SPARTA, NJ – It was a small but dedicated group of people who gathered for the annual UNICO celebration of Columbus Day. On Sunday approximately a dozen people gathered to offer prayers and sing the Star Spangled Banner and God Bless America.

UNICO member Glen Vetrano welcomed everyone and former councilman Gil Gibbs led the group in the pledge of allegiance. 

Sparta UNICO Chapter President Ray Shupak made his remarks about the history of Christopher Columbus.  Every year it seems there needs to be a fight for the recognition of the exploration achievements of Christopher Columbus, Shupak said. 

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“We are reminded that groups like UNICO are among the caretakers of Columbus Day,” Shupak said.

Most are aware of the start of Columbus’ voyage in 1492, seeking a route to Asia with the support of Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.  While he did not make it to Asia, mistaking Cuba for China and thinking Hispaniola could be Japan where he established the first colony in the Americas, Columbus returned to Spain in 1493 bringing gold and spices.

Shupak said, “yes, he also brought ‘Indians’ with him” but the unfortunate truth is that was the way it was done in those times.  That is not what we do today but it should not take away from the accomplishments of Columbus who continued to cross the Atlantic several more times, before he died in 1506, Shupak said.

“He was a man of his time,” Shupak said, similar to other men such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, John F Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson.  “Each man believed in his time, that their actions were appropriate and were for the betterment of their people and country.”

Some other notable dates in the Columbus Day timeline:

Columbus Day was first celebrated in 1792, in New York’s Columbian Order commemorated the 300th anniversary of his voyage.

One hundred years later President Benjamin Harris issued a proclamation encouraging celebration of the 400th anniversary.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt made Columbus Day a national holiday in 1937, having been lobbied by the Knights of Columbus. 

Shupak shared the names of notable Italian Americans reminding the group that October is Italian-Heritage month.

“The motto of UNICO is Service above Self,” Shupak said, thanking the people who attended. The UNICO prayer was recited and the Italian flag was raised on the second flagpole and Gary and Laura Duva put a wreath at the monument.

A Benediction closed the ceremony.