Families and friends reunite, reminisce at Vandergrift's Festa Italiana
About 60 years ago, eight brothers and two sisters left their hometown of Vandergrift for the opportunities offered by Las Vegas.
This weekend, three of the brothers came home, timing their visit to coincide with the 10th annual Festa Italiana di Vander-grift on Sunday in Kennedy Park.
“We all went to school here. We lived right over there,” said Charlie Silvestri, 79, the youngest of the returning brothers, pointing toward a house in view of the park. “This field, we used to play in. This was our playground.”
Silvestri was accompanied by his brothers John, 81, and Vincent, 86, along with several other family members. In all, 17 relatives flew in for the weekend, said Vince's daughter-in-law, Brenda Silvestri.
She said they went walking through the borough, visiting old haunts including the homes they lived in and the church — St. Gertrude's — where they worshipped.
“It's memory lane. They are having a ball,” she said.
A celebration of food, music and culture, the one-day Festa was as much or more about family and friendships, with reunions of all types taking place.
The Kiski Area Class of 1973 marked the end of a three-day 40th reunion by getting together at the festival. About 75 people attended a dinner and dance at the Clarion Hotel in New Kensington on Saturday night; a golf outing was held Friday.
It was the first time the class included the festival in a reunion, said Audrey Miller of Vandergrift. It allowed those who might not have attended the other events a chance to get reacquainted.
“We have so many classmates fly home to attend Italian days,” Miller said. “You could be gone 20 to 30 years and come back and pick up with people like it's yesterday.”
Kiski Area Class of 1974 classmates Charlotte Rojeski and Barb Emanuelson were catching up, despite the fact they don't live that far away — Rojeski in Washington Township and Emanuelson in Oklahoma Borough.
“I was in tears. I was crying,” Emanuelson said. “She was my best friend in school.”
How could they live so close and not be in touch? “She doesn't have Facebook,” Rojeski said.
This year's festival was dedicated to its founder, Vince Putignano, who died in 2008. He wanted an event to celebrate the Italian immigrants who settled in Vandergrift and the Alle-Kiski Valley.
Kennedy Park was awash in green, white and red. Food vendor offerings included ravioli, stromboli and gelato — no hot dogs, hamburgers or french fries.
The festival featured more for kids to do, including games and a storyteller. Many children were seen walking the park holding inflatable aliens about as big as they were.
Proceeds go to the Vince J. Putignano Memorial Scholarship, which has awarded $46,000 in scholarships in eight years, including two $2,000 scholarships this year, said his son, Brian Putignano, the festival's immediate past president.
Scholarships are awarded to Vandergrift area students of Italian descent; recipients are chosen based on an essay about the importance of their Italian heritage in their life. This year's winners were Janessa Young and Rachel Hollinger.
Italian pride was easy to see.
David Tarosky of Allegheny Township displayed a family tree on his family's reserved table. It went back to Antonio and Rose Intrieri, who came to America from Italy.
Tarosky said they come every year for the music, food and companionship. “Everybody comes out,” he said.
Charlie Silvestri said they wanted to show their family the place they had talked about for years.
“It brought back a lot of memories. Vandergrift hasn't changed that much. It's a lot smaller than we remember,” he said.
He said they were happy to renew acquaintances with people who remembered them and their parents.
“We're meeting all kinds of old friends. It's been a wonderful experience for us,” he said.
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Heating oil costs lowest in years
- Banshee trailer featuring Vandergrift released
- Alle-Kiski legislators split on budget deal
- Homeless man accused in Brackenridge rape arrested in West Mifflin
- Washington Township supervisors grant exception to put apartments on property
- New Kensington dek hockey rink slated for spring debut
- Public can learn about Narcan use during training in New Kensington
- South Butler substitute nurse reveals staffing ‘crisis’
- Experts calling for late fall foliage bloom in Southwestern Pa.
- Armstrong County Jail board to discuss tighter security
- Upper Burrell to review minimum distance between homes, gas wells