McKeesport's International Village wraps in rousing fashion
McKeesport's 54th annual International Village concluded Thursday night with a rousing ceremony and a spectacular fireworks display.
It began with a procession of traditionally clad representatives of the 21 nationalities that took part in the ethnic food and entertainment festival, carrying their flags onto the main stage as the Pittsburgh Firefighters Memorial Pipe Band and Honor Guard played anthems of the military's four branches.
Judi Figel sang “What a Wonderful World” and “Proud To Be An American” as preludes to her stirring performance of the national anthem. Fireworks went off on cue to symbolize the “bombs bursting in air.”
It was a wonderful conclusion to McKeesport's end-of-summer tradition.
“It's been a pleasure to chair the committee this year with a record-breaking crowd,” Dan Carr said. “I hope everyone appreciates the hard work and service from the committee members, volunteers and workers.”
Crowds gathered early to be assured of getting one last taste of their favorite ethnic foods. Before very long the Croatian lamb was sold out and the triple-decker apricot squares at the Hungarian booth were gone. As the evening went on, the lines got longer but no one seemed to mind waiting.
Some sampled ethnic fare they've never had before and learned a little about the traditional way to eat it.
One man ordered a lamb sandwich at the Serbian booth and, when asked if he wanted onions, he wanted to know if that was how it is supposed to be eaten. When the young girl said it is, he said he wanted to experience it they way they do in Serbia.
Food is a big draw for many devoted festival-goers. Clara and Bud Welty of East McKeesport attend each year.
“I enjoy seeing people I know,” Bud Welty said. “You bump into people you haven't seen in a long time.”
“I like the pierogies and haluski at the Croatian booth,” Clara Welty said. “He likes the apple dumplings and knockwurst.”
Not only does Angela Cervo of Monroeville come to the Village for the food, she makes some of it.
“I make the grah i kupus (beans and sauerkraut) for the Serbian booth,” she said. “My mother made it for years, and when she passed, I picked it up.”
Cervo visits the Italian booth, too.
“My dad was Italian and I love Italian food,” she said.
Attending with her was Leo Rosemeyer of Monroeville, who is German but says he has “come to like Italian and Serbian food.”
Cervo and Rosemeyer enjoy dancing under the Jakomas Blue Top Pavilion.
“We like to dance,” Cervo said, “so we like it when they have bands for dancing. We'll be dancing the polka later.”
The diversity of entertainment is one reason the three-day festival is unique. Waltz, polka and classical music all can be heard at some time during the Village.
A tradition continued on Thursday night with the awarding of two Casturo Family Educational Awards. Kasey Stragand, a graduate of Elizabeth Forward High School, received $500. Brittany Williams, a graduate of West Mifflin Area High School, received $250. Recipients were chosen by a random drawing.
At the Striffler's informational booth, kids had a chance to guess how many flag pins were in a jar while adults could try their luck to win one of three prizes. There were 294 flag pins and Dalton Dilts came closest with a guess of 292 to win a Pirate Teddy bear; Donna Lokey guessed 290 and won a Pirate T-shirt; and Lily Lawson guessed 289 and won a McKeesport Area High School baseball hat. Adult winners were Ileana Sharik of West Mifflin, a DVD player; Tim Toth of McKeesport, a Pirate basket; and Barbara Cottone of Elizabeth, two Pirate tickets.
“We were truly blessed with wonderful weather which we are thankful for,” Mayor Michael Cherepko told the crowd. “We are also blessed with a committee that gives their time and energy for International Village.”
Master of ceremonies Mikey Dee said he was “overwhelmed and overjoyed” at the festival's three-day turnout.
“Every year International Village gets bigger and better than ever,” Dee said. “This is the best year of the 24 years I've been involved.”
Stage manager Patrick Fisher has been involved with the Village for 14 years and shared Dee's sentiments.
“There have been a lot of great years, but this year has been one of the best,” he said. “The weather was great and the crowds were huge.”
Fisher credits much of the festival's success to the volunteers in the booths, and those who work behind the scenes.
“They need to be commended,” he said. “It's not easy for the churches to be able to do this and they wouldn't be able to without all their volunteers.”
Throughout the years, International Village has been touted as McKeesport's “hidden jewel.”
For three days, Renziehausen Park becomes a gathering place for families and friends, a place to make new friendships and renew old ones.
And it is probably one of the rare places where all generations and 21 nationalities can come together for three days, and everyone has fun.
The words on the main-stage backdrop epitomize what the festival is all about — “Where people come to gather and leave as friends.”
Carol Waterloo Frazier is an editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1916, or email@example.com.