Heat, Storms Couldn’t Stop Italian Festival

WHEELING – Heat, humidity, rain, lightning and thunder did not deter thousands of people from enjoying the annual Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival on Saturday

And today, the festival continues until 6 p.m. A Catholic Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. today on the Main Stage with the Most Rev. Michael J. Bransfield, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, as celebrant.

A generous crowd filled the festival grounds at Wheeling’s Heritage Port along Water Street on Saturday morning and afternoon only to be running for shelter when a thunderstorm rolled through the area at about 7 p.m.

After the rain, the crowd continued to swell as thousands anticipated the fireworks show that began at 9:45 p.m.

With plenty of attractions for all ages, it was obvious the children’s games and rides brought many more families than usual to the festival.

Other popular venues drawing crowds included the bocce tournament which saw young and older participants vying for bragging rights. Live entertainment was found on the main stage and on the smaller stage at the Little Italy section of the festival venue located near the playground area. Entertainment continues throughout the day today on both stages.

The food remains a top attraction with everything from authentic Italian fare of meatballs and pasta to deep fried corn dogs and apple dumplings with ice cream.

Proceeds from the festival benefit 13 local students through $1,000 college scholarships awarded to students from Belmont and Jefferson in Ohio and Hancock, Brooke, Ohio and Marshall counties in West Virginia. A special scholarship – the Michael Sinicropi Award, named in honor of the deceased former festival chairman and board member – is presented to a local undergraduate student who is pursuing a broadcast journalism degree. Another scholarship is awarded to a current Culinary Arts student at West Virginia Northern Community College, honoring the special partnership between the festival and the college.

The festival honored Wheeling resident Robert Gaudio as the Italian American of the year. He spent 12 years on the Italian Festival board, six of them serving as the chair.