The first generation of brave individuals who left their Italian homeland faced numerous hardships towards their goal of a better life. Many of those Italian immigrants who settled in Ellwood CIty established a foothold in the neighborhood that eventually became known as “little Italy.” From their regional dialects, religious celebrations and, of course, excellent food, they brought every aspect of Italy with them (trying to re-create their homeland).
Ellwood City’s Little Italy extended from Rosannah Street to Franklin Avenue with Hillside Avenue and Division Avenue in between. In Little Italy, everyone was family sharing Old World traditions including baking, canning and growing their own food.
To help achieve their goal of a better life, Little Italy contained a nucleus of vibrant first generation immigrant-owned businesses which included a number of grocery stores, catering services, pizza shops, bakeries, beauty shops, service stations, florists, seamstresses, dry cleaners, and social clubs.
It is evident today that the first and second generation Ellwood City Italian-American families have not lost their cultural identity and still hold on to their traditions by their influence in our businesses, churches, schools and organizations.
Frank Rocco, an Ellwood City native and former Penn State assistant football coach, has a new career title: Author. Rocco has published his first book, “Secrets Are Forever,” a fictional story set in a college town about two college student-athletes who enter into a biracial relationship.
Rocco, who graduated from Lincoln High School in 1956 and began his career as a high school teacher and coach, was hired by Penn State football coach Joe Paterno in 1982 to join the university’s athletic staff. While there, Rocco served in such capacities as assistant football coach and athletic administrator.
In 2000, Rocco left to become director of football operations at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. He was reunited with this son, also named Frank, a Liberty assistant coach at the time and former Penn State quarterback. Four years later, the elder Rocco retired and returned to State College, where he still lives.
His years on the college athletic scene led him to write “Secrets Are Forever,” the story about a black college football player and a white woman on a basketball scholarship who must deal with consequences of their choices and relationship — their dilemmas, fears, hopes and joys.
“I coached a long time and interacted with so many people,” Rocco said. “I saw many people were negative about biracial relationships and children. I saw many people had a very negative attitude about it. I wanted to put a positive face on it and give it a heartfelt, promising ending.”
The plot revolves around sophomore quarterback Cody Williams and freshman basketball player Kelsey Pedersen. They enter into a relationship and Kelsey becomes pregnant, then terrified while Cody goes in a downward spiral. They leave the destiny of their unborn child to their parents, who urge them to give the baby up for adoption. Ultimately, Kelsey gives birth to twins who secretly are separated. In the end, there is a reunion.
“There is enough football in the book for a football fan to feel connected, but the book is not about football,” Rocco said. “It is about families, conflicts and drama. By the reviews, you can see the book resonates with many different people.”
Rocco started writing after retiring from football, taking a course in the Life Long Learning Institute at Penn State. He joined a writing group and wrote a three-page story about biracial twin brothers who were adopted at birth and 20 years later found each other by chance.
“At the end of the story, I wrote ‘This may not be the end of the story,’ but I don’t know why I did,” Rocco said. “The people in my group encouraged me to make the story into a book, and that is what I did.”
“Secrets Are Forever” is for sale at Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com and eBooks.com.
Rocco, the son of George and Nettie Rocco, was born and raised in Ellwood City. He went to the Blessed Virgin Mary School, now the Holy Redeemer Elementary School, until the ninth grade.
After graduating from Lincoln High, he attended Juniata College, where he met his wife, Ann.