WHEELING -Robert Contraguerro never believed he would be selected as the 2012 Italian-American of the Year for the Upper Ohio Valley Italian Festival, but he is quite honored to receive the distinction.
"My mother is 94. She is just elated that her son has been selected for this honor," he said during a special reception at West Virginia Northern Community College on Thursday. "This is a huge honor for my family and me."
Wheeling native Contraguerro is the owner of Panhandle Cleaning and Restoration. He said both sets of his grandparents immigrated to the United States from Naples, Italy, so gaining recognition for his heritage is very special.
"The festival is great because it lets us celebrate our heritage, but also lets us show how special the city of Wheeling is," Contraguerro said. "Everyone has a great time, and it's a really great weekend for the city."
Contraguerro started his cleaning business in Wheeling in 1977. Today, he said his family-owned and operated business is glad to give back to the communities in which it operates.
Awarded $1,000 scholarships as part of the festival this year Thursday were: Bethany Tinstman of Buckeye Local High School, Megan Theaker of St. Clairsville High School, Megan Salatino of Brooke High School, Rebecca Goyde of Wheeling Park High School, Morgan Pelley of Bishop Donahue High School, Jalena Marshall of Wheeling Park High School, Jillian Laslo of Shadyside High School, Lance Workman of John Marshall High School, Joshua Marosi of Brooke High School, Casey Wiltshire of Buckeye Local High School, Michael Mastromichalis of Weir High School, Kaylee LaPosta of Weir High School, and Nicole Cheek of the West Virginia Northern Community College Culinary Arts program and Jennifer Ferguson of Oak Glen High School.
Festival Chairman Robert Gaudio also noted preparations for this year's festival, set for July 27-29 at Wheeling's Heritage Port, are well under way, while the annual kick-off dinner is set for July 25.
For festival information or tickets to the dinner, call (304) 233-1090.