It's about a month until the 32nd annual Upper Ohio Valley Italian Festival gets underway, with this year's event set for July 25-27 at Wheeling's Heritage Port.
The Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival began in 1983 as the brain child of Anthony Zambito, Vincent Colaianni, Anthony Iannarelli and Benny Battistelli who visited the Clarksburg Italian Festival together in 1982 and who yearned to begin such a great tradition in Wheeling. They gathered a team of volunteers from the Italian-American Clubs throughout the Ohio Valley. The group quickly put together a board of directors and a plan of action. Each of the founders invested $5,000 to get the ball rolling.
Through the years, Wheeling's Italian Festival grew larger and more popular. By the time that the Heritage Port construction had been completed, the Festival on Market Street was the largest outdoor festival in the Upper Ohio Valley. In 2000, the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation approached the board of directors and requested that the Italian Festival be re-located to the waterfront so the new Heritage Port's potential could be fully realized. To the chagrin of some who hate any type of change, the board voted unanimously to grant the request, and the modern-day Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival was born in July 2001.
The decision to move the Italian Festival to the waterfront proved to be an excellent one, as the Wheeling Festival is the second-largest Italian festival in the U.S. It is estimated that over 150,000 people enjoy the Wheeling Italian Festival.
The Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival is the undisputed Granddaddy of outdoor festivals in this area of the country and one of the largest in West Virginia. The volunteer board of directors takes great pride in presenting this annual event which helps our children succeed through education, while celebrating our Italian culture and heritage and creating a medium for friends and neighbors of all nationalities to meet and enjoy one another's company.
The 2014 Italian-American of the Year is former festival chairman Robert Gaudio.
Upper OV Italian Festival July 25-27
Gaudio is a criminal defense attorney who works for the 1st Judicial Circuit Public Defenders' Office. He is a Follansbee native, and a graduate of Brooke High School and West Liberty University who served in Yemen in the Peace Corps for three years and spent time in the restaurant business before deciding to attend Duquesne Law School in his late 30s.
He lives near Wheeling with his wife, Clare, and their 14-year-old son, David. He also has two grown children, Nathan and Elizabeth.
For the first time this year, festival-goers will have the chance to help organizers continue providing scholarships to area students.
There will be a 50/50 drawing with a minimum prize of $1,500, with proceeds benefiting the scholarship fund.
The winner to be determined at the end of the festival on July 27, and does not need to be present.
For tickets, call Festival Coordinator Kim Smith at 304-233-1090.