First Posted: 8/29/2013
Maybe you’re tired of reading about it? All talked out about it! A little bored hearing about it? I want to add my thoughts and comments about it because I was there 30 years ago when the Tomato Festival started as a dream of one man. Val Delia had a passion for growing tomatoes. He claimed we had the best-tasting tomatoes in this part of the state because of the soil.
I recall shopping in Insalaco’s Super Market on North Main Street and meeting Val. He asked what I thought of the idea of a Tomato Festival for our town.
“Val, I love the idea of a festival,” I said. “B ut I think it should be an Ethnic Festival. We are a city populated by descendants of one third Italians, one third Irish and the other one third Slavic. Imagine the great foods and the history.”
Armed with great determination and belief in his idea, Val did not stop until the festival became a reality. The year was 1983. While attending a City Council meeting as a councilwoman, I heard Mayor Thomas Walsh announced that the City of Pittston would initiate a town celebration called “The Tomato Festival.”
Ken Scaz was named chairman. Paul McGarry, P.J. Melvin and Wil Toole had leading roles. I was on the Parade Committee that was chaired by Bill Burke, of West Pittston. It was a well-organized team and in August of that year, the first Tomato Festival was held in the Burger King lot on Kennedy Boulevard.
The stands had a home-town flavor as members of local churches and organizations displayed their cooking talents. Members of the Second Presbyterian Church sold pasta and fagala, St. John the Evangelist Church members had a stand but I can’t recall the specialty, the Italian American Association and Serradefalco Society joined forces with an infamous sausage and pepper sandwich and Sam Greeky Guarneri presented a frozzia sandwich (the best).
Sam Alba turned a wheel for a local service club for many years. Who could ever forget Mae McHugh and the ladies from the ILGWU at the Bingo stand? The members of the Nino Montante DAV donning their post caps and selling raffle tickets. Can’t forget Bob Conroy and Sam Miceli who worked through the nights wiring the tents for electricity.
Like many successful ventures, responsibilities are passed on to others. The Tomato Festival changed into the capable hands of three young and very astute people, Lori Nocito, Michael Lombardo and Jim Zarra. They are a dynamic trio who work well and with the people who serve on numerous committees.
My impression of our 30th anniversary is one of awe and gratitude. A feeling that has been building with each new piece of art work, new building, construction of another building, sidewalks, walkways and, most importantly, attitude. It is so uplifting to hear the positive comments made with pride by all who venture into our downtown. It’s like walking into a city of magic and wanting to stretch out one’s arms to embrace and hug it tight.
Such a moment occurred when the sculpture surrounding the pole close to the Tomato Festival lot was unveiled. The sculpture compliments the two wire figures draped on the Open Space building, seemingly maneuvering to grasp and hold an object. Another wire figure is positioned on the pole atop boxes and crates of tomatoes with arms reaching out to grasp that object which was the Tomato Festival sign that hung across Main Street. The sculptures are the work and creation of Ray Preby, artist and resident of Pittston.
My generation remembers the old Main Street in Pittston. We are part of the people who shopped in the stores lining both sides of Main Street, drank Cokes at the counter in the 5 & 10 cent store, hung on the parking meters, went to the American Theater on Saturday nights where the popular movies were shown and to the Roman Theater for the cowboy and Indian movies and chapters.
We also saw our Main Street deteriorate, businesses close, buildings torn down and empty lots appear. To see it come alive again is most gratifying. Congratulations and bravo to Michael Lombardo who had this vision of Pittston when he was mayor and still does with many others, including Mayor Jason Klush.
The Tomato Fight – a popular activity of the festival – has gained state, national and my friend Ann Marie Conroy’s recognition. “I’m going to turn 80 in September and I would like to be in the tomato fight. I have wanted to do this for a long time and want to cross it off my “to do” list. Would you join me?” she asked.
My response was “no.” The thought of being hit and splattered with rotten tomatoes did not appeal to me.
My adventurous friend entered the contest with her daughter, Debbie, her niece, Jean Bantell, and Rita Sketchus. She asked, “Will you come and watch me in the fights?” My response was negative because the thought of her slipping on a tomato and falling was alarming to me.
She came out of the fight messy, exhilarated and proud of her accomplishment. Me, too, my friend. Happy 80th Birthday on Sept. 6.
FEAST OF ST. ROCCO
As proud as we are to celebrate the Tomato Festival, we proudly celebrate our religious celebrations, as well. The members of St. Rocco’s Mutual Aid Society, their families and friends marked the Feast of St. Rocco on Sunday, Aug. 18 with a mass in St. Joseph Marello’s Church followed by the traditional procession through the streets of Oregon.
There is much sentiment and emotions involved with this celebration since it dates back more than 80 years and began with the founders of the church. The descendants carry the statue and walk the streets, remembering those who walked the same route before them.
The Cino Paci Band, a significant part of this celebration, gave a special tribute to the patron saint as they played in concert in the church hall following the procession. There was much hand clapping, feet stomping and tears flowing as the traditional marches were heard. Charles Infantino is director of the band.
BRENDA WILL BE MISSED
There are people who come into your life at different intervals and leave an impression on your being and in your heart. Brenda Lispi, past president of the Friends of the Pittston Memorial Library, was that type of person. She gave of herself unselfishly with a quiet mannerism, gentle smile and overwhelming caring for all. She was a director of the Office of the Aging and touched many lives. She will be missed but remembered with love.
Quiet time for a little while in the City of Pittston as we think of “The the way it was….and is.”