JAMES V. BELLANCA, SR.
Like millions of men and women before him, Vincenzo Bellanca immigrated to this country in 1913, at six years of age. He arrived with his two older sisters and his mother who boarded a ship in Italy with only $22.00 in their pocket. No one could write or speak English. They left Italy with notes attached to their coats seeking assistance to reach Detroit where the patriarch of the family, Pietro, had established himself. James Bellanca was the first in his family to graduate from high school, college and ultimately law school, which he attended at night while working at the Hudson Motor Car Company.
While in college, his father and mother arranged his engagement to Roselia Militello. She was only 14 and he barely 20. Their engagement would last six years, during which time they went from being strangers to soul mates. They married in the height of the depression and they bore three sons, each of whom would ultimately follow their father in the practice of law and in the firm he founded. His first fee was 20¢, which he used to buy milk and bread for his infant son, Peter, so he wouldn’t go to bed hungry.
In 1940 James Bellanca was appointed by Mayor Jeffries to become a member of the Detroit Civil Service Commission, where he served continuously through his death in 1965, being named its president four times. He was appointed attorney for the Consul of Italy when the office re-opened immediately after World War II. The firm he founded has continuously represented the Consul of Italy since that time.
During his whole life, Mr. Bellanca never forgot his roots or his heritage. He was a founding member of the Italian American Cultural Society and active in all elements of the Italian American community.
He instilled in his sons and in the other members of the firm, a respect for the law and a belief that being a lawyer was a privilege, a high honor. He told each of his sons that the first time he entered the Chief Judge’s Office in Federal Court in Detroit, he felt compelled to genuflect.
When he died suddenly and unexpectedly in 1965, the family received condolences from President Lyndon Johnson, Pope Paul VI and the President of Italy, Giuseppe Saragat. Flags flew at half-mast in the City of Detroit. His funeral procession was miles long.
His family believes that his greatest accomplishment was instilling in them and through him in the firm that he founded, the same respect for the practice of law and love for God and family.