been here longer, but it’s not really a retail business. We are the oldest retail business in the city.”
And that gives the family a reason to celebrate.
Annibale “Papa” Biagi, who died in 1964 at the age of 67, came to America at age 16 with $25 in his pocket and speaking no English, said Achille Biagi, a retired engineer, founder of Biagi Chance Cummins London Titzer , Inc. on Main Street, who is coordinating the reunion.
“He had just turned sixteen, his dad had just died, and there was abject poverty in Italy, so he came to America,” Biagi said of his father, the family patriarch fondly referred to as ‘”Papa” by the entire clan.
Achille Biagi, who now lives in Eddyville, said that although Shelbyville is home to many Biagis, during the past century, the family has spread out all over the United States and even to other countries.
“We are expecting people from all over [at the reunion]; we will probably have close to two hundred people,” he said. “They are coming from Georgia, Maryland, California, Illinois, Texas and Louisiana.”
He said that his cousin, Ugo, with whom he has been corresponding in Italy, won’t be able to make the reunion, so he plans to send him greetings and lots of photos.
“My son, Paul, who lives in France, wanted to come, too, but he couldn’t make it, either,” Achille Biagi said, chuckling as he compared his son’s experience to his father’s.
Biagi's son was in Paris 20 years ago on a tour of Europe, and he really liked it there, so, even though he couldn’t speak the language, he found a wife and settled there, Biagi said.
Stephen Biagi told the family story of how “Papa” did much the same thing 100 years ago.
Love at first words
“He met his wife [Cesira Pelosi] here; she taught him English,” Stephen Biagi said. “We were always told he didn’t speak any English, and the first words she taught him to say were ‘I love you.’ Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know. He didn’t know what he was saying apparently, but she was pretty cunning.”
In Shelbyville in 1913, young Biagi encountered the Pelosi family, and working at their ice cream parlor, located where Hays Law Offices are now, at 521 East Main St.
“His very first venture into business was he had a fruit-and-vegetable business, but he lived in the house on 8th Street where the men’s shelter is; that was his house for years and years before they bought the house on Magnolia,” Stephen Biagi said. “He started a B.F. Goodrich tire and battery dealership on the corner of 6th and Washington, and that’s how this business [Biagi’s Appliances] actually started. They sold Maytag and Frigidaire appliances, and then they moved into the building where we are now in the mid-forties. Yes, my father continued on, and he and my uncle developed the business more into appliances and electronics.”
The location of the reunion has been as strategically planned as the rest of the event, Stephen Biagi said.
“We’re going to have it at my brother’s house on Magnolia Ave, which is where my grandparents lived when I was growing up,” he said. “It’s Greg’s house now. My grandparents lived there, and my dad moved in there with all of us in [nineteen] sixty, and then my brother Greg, so three generations have lived in that house.”
Greg Biagi said he is thrilled to be holding such a milestone family reunion at his home that contains so much of the family’s history.
“My grandparents lived here in nineteen thirty-nine, till my parents moved in, then we moved in; we have lived here for sixteen years,” he said. “I am really looking forward to it.”
Stephen Biagi said what he is looking forward to at the reunion is hearing more about papa’s early exploits in America.
“The focus is going to be on him [Annibale], and anybody that has any old photographs of him are going to bring them, and anybody who knows any stories about him is going to tell them,” he said.
Achille Biagi said he didn’t want to share the story publically just yet of what papa expected to find in America, because he wanted to be the one to tell that tale first on July 6.
“I don’t want to blow my story that I am going to tell at the reunion, but I asked him that [why he came to America] a number of times, and his answer was always the same,” he said.
He said that one thing he did want to say is that he’s glad his father made the decision he did.
“I’m so glad he came to Shelbyville instead of some other place,” he said.