CHICAGO -- Mario Avignone singled out March 10 as his special day when he noticed the postmark on a letter stamped MAR 10.
'I looked at it and I thought, 'You know, that spells Mario, my name. I wonder if I can do something about it.'
'My hopes were to get a bunch of Marios together, kid one another, have something to eat,' Avignone recalled on the eve of his fourth annual Mario Day dinner dance.
'It has to be on March 10, because the fun part is MAR 10 spells Mario,' said Avignone. 'Otherwise there's nothing to it. It's just another name.'
What started with 15 Marios and about 45 guests has blossomed to more than 35 Marios and over a hundred guests.
'Every Mario is going to have a big nametag saying 'My Name Is Mario' with a bunch of ribbons hanging off it,' Avignone chuckled.
Thursday's MarioFest will be at the Martinique restaurant. Mario Dodaro and his band will play. Proceeds will go to Villa Scalabrini, a home for Italian-American elderly. Mario Pagnucci is in charge of tickets.
You don't have to be named Mario to attend.
'It's for everybody whose interested in having a good time and helping the Villa out,' Avignone said.
He said not all Marios are Italian.
'We got an Irishman coming named Mario, a German, a Polish ... I know a Mario Smith,' said Avignone, who works for Sherwin-Williams Paint Co. and writes a column for 'Fra Noi,' the area Italian newspaper.
'The name Mario goes back to the time before Christ, to the early Roman days,' he said. 'Mario is from the Latin word Marius, after the planet Mars, meaning a great warrior, a man who is intelligent and brave, and -- as all Marios will agree -- handsome.
'It's not a common name, but we're going to make it well known,' Avignone said. 'You know, the new governor of New York is named Mario (Cuomo). So we say, the Martinique tonight, maybe next we will go to the White House for Mario Day.'