Mon Valley Florida reunion event draws new life
It will be, as reunions go, rather informal — no prizes for the person who traveled the farthest or who has the most grandchildren.
But the revived Mon Valley Florida Day gathering on Saturday, Feb. 23 at Beef O'Brady's family sports restaurant and pub in Clearwater, Fla., will follow the traditional format of food, fun and fellowship.
“The basic idea is to bring together people with ties to the Mon Valley for a day of reminiscing in a casual atmosphere,” said Louis Sepe of Dunedin, Fla., one of several former area residents coordinating the festivities. “Nothing fancy, just a chance to get together and rekindle a lot of great memories and create new ones. There won't be any long speeches but you can be sure there won't be a shortage of stories to be told.”
Sepe, a 1951 graduate of Monongahela High School, emphasized that the Mon Valley Florida reunion is open to “anyone and everyone” who is originally from the Mon Valley or who still lives there or anywhere else.
“There are no geographic boundaries,” he said. “We all share a common bond — that is, our roots are in the Mon Valley — so the doors are open to anyone who wants to attend.”
The festivities will begin at noon Feb. 23 at Beef O'Brady's, 2471 North McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater. There is no fee involved and reservations are not required.
Sepe recalled that the Mon Valley Florida Reunion was created many years ago by three former Monongahela area businessmen — Joe Fida (automobile license services and insurance), Lee Venanzi (appliances, bowling alleys, beer distributor), Ralph Losey (butcher and meat market).
“It was always held on the last Saturday in February in Largo, Florida,” Sepe said. “It was highly successful with such attendees as Stan Musial. As time passed, however, many of the people that attended died or aged and did not come to Florida anymore. The numbers dwindled and the reunion went into hiatus.”
Sepe said a group of new and younger people originally or still from the Mon Valley and western Pennsylvania re-energized the reunion.
They have included but are not limited to retired U.S. Navy Capt. John E. Allen of Chesapeake, Va., and Gordon M. Core of Washington, Pa. Allen, a 1958 graduate of Monongahela High School, was a combat pilot with 134 missions in Vietnam and also was a member of the Navy's celebrated Blue Angels precision jet flying team. Core is is the director of planned giving in the office of University Development and Alumni Relations at California University of Pennsylvania.
“It was a great experience, nice people who make you feel right at home, and an enjoyable gathering,” Core said. “As part of my work for the university, I travel a lot and Florida is a regular destination because we have some 1,600 alumni there. There are number of regional reunion clubs there – people from Fayette, Greene and Washington counties, a Monessen group. When I learned about Lou's group, I decided to attend. About half of those in attendance were California University graduates, so we obviously had a lot in common. I certainly look forward to going again.”
“We even had a guest who was the man that was shot out of the cannon at Kennywood Park for many years — Bruno Zacchini, the Human Cannonball,” Sepe said. “What an interesting and entertaining speaker he was. Bob Krasnicki would play the keyboards for everyone's enjoyment. It was just a fun get-together.”
The group had a break in its reunions because the former meeting place closed but will resume Feb. 23, thanks to the efforts of Dan Leonard, a 1962 Monongahela High graduate, who made arrangements with Beef O'Brady's to stage the event there.
Sepe will return as master of ceremonies.
“I inherited the job when Ralph Losey moved back to the Mon Valley,” Sepe said. “I enjoy it.”
And those attending the reunions appreciate Sepe's efforts in that role.
“Lou was the congenial host for the reunions I had the pleasure of attending and he did a superb job,” said Sam Morris, a Monongahela native now living on the island of Vina Del Mar, which is part of St. Pete Beach in Florida. “His personality and talent are well received by everyone.”
“Lou was a three-sport varsity star in football, basketball and baseball,” Morris recalled. “He did it all and did it extremely well. I weighed about 91 pounds as a freshman and barely 105 my junior year. I couldn't hit a baseball no matter how hard I tried, especially the breaking stuff. The rest of the stars made fun of me, but Lou spent time with me, improving my swing and teaching me to be a switch-hitter. I still wasn't much of a hitter, but I at least made contact with the ball from then on. I've always been grateful to Lou for his time and consideration.”
Morris is the creator and administrator of an excellent and informative website, www.sailetc.com, with various links including one that spotlights past Mon Valley Florida reunions. It also features information on numerous Mon Valley natives including those from Monongahela and other area communities.
Morris said his website postings are designed to present visual images that complement the reactions of those who have attended the Mon Valley Florida reunions.
Morris created a special image labeled Mon Valley on his website for the convenience of those who visit the site. Clicking the image offers easier access to the Mon Valley material.
One of the most poignant presentations on Morris' website is a poem written and presented by the late John V. “Pez” Pezzoni at the Mon Valley Florida celebration in 2003 at Homer's Buffet in Largo, Fla. Pezzoni, a 1948 graduate of Monongahela High School, was 80 when he died June 21, 2010, in Cary, N.C., where he had lived for many years.
Titled “Those Guys From Mon City,” Pezzoni's composition includes these lines: “Our numbers are fewer as friends have passed on. But their footprints remain on the banks of the Mon.”
“Pez wrote specifically about people from Monongahela,” Morris said. “But I'm sure his words and thoughts are ones to which anyone from the Mon Valley can relate. We may live in many places around the country or in foreign lands but we will always be from the Mon Valley.”
(Information about the Mon Valley Florida reunion Feb. 23 is available by contacting Lou and Maria Sepe at 727-733-9678.)
Ron Paglia is a freelance writer.