International Village fares well on opening day in McKeesport
It's the time of year when Renziehausen Park in McKeesport is filled with the scents and sounds of International Village.
The 54th annual ethnic food and entertainment festival opened on Tuesday afternoon at Stephen Barry Field and will continue through Thursday.
Food booths feature fare from 21 countries, including Austria, China, Croatia, England, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Hawaii, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Lebanon, Mediterranean, Mexico, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Sweden and Vietnam.
The first festival stop for many is the Croatian booth, where lines formed as soon as the gates opened, and where its signature lamb sold out within a few hours.
“I've been in line at least 45 minutes,” Caroline Skrtic of Port Vue said. “I come every year and I always get lamb. I come every night and taste everything.”
There is more than lamb to tempt the palate. Among the other delicacies are pig wings and Baba Gannouj dip.
Boxty, a potato pancake that is a mainstay in the Emerald Isle, is so popular that the sign above the Irish booth where it is served reads, “Boxty on the griddle, boxty in the pan. If you can't make a boxty, you'll never get a man.”
The Polish booth is a favorite stop for Ed and Joyce Skweres of North Huntingdon Township.
“I come every year,” Ed Skweres said. “I gather at the Polish booth and get the Polish platter.”
“My favorites are the potato pancakes, pierogi and stuffed cabbage,” Joyce Skweres said.
Along with the variety of cuisines, there are performances of traditional songs and dances from around the world.
Wednesday evening's entertainment starts at 6 on the main stage. The Mikey Dee Band will perform under the Jakomas Blue Top Pavilion, also beginning at 6.
“The first night went really fast,” Dee, the master of ceremonies and entertainment coordinator, said. “This is a wonderful experience and it's an honor to be able to give back to the city I love. I'm looking forward to two more glorious nights.”
Stage manager Patrick Fisher will assume the MC duties Wednesday night.
“I always look forward to doing that,” he said. “International Village means a lot to me and I enjoy having the opportunity. When the crowd is having a good time, then I have a good time.”
The Blue Top is a hub of activity. For the second year, educational workshops are offered there from 4-6 p.m.
“We want to encourage people to come back and learn about the different nationalities,” heritage education coordinator Bernice Yanzetich said.
Tuesday's demonstrations were by representatives from the Slovakian, Austrian and Croatian booths. Cheryl Gornall of North Versailles Township was there for the Croatian segment and received a traditional red heart ornament. Licitarska srca is a 17th century traditional Croatian gift that tells the recipient the person they see in the heart's mirror is loved by the giver.
“This was really great,” Gornall said of the presentation. “Young kids need to learn about things like this. I come every year and try to learn as much as I can from the dancing and the crafts.”
The recently renovated Blue Top is adorned with flags of each of the nations represented in the Village, and there is different performer there each night beginning at 6. Opening night featured a kolo dance with Radost. A polka night is planned on Thursday.
Arts and crafts are adjacent to the pavilion. The spacious tented area is home to 12 vendors offering items from ethnic Christmas ornaments to crystal jewelry.
For younger festival-goers, there are five inflatables. Cost is $2 for one ticket, $5 for three, or $12 for a ride-all-day pass.
Although the gates and booths opened at 3 p.m., the 54th Village officially got under way with the opening ceremony. A procession featuring representatives from each food booth, wearing traditional clothing, carried their countries' flags and then gathered on the dance floor at the main stage.
Fisher credits festival chairman Dan Carr with maintaining the ethnic tradition established by the first International Village during Old Home Week in 1960.
“He likes to move forward and looks to see how it can be improved for the next year,” Fisher said. “He's willing to do what he can to please everyone while keeping the tradition of International Village alive.”
An opening night tradition is recognizing local, county and state officials.
“A couple is here tonight celebrating their 47th wedding anniversary,” Mayor Michael Cherepko told the crowd, noting that has become a tradition since they were married. “That's a small example of what International Village means to a lot of people.”
County Executive Rich Fitzgerald praised the festival.
“This is a special event in this region,” he said. “It is a community event that brings everyone together. The tradition of great food and dancing is being passed on to the next generation and that is very important.”
Several McKeesport businesses were honored with a plaque from the city's business authority, including The Daily News. Other recipients were Progressive Music, Carnegie Library of McKeesport, Edward L. Kemp Co. Heating & Air Conditioning, Willig Funeral Home & Cremation Services, Lico Inc., Hunter Funeral Home Inc., Hunter-Edmundson-Striffler Co. Inc., Minerva Bakery, McKeesport Candy Company Inc. and UPMC McKeesport.
Carol Waterloo Frazier is an editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1916, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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