By Nora Ridgeway
For more than 120 years, the Potenza Lodge has served as a safe haven for North Denver’s Italian community. Though the present day lodge on 38th Avenue and Shoshone Street differs in many ways from the mutual aid-based society founded in 1899, the lodge principles remain steady: amore (love), benevolenza (good will), and pace (peace).
Early newspaper articles in Denver illustrate public misperceptions about the lodge, reporting that it was a secret society of immigrants from the city of Potenza, Italy. While it’s true the lodge was composed of hundreds of Italian immigrants from Potenza, The Denver Times, a daily paper that ran from 1872 to 1926, came to the conclusion in 1901 that it was not a secret society as they had initially reported less than two years prior.
“It is composed of men of means and influence and promises to become the most powerful body of Italians in Denver,” the newspaper wrote. According to “The History of The Potenza Lodge,” a 250-plus page book written and compiled in 2013 by three involved community members, inaugural members banded together to obtain employment, learn English, and find and share legal resources to fight discrimination they were facing in Denver.
Unfortunately, little is known of who these initial members were, as the dedication of the history book explains that the first group of officers to be elected were the only individuals named in lodge minutes.
Originally, membership was strictly limited to men. Members paid 25 cents in monthly dues. Dues were raised to 75 cents per month when the lodge hired a doctor and raised again to $1 per month once sick benefits were added in.
Per interviews conducted on behalf of the Colorado Historical Society, members were required to attend every member’s funeral or pay a fine. In one such interview, Joseph De Carlo Jr. recalls his parents leaving the lodge because “they couldn’t afford all the people who were dying.”
Frank Percey, current lodge president, remembers his Italian immigrant father describing the lodge as a place for families to gather to “console each other and bring the homeland to 38th Avenue to Potenza Lodge.”
Today, lodge members pay $50 in annual dues. Due to more recent changes in the bylaws, women are now permitted to join the men’s organization, though many women have opted instead to join the ladies auxiliary group that was founded in 1949.
Percey’s cousin Toni Clark was the first, and so far only, woman to serve as vice president of the men’s side. Percey is quick to acknowledge how times have changed, stating the lodge is no longer used as an employment hub as most members are retired or already have jobs.
“We try to help each other in different ways,” Percey said. “But it’s not like it was a long time ago.”
Percey worries about the future of the lodge.
“The sad thing is … young people aren’t joining things like this,” he said. “It’s not in the realm of things for them to be coming down there and having a meeting and talking about having a feast or putting a dance together.”
In meetings, Percey says they often reflect on their aging membership, lamenting “most of our members that were there if we needed any help are sitting in Mount Olivet,” a Catholic cemetery in Wheat Ridge. Percey said the lodge sustains itself through renting the space for large events.
These days, Percey notes the space is often rented for quinceañeras, which he believes is a reflection of how the neighborhood has changed. With the pandemic prohibiting large events, officers of the lodge sent letters to all members asking for financial contributions to make up for this loss. Officers were able to raise all the funds in house, a fact that Percey believes illustrates how dedicated members are to “keeping the lodge going and keeping their heritage going.”
Percey remains hopeful about the future, pointing to the continued success of their annual feast and procession honoring Saint Rocco held in partnership with Our Lady of Mount Carmel church.
“When it comes to the feast, it’s amazing how all the members pull together,” he said.
Each year, individuals and groups vie for the coveted opportunity to carry the statue of St. Rocco through the streets of Denver during the procession. Every August, hundreds of people can be seen talking, laughing, and enjoying Italian cuisine in the parking lot outside of the lodge, part of the ongoing legacy of Italians in North Denver.
Read more about the lodge history and find ongoing events at potenzalodge.com.