Culture club: Attorney Ralph Tambasco embraces ancestry with Italian Heritage Society of Indiana


By Mark Ambrogi

Ralph Tambasco spends countless hours devoted to the Italian Heritage Society of Indiana.

Tambasco, the president of the society, has been a member of the organization since shortly after it was formed in 1993. The Geist resident is currently serving his fourth different stint as president.

“It’s a passion but I’m also doing this for my grandchildren,” Tambasco said. “I want them to be proud of this because this heritage has done a lot to build America. They also suffered for it. They came in at a time when immigration, especially from southern Europe, was not look at favorably. They were also not looked at favorably because (as Catholics) they came into a predominantly Protestant country. In spite of those difficulties, they prospered because they knew what their goal was and knew why there were here. They made successes of themselves and they made a new life here and they did so for their families and descendants. They contributed a lot to this country.”

Tambasco, 63, said time management is the key to juggling his work with the IHSI and his Tambasco & Associates law practice.

“I was often asked by a former board member, ‘When do you practice law?’” Tambasco said. “When that time opens up, what am I going to do with it? I could sit back and take a coffee break, but I know I have to do something for the society so let me fit that in now and address that issue. That’s basically how I live my life.”

Matthew Iaria, a member of the board of directors, praised Tambasco’s vision of future of the IHSI.

“He’s good-hearted, smart, honest and hard-working,” Iaria, a co-owner of Iaria’s Italian Restaurant in Indianapolis, said. “He’s extremely passionate in his speeches and conversation. We’re lucky to have him in the IHSI.”

Tambasco, who grew up in the New York City, handles criminal defense work along with some family law and personal injury cases in his downtown Indianapolis practice. He moved to Indianapolis from San Diego, Calif., where he attended law school, in 1984.

Both sets of Tambasco’s grandparents came from Pisciotta, Italy, which is located in the province of Salerno, in the region of Campania, south of Naples. His father was born in the U.S. and his mother was a baby when she came over from Italy.

“A lot of the customs we learned are antiquated,” Tambasco said. “Italy hasn’t remained in a vacuum. It’s progressed. What we try to do is not only preserve those great old customs, but try to incorporate the new habits and customs of Italy. We try to be as inclusive as we can.

“The Italian Heritage Society has an interesting mix of people from all over Italy, from the northern part to all the way down to Sicily,” he added. “It’s also open to anyone who has an interest in Italian culture. All we say is this: If you like all things Italian, then we want you as part of the group with us.”

There are approximately 250 members in the IHSI, which is based out of the old Latin school near Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis. Each year in early June, Stevens Street in front of the parish hosts the Holy Rosary Italian Street Festival.

“It’s really a parish event, but we support it wholeheartedly because it reflects the old Italian culture,” Tambasco said.

The annual holiday La Pasquetta falls on the day following Easter in Italy. The IHSI celebrates it the Sunday following Easter in Lacy Park near Holy Rosary.

“We can’t do that (the day after) here because Monday is a workday, so we hold it the following Sunday,” Tambasco said. “It’s a laid-back, very social and relaxed environment. We also have four bocce courts. We have tournaments and we have leagues that go on year-round. We open it up to the public because it is a public park. It’s a great relationship we have with the parks department.”

IHSI also hosts Serata Italiana to celebrate Italian Heritage Month in October and will bring in speakers and instructional events such as cooking classes.

Get to know Ralph Tambasco

Personal: Given name is Raffaele; turned 63 on Dec. 6; has lived in Geist for about 15 years; son Michael, 37, is a chef and part of management staff of The Mug in Greenfield; has three grandchildren, Hudson Angelo, 6, Beau Michael, 3, and Gianna, still younger than 1; earned his bachelor’s degree from State University of New York; graduated from Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego; has won the IHSI’s Sol Petruzzi honor three times

Favorite place to visit: “Campania, that’s where some of the most ancient events in the history of the world have taken place,” Tambasco said. “Naples is there, which is older than Rome.”

Favorite Italian dish: Carne pizzaiola.

Favorite area Italian restaurants: “There are some you have an emotional attachment to and one of those is Iaria’s,” Tambasco said. Two others are Capri Ristorante in Indianapolis and Matteo’s in Noblesville. “I can’t say one is a favorite over the others. I love them all.”