It’s the last weekend in July, and for thousands of area residents that means one thing – the three-day extravaganza of food, family, fireworks and fun that is the Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival.
Despite searing temperatures, plenty turned out at Wheeling’s waterfront to experience the 31st annual event from the very beginning as festivities got under way Friday. The concept of tradition was a common theme for many of those people.
Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe employees Dawn Ell, Josh Popkie and Ellen McCroskey came down to Heritage Port for their lunch break, something they said they do each year. Shin Akatoni tried to beat the heat with a cool drink as he joined his co-workers in that tradition for the first time.
Wheeling area resident Eric Minor said he makes sure to attend the festival every year, also calling it simply “a good tradition.” Beside him, Cayla McLaughlin, said Minor brought her to her first Italian Festival in Wheeling last year and she was impressed.
“I always like it,” McLaughlin said. “It’s always friendly.”
Things officially got under way at noon with the traditional ribbon-cutting ceremony. The honor of cutting the ribbon went to this year’s co-Italian Americans of the Year, Gilda Reed and John DeBlasis, who were honored at the festival committee’s annual kickoff dinner Wednesday.
Robert “Moose” Dodrill sang the “Star-Spangled Banner,” followed by Kristin Allodi belting out the Italian national anthem, “Il Canto degli Italian.”
“We are prepared to have a great weekend,” Tony Polsinelli, a member of the festival’s board of directors, said.
Delegate Mike Ferro, D-Marshall, said he and his family have been coming to the Italian festival every year since its inception. He praised the months of work and planning put into the festival and the benefits it brings to the community.
“It’s great for Wheeling and the Ohio Valley,” Ferro said. “It’s also a great way to promote Italian heritage.”
Rep. David McKinley echoed Ferro’s thoughts as he shook hands with a Morgantown resident who traveled in for the festival.
“It’s a real joy for us to have this here in the valley,” McKinley, R-W.Va., said. “It brings people in from all around. You can’t be any better than this here.”
Mary Jo Guidi, regional coordinator for Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., attended on the senator’s behalf because the Senate was in session on Friday.
“He would love to be here tremendously because of his Italian heritage,” Guidi said. “He is definitely here in spirit.”
The festivities continue through the weekend at Heritage Port. Saturday’s events begin at noon and continue through the annual fireworks display at dusk until midnight, while on Sunday, things get started with a Catholic Mass at 10 a.m. and last until 5 p.m.