Rena Bocci

511 Columbus (1895-1988)Rena Bocci, Italian History in San Francisco

511 Columbus was once a haven for thousands of Italian immigrants who traveled to San Francisco seeking a better life; its sign read Italian Welfare Agency (IWA). Its outreach programs were funded by wealthy Italian men, but there was a woman who brought their financial support to life like no other, Rena Bocci. Crowned Miss Stockton Tunnel in 1915, Rena's beauty was found both inside and out. She was selfless, nonjudgmental, and intelligent with an unwavering drive to improve the lives of others.

Rena was a social worker at IWA in 1937, but following the enlistment of the current Executive Secretary, Milano Rispoli, she was appointed his position and served until 1970. She dedicated her life to helping thousands of Italian immigrants gain independence and dignity through employment in a world with curfews and geographical restrictions during World War II.

She worked with the Office of War Information to send radio recordings in Italian to encourage Italy’s exit from the war by communicating the promises of Allies. Once Italy exited, the U.S. released civil detainees on parole if they could provide a sponsor. Rena led the IWA in finding sponsors, jobs, and locating relatives. She fed and clothed those in need and gave hope to those seeking the American Dream.