Italian decendent turns family tragedies into triumph through American education


Joshua Boley/The Chart

Dr. John Battitori talks about his life as a second generation Italian growing up in small town Kansas during Experiencing Cultural Diversity in a Small Southeast Kansas Community in Corley Auditorium on Oct. 30.

The massive immigration of European settlers to the United States in the late 18th century included a large number of Italians who settled in southeast Kansas to take jobs as deep-shaft coal miners. Two of these families who followed the dream, the Battitori family and the Iager family, merged a generation later.

Dr. John Battitori, who addressed an audience at Corley auditorium Wednesday, Oct. 30 is a product of this merger. He is one of the featured themed semester speakers arranged by the Institute of International Studies for the Italian semester. Battitori is a second generation Italian-American and one of the first of his generation not working as a coal miner.

His presentation detailed the early history of his paternal grandfather Eduardo Battitori, along with his wife and sons, from the Tyrolean area of Italy, along their journey from Ellis Island to their new beginnings in Pittsburg, Kan.  

Battitori’s grandparents opened a restaurant and bar in West Mineral, Kan. called Broadway Café after Eduardo Battitori recovered from a skull fracture suffered in a mining accident.

“My other grandfather James Yager was killed in a rock fall in East Mineral,” said Battitori. “A nine foot by 1 and ½ inch slab of rock fell out of the ceiling and killed him.”

Battitori’s father quit school and began working in the mine to help out the family at the age of 12. “It was not uncommon at the time for children to go to work in the mines,” he said.

The Battitori family had returned to Italy for a visit when the First World War broke out. As naturalized citizens they were forced to remain until the war ended.  Before that could happen, the family suffered the tragedy of two deaths. Battitori’s grandfather and one uncle were killed in bomb accidents.

The family eventually returned to the US and life continued. Battitori said his uncle Joe, the youngest of that generation, was the first in the family to complete high school. The family knows the importance of education and all of the next two generations have earned college degrees.

Families of southeast Kan. all share the same values, said Battitori.

“We were taught, no handouts, you earn your way. We were taught to be humble. I can remember my dad telling me ‘You’re as good as anybody, but you’re no better.’ That stuck with me. Pride in your heritage, no matter whether you’re Italian, whether you’re Slovenian, or you’re Yugoslav it didn’t make any difference. Respect to all, especially your elders, and the importance of education.”