WHEELING - Whether they want sausage, pepperoni, meatballs or gyros, thousands of people will flood downtown Wheeling this weekend for the 31st-annual Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival.
The festival's kickoff dinner is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the McLure Hotel, while opening ceremonies for the festival are set for noon Friday at Heritage Port.
"We invite everyone to come down to have a good time," said Kim Smith, festival coordinator, on Monday. "Hopefully, the weather will cooperate."
GETTING READY — Elizabeth Hughes, intern with the Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival, gets ready for the festival this weekend. - Casey Junkins
The free festival will offer live music and entertainment throughout the weekend, with much of this activity taking place at the Heritage Port Stage. However, the stage will officially be known this weekend as the Williams Energy Stage, thanks to a $10,000 donation from the Tulsa, Okla.-based natural gas processing company.
"We are very grateful for the help Williams has given us," Smith said. "They are great to work with."
During a special reception at West Virginia Northern Community College earlier this year, Williams Strategic Outreach Coordinator Scott Carney presented the donation to festival President Marian Grubor, emphasizing the company's commitment to the community.
Williams operates the Fort Beeler processing facility along U.S. Route 250 between Cameron and Moundsville, as well as the fractionator along the Ohio River south of Moundsville. Carney said his company is investing $4.5 billion to process methane, propane, butane and ethane at its three sites in Marshall County: Fort Beeler, Moundsville and Oak Grove.
In addition to traditional festival activities, Smith said this year will feature a homemade Italian sauce contest. She said there will be several new vendors on hand, as well as mechanical and inflatable rides.
A traditional favorite, the bocce ball tournament, will have a new location along Water Street. It previously has been held in the grassy area near WesBanco Arena.
Also, because the West Virginia Division of Highways no longer allows fireworks to be shot from the Wheeling Suspension Bridge, the annual Saturday night display will be launched from the parking lot of Main Street Bank.
The festival will nforce its wristband policy for alcoholic beverages in an effort to reduce underage consumption.
The following students will receive $1,000 scholarships as part of the festival this year: Juliet Casinelli of Brooke High School, Taylor Yeater of Bridgeport High School, Brittney Fisher and Stephanie Brown of John Marshall High School, Corey Leasure of Bellaire St. John Central High School, Heavenly Florio of West Virginia Northern Community College, Alec Buchmelter of Brooke High School, Kaitlyn Fleming of Shadyside High School, George Kellas III and Christa Calangelo of Wheeling Park High School, Joshua Weltner and Sara Reed of Oak Glen High School, Joshua Higgins of Edison High School and Laken Visnick of Wheeling Central Catholic High School.
Honored as co-Italian-American of the Year for 2013 are Gilda Reed and Dr. John DeBlasis. Grubor said the festival board vote ended in a tie this year, resulting in two honorees.