Few split over love of banana treats at Latrobe festival
Latrobe’s annual Great American Banana Split Celebration has plenty of attractions — live music, classic cars, games and a magic show — even for those who don’t fancy the titular treat.
But for many who attended Saturday, the second of the event’s three days, the split that Latrobe has claimed as its own was the cherry on top of the colorful festival.
Sally Bane of Derry Township and her friends, Patty and John Sauers of Hempfield, come to enter their Corvettes in the event’s car show, but they wouldn’t miss the chance to dig into banana splits.
“We come to the car show and we walk up to get banana splits.” Bane said. “It’s a tradition. Once a year, we wait to get a banana split. It’s the best.”
The friends enjoy the particular version of the treat served at the festival by local restaurant chain Valley Dairy — one scoop each of chocolate and strawberry ice cream with matching sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream with pineapple sauce.
The splits are “just right” for Patty Sauers, who noted, “They’ve always been the same.”
“Others shrink their size, but they never do,” Bane said of Valley Dairy, noting her favorite part is the whipped cream and cherries.
George Boggio, 80, of Bradenville has been a lifelong fan of banana splits — so much so he usually treats himself to one once a week. But, at the Latrobe festival, he shared one with his wife, Nancy, noting they are trying to watch their calorie intake.
“I’ve been eating them since I was a kid,” he said. “They’re probably my biggest weakness.”
He believes Latrobe is “right on” with its claim — backed by a Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission marker — that the banana split was born in 1904 at the town’s Tassell Pharmacy, the creation of 23-year-old apprentice pharmacist David E. Strickler.
“They have our vote,” Bane agreed.
So do sisters Mary Jane Andrako, 81, Pat Vartorella, 75, and Karen Bobik, 71, although their home state of Ohio has a competing claim — that the split was created by restaurateur E.R. “Brady” Hazard in 1907, in Wilmington, Ohio.
The siblings, whose late aunt lived in the area, traveled to the Latrobe festival with family members including Andrako’s husband, Tom, 81, who originally hails from the area.
The festival’s splits got high marks from the sisters.
“You get all the flavors mixed together at one time, so you get three sundaes in one,” said Andrako, of Maple Heights, Ohio.
“It tastes good, especially because I’m not home and it’s a day out,” said Bobik, of Bedford, Ohio.
Mackenzie Russo, 12, of Greensburg doesn’t care for bananas. Still, she got into the spirit of the Latrobe festival, dressing in a banana costume while visiting with her mother, Juliane Benson.
“She doesn’t eat bananas,” Benson said. “She doesn’t like the texture of them.”
This weekend’s pleasant weather, and the lack of a competing Steelers home game, is expected to give attendance at this year’s banana split festival a boost, said Briana Tomack, president of the Greater Latrobe-Laurel Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce that organizes the event.
There were about 290 runners registered for the event’s 5K race, which is a record number, she said.
The festival continues 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday.
Visit banansplitfest.com for details.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter .