After three days and vast quantities of sausage sandwiches, deep-fried Oreos and gallons of lemonade consumed, another Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival is in the books.
"This has been a fabulous festival. ... The weather has held out superbly. The crowds have been astronomical," festival President Marian Grubor said Sunday as she took a break from selling meatballs, gnocchi and other homemade delicacies at the "Little Italy" section of the festival grounds Sunday, as the 31st annual festival wound down in downtown Wheeling beneath a beautiful, sunny sky.
Although officials have yet to calculate an attendance estimate - Wheeling's Operations Department will do that using a formula based on the amount of trash collected over the weekend - Grubor believes this year's event, free of the extreme heat and thunderstorms that have plagued the festival over the past couple years, has been one of the best-attended yet.
Photo by Ian Hicks
A large crowd enjoys the final hours of the Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival in Wheeling Sunday.
"I've had to go shopping three times this weekend," she said.
Sunday's events featured a morning Catholic Mass, award presentations for the homemade wine and pasta sauce competitions and the conclusion of the annual bocce tournament. Weirton native Jerry Clark came from Imperial, Pa., Sunday to spend the afternoon with family and friends, including high school classmate Bryant Wilson and his wife Leslie. In the process, he even became something of a bocce fan - but as is true of many festival-goers, it was the food that left the most lasting impact.
"That sandwich was my favorite part about it," Clark said, referring to the remnants of a London broil steak.
The festival wasn't just fun and games, however, for members of the Triadelphia Volunteer Fire Department who set up shop in hopes of getting a little help to purchase a new ambulance. With one of their two ambulances out of commission, they've been getting by with the other - but it's 15 years old.
"It's at this point costing us more to fix it than to go out and get a new one," Cecilea Delgado said.
Replacing it will cost about $100,000 - a tall order for an all-volunteer unit, but they were able to raise about $1,250 over the weekend by selling raffle tickets for a chance to win a $500 Cabela's gift card. The winner will be announced during a special Public Health and Safety Day event at the store Sept. 14, which will feature an auto extrication demonstration as well as an Ohio County Sheriff's Department K-9 unit.
"It's done us a lot of good and got our name out there a little bit," Delgado said of the festival.
After things wrapped up late in the afternoon, the cleanup process got under way and lasted well into the evening. Removing all traces of Wheeling's largest festival, making Heritage Port and Water Street by morning appear as though nothing had happened there, is no small task.
"Tomorrow, we all sleep. Tuesday, we start planning for next year," Grubor said.