Mon Valley Florida Day reunion a huge success
To say Louis Sepe was pleased with the annual Mon Valley Florida Day reunion might well be an understatement.
“Wow! That might be the best way to describe everything,” said Sepe of Dunedin, Fla., one of several former area residents who coordinated the festivities. “There was an overflow crowd of about 175 representing towns throughout the Mon Valley and from other places around the country. The consensus was that it was a huge success and those who attended are eagerly anticipating next year's gathering.”
The Mon Valley Florida reunion was held at Beef O'Brady's family sports restaurant and pub in Clearwater.
Sepe said participants came from Monongahela, Charleroi, Donora, Monessen, Elizabeth, Elrama, Finleyville, Belle Vernon, Washington and Perryopolis as well as Naples, St. Petersburg, Punta Gorda, Venice, Florence, Largo, Tarpon Springs, Maderia Beach, Lake Placid and Gulfport in Forida, Virginia and Boulder, Colo., “to name just a few.”
“People were visiting and expressing disbelief and joy in seeing people they haven't seen in many years,” said Sepe, a 1951 graduate of Monongahela High School.
Sepe said the reunion is an informal event designed to “bring people together people with ties to the Mon Valley” for a day of reminiscing in a casual atmosphere.
“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. It's nothing fancy, just a chance to get together and rekindle a lot of great memories and create new ones.”
Among those enjoying this year's festivities was Gordon M. Core of Washington, Pa., director of planned giving in the office of University Development and Alumni Relations at California University of Pennsylvania.
“It was a blow-out event,” Core said. “The restaurant staff was crushed but did a great job. The Mon Valley eventually had the whole place. It was a landmark event and a real tribute to the hard work of Lou (Sepe) and his wife Maria and a remarkable group of people who put it all together.”
Core has attended previous Mon Valley Florida reunions and always looks forward to being there.
“It's always a great experience, nice people who make you feel right at home and an enjoyable gathering,” he said. “About half of those in attendance are California University graduates, so we obviously have a lot in common.”
Ray Racunas, a 1958 graduate of Monongahela High School, expressed similar sentiments.
“It was an outstanding success,” said Racunas, a retired teacher who also lives in Washington, Pa. “The attendance was much larger than anyone anticipated, we basically took over the entire restaurant. Everyone ordered from the menu, so the staff was a bit overwhelmed. But they did a wonderful job and the food was good. Lou was the master of ceremonies and he and Gordon were the only ones who offered formal remarks. Gordon distributed commemorative California University pins to Cal U graduates.
“Everyone seemed to enjoy the conversations, the reminiscing and renewing old friendships. We're looking forward to next year, but based on the attendance and enthusiasm of the crowd, they may need a bigger place.”
Dennis Yerkey, a 1958 Monongahela High graduate now living in Jefferson Hills, suggested Shephard's Beach Resort in Clearwater.
“It's a beautiful place – great food and entertainment and a gorgeous view,” said Yerkey, webmaster of the Class of 1958's website, www.mhs1958.org. “They have weekend buffets that are out of sight and I'm sure they could accommodate a large crowd. It's something to consider.”
Also among this year's attendees was Donora native Richie Merritt, a longtime entertainer and recording artist who lives in Apollo Beach, Fla. Merritt, whose career spans nearly 50 years, has been a lead singer with such prominent groups as the Marcels, Clovers, Drifters, Laurels and Memories and now performs as a solo act with his acclaimed “Richie Merritt Live” show.
Another illustrious 1958 Monongahela High graduate on hand with his wife Patti was U.S. Navy Captain John E. Allen (Retired) of Chesapeake, Va. Allen, who was inducted into the Ringgold Ram Boosters Hall of Fame in 2012, 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.
Entertainment at this year's reunion was provided by another talented Mon Valley area musician, keyboard specialist Bob Krasnicki of Charleroi.
“Bob always does great work and the crowd was very receptive to and appreciative of his music,” Sepe said.
Sepe recalled that the Mon Valley Florida Day concept 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 in Largo,” Sepe said. “It was highly successful for a number of years. 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.
“Judging from the turnout this year and the very positive reaction of the participants, there obviously is a lot of renewed interest,” Sepe said. “I think it's safe to say we'll be back next year.”
Information about the Mon Valley Florida Day reunion is available by contacting Lou and Maria Sepe at 727-733-9678.
Ron Paglia is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.