The Grapevine: Roots of the Italian Heritage Festival

By Rosalyn Queen on September 09, 2021 from The Grapevine via

This time of year, my mind always seems to be filled with memories of the West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival.  Especially since it has been canceled for two years and we cannot look forward to events happening now.
First a little history.  I was a part of the planning committee with Merle Moore in 1978. We all worked so very hard getting it ready to happen on the streets Labor Day weekend, 1979.  No one ever guessed how successful that first event would be and how hard we would have to work to continue to have a first-class event.
I can remember all the essential things we had that reminded us of Italy, but I also remember those events we planned that were attributed to Italian culture. We planned an Italian film festival with films made in Italy and starring Italian actors.  We planned Italian opera with different pieces from Italian operas. We also sponsored Italian ballet. Most of the individuals in these events were from West Virginia University. 

The Salvador Dali Art Exhibit was also sponsored.  We held it at the Robinson Grand with about 40 of his paintings.  This exhibit was loaned to us from the Dali collection.
We also sponsored cooking school.
With all the music and food on the streets we also wanted to accommodate those individuals who enjoyed different aspects of Italian culture.  Most of these events were not packed but I always felt good that we took the time to present them.
I suppose the most popular item was the food, then the music and dancing.  The parade was always popular and drew a great crowd.
The most spectacular event was the mass.  It was almost impossible to believe that an area where thousands ate, drank, and danced was transformed into an area where hundreds gathered to worship.
There were years when we had a Grand Finale Dance on Sunday night, but it proved to be too much for all those individuals who had worked for three days to attend just one more event.
I started out with those who did the planning, but a lot of the success goes to those individuals who came back year after year to enjoy and honor their heritage. Yes, the streets have been empty for two years but trust me the festival will be back in true form and plan on enjoying it as you have in the past.
Have a safe and healthy weekend and until next week “Now You Have Heard It Through The Grapevine.”
Editor's Note: Photos courtesy of the West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival Facebook page.

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