3 generations inspire annual Festa Italiana di Vandergrift
Vince Putignano watched his father Andrew’s face during the performance of the Italian national anthem at a festival in Pittsburgh’s Strip District many years ago.
“The pride my dad saw that day when he looked at my grandfather during that song inspired my father to start an Italian festival in Vandergrift,” said Vince Putignano’s son, Brian, who is president of Festa Italiana di Vandergrift. “It was my dad’s dream to have a festival in our community of Vandergrift.”
That dream became a reality. The 16th annual Festa Italiana di Vandergrift is Aug. 11. Held in Kennedy Park, it’s all things Italian.
“This is such a wonderful community event that I don’t want to see it end,” says Brian Putignano, who grew up in Vandergrift and now lives in Allegheny Township. “It’s a lot of work, but we have so many wonderful volunteers who believe in this festival.”
With a purpose
According to the event’s website, the purpose of the festival is to provide the Vandergrift area community with an event that celebrates the Italian-American heritage. When Italians began immigrating to the U.S., there was a challenge to begin a new life in a country where many of them didn’t speak English.
They gathered and shared their passion for food and music and were comfortable, says Putignano. He says the festival is a way for them to share in those early days, as well as welcome others to enjoy a meal and dance and sing a little or just sit and talk.
The event awards two $2,000 Vince Putignano Memorial Scholarships to students of Italian descent who recently graduated from high school. Entrants write a 500-word essay about what their Italian heritage means to them.
The essays (with no mention of the authors’ names) are independently evaluated by a selection committee of retired Kiski Area school teachers.
“We don’t have hot dogs or cheeseburgers,” Putignano says. “We have pizza and lasagna and polenta and portabella mushroom sandwiches.”
There are Italian baked goods, including fresh breads, as well as ravioli, chicken alfredo, calamari and zucchini fries.
Guests can reserve a table for the day for $60. They are under tents so the weather — hot, cold or rainy — is not a problem. There are 120 tables with seating for eight at each — they represent the family enjoying Sunday dinner, a tradition in many Italian households.
These tables sell out quickly.
Putignano says he notices that class reunions often add this festival to the weekend of their school celebration. They reminisce of days gone by and return to an event that’s become a staple in the community.
The Anthony Massari Memorial Amateur Wine Competition is another highlight of the day. Certified wine judges from the American Wine Society will decide on gold, silver and bronze and medals will be awarded around 3 p.m. In addition to the competition, there will be a get-together to allow winemakers to taste the wines of other winemakers. Those who submit two bottles — one for competition and another for others to try — can share one at an invitation-only event.
Shuttle buses run from Kiski Area High School to the festival and admission is free.
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 412-320-7889, [email protected] or via Twitter .