On Thursday, May 30th, at 5:45 p.m., just as the Memphis Italian Festival begins to build to its annual, brilliant three-day full roar, there's the Outstanding Italian of the Year presentation. This year's recipient is Vince Alfonso Jr. Alfonso says that he is technically, as the T-shirt reads, "100% FBI" — or full-blooded Italian, but he identifies first and foremost as "a child of God, a Christian." (Alfonso was raised Catholic but is now a born-again Christian.)
Alfonso, a native Memphian, worked as a record producer and promoter back in the 1960s, dealing with acts from the Bar-Kays to the Box Tops. On one memorable night at the Thunderbird Lounge, Alfonso watched a set by Booker T. & the MGs. The band was joined onstage by the Memphis Horns and then by Al Green. "It was the most fantastic night of music I ever witnessed," he says.
His father and uncle, along with other partners, founded the Bella Vista Country Club, which got Alfonso involved in golf at a young age. The family built other courses around the area and promoted them by partnering with charities such as Le Bonheur.
The golf-giving combo stuck. Alfonso worked at his family courses and moved on to positions at golf courses in other areas of the country, returning to Memphis in 2000. He served as executive director of the Mid-South Junior Golf Association, which became the First Tee of Memphis, an inner-city youth program based out of the old Firestone plant in North Memphis that has been transformed into a training facility with a 9-hole course. First Tee led to Alfonso's current position as director of golf for Memphis Athletic Ministries. The program, which Alfonso calls a golf ministry, serves children from around the city with programs that stress reading and math as well as the gospel. "Golf is there," says Alfonso, "but that's the fun part."
After the presentation for Outstanding Italian, Alfonso will be the guest of honor at a dinner for 50, which, he says, he hopes will be enough seats for his large family. He's flattered by the award and points to his family: "My parents, uncles, and aunts ... they did phenomenal things in the city," he says. "They set the stage for me."
Memphis Italian Festival at Marquette Park, Thursday-Saturday, May 30th-June 1st. memphisitalianfestival.com