Board of directors

Ciao! 👋 🇮🇹 Get to know our Board of Directors at Italian Portland!

You can email them directly via their email addresses below, or email us with general questions at: We look forward to hearing from you!

Natalie Smargiassi, President -

Natalie is second generation Italian with grandparents coming from Lazio, Abruzzo and Sicily. She spent the major part of her life living in California and working in the field of Information Technology.  Now she lives in Portland and enjoys studying Italian, getting outdoors, and cooking. Natalie’s grandmother from Abruzzo would spend the summer with her family when she was a child, so Natalie learned to make the traditional recipes of Abruzzo.  She enjoys making these dishes still today.  Several years ago she worked on a project to renovate a family home in a small hill town in the northern Lazio region.  Natalie keeps close connections with her Italian family in Lazio and Abruzzo and travels to Italy every summer. 

Tonya Russo Hamilton, Media & Communications -

Tonya Russo Hamilton is a teacher and author in the greater Portland area. Her first published work, ‘Wrestling with the Devil; A Story of Sacrifice, Survival, & Triumph, from the Hills of Naples to the Hall of Fame,’ is an inspirational memoir inspired by her father's journey from a small town in southern Italy to Brooklyn, New York and eventually Portland, Oregon. Her children's book is titled, ‘Tino and the Pomodori’ and is about a young boy who plants and harvests tomatoes with his grandfather in a small town just outside of Naples. It celebrates the wonders and beauty of Italian culture and the extraordinary bonds of family. You can check out her published works at

Michela Navarria, Incontri Letterari Facilitator -

Michela is a real estate agent licensed in Oregon. She grew up in southern Italian speaking Switzerland and traveled around the world. After graduating in Arts, Music, and Theatre at the University of Bologna she started her journey into Cultural Management, until she moved the the US with her husband and daughter. As a cultural promoter she feels obliged to keep her origins, her language and her culture alive. Because of this she is happy to be part of Italian Portland, bringing purpose, value and love for Italy through weekly book readings—Incontri Letterarito all who aim to improve their Italian or simply want to connect through the language.

Ryane Sergent, Italian Conversation Group Facilitator

Ryane currently works at La Scuola Italiana di Portland as a preschool teacher, weekend class teacher, and playgroup coordinator. 

She has a Master's degree in Language Teaching Studies from University of Oregon where she did research on designing a curriculum for medical professionals in the U.S. to learn Spanish online to better serve their Latine patients. 

Ryane has had a passion for languages and a particular love for Italian ever since she spent a few years in Vicenza as a child. She plans to continue to spread her passion for language learning by teaching English in Japan within the next year. 

Sam Romanaggi, Treasurer -

Sam is a 2nd generation Italian whose grandparents immigrated from Conversano, a small town in the Puglia region. Sam spent much of his childhood amongst the Romanaggi cousins and family, and was imprinted with its culture and traditions; raised with an appreciation that we are fortunato’. While in college he studied Italian language at the University of Oregon as well as participating in an exchange program in Perugia Italy. That left a lifetime appreciation for the Italian culture and way of life. Sam lives in Tigard and works as a commercial real estate appraiser (MAI), with a niche in timberlands. He heads Romanaggi Valuation Services as well as working with a forestry consulting firm. What spare time he gets, he’s either with his daughters, working in his yard and garden, or out-doors enjoying hiking, biking, or skiing. 

Joseph Briglio, Development & Outreach -

Joseph Briglio has worked in Community Development for nearly 20-years and won awards for his creative approach to civic engagement and public service. He has managed affordable housing programs, environmental sustainability initiatives, a high-tech business incubator, as well as served in several urban planning roles. He is second generation Italian with familial links to the mountain towns of Calabria and the rolling hills of Campania, near Napoli. In his own home, he is known for being an expert barista and connoisseur of espresso. In his spare time, Joseph enjoys traveling, learning Italian, and playing/watching calcio (soccer). Forza Azzurri! 

Joanne Danna Schenk, Board Member

Joanne Danna Schenk grew up in SE Portland in the same Italian neighborhood where her parents were raised.  Both parents are of Italian descent.  Her “Nannu” came over from Sicily(Trabia) when he was 11 years old.  Joanne had the privilege to visit his hometown and obtain marriage records of her great grandparents.  She was also able to visit the Catholic Church in Trabia where family marriages and baptisms would have taken place.

Joanne retired in 2019 after 41 years as a dental hygienist. In her spare time she enjoys travel with her husband and friends (including 2 trips to Italy so far).  She also enjoys spending time with her kids and grandkids, the Oregon Coast, reading, gardening, and working out at the gym.  Joanne also enjoys baking “Nanna’s Best Biscotti.”  This is the biscotti recipe she learned from her Nanna and it has been lots of fun to share the biscotti that are made with love. 

Joanne is an active member of St Francis Catholic Church in Sherwood.

Josette Beach, Board Member

Josette (Santilli/Gallucci) Beach is the proud granddaughter of Italian immigrants who came to Oregon in the early 1900’s.  As a second generation American Italian, she takes pride in her familial roots of Calabria (Aprigliano) and Abruzzo (Succiano).  Growing up in SE Portland’s little Italy, she connected with the Italian culture through strong family ties and friend gatherings.  She and her cousins continue their love of the Italian food culture by sharing their  traditional family recipes together throughout the year.  She has recently written a family cookbook dedicated to the fourth generation of “littles” in the Santilli family with hope that the family recipes will carry on.  One of the highlights in her life was hosting an Italian exchange student for one year in her home in the Gladstone area and continuing to stay in touch with him and his family through numerous trips to Italy. Recently retired as the Director of the Dental Science Programs at Portland Community College, she now has more time to devote to learning more about the Italian culture, learning to speak the language and connecting with the surrounding Italian community. Spending time with her husband, two children and grandchild are her favorite things to do.