Volunteers help make annual St. Joseph festival a success
Volunteers David O’Gurek, left, holds a brace of one of the food stands as Joe Pelcheck secures it. TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTOS
Dave O’Gurek batters a bloomin’ onion, one of the festival’s showcase food items.
Mike Vigoda of Coaldale works the deep fryer at the wing stand at the St. Joseph Parish festival in Summit Hill last year. The 83rd festival will take place this weekend.
Mary Fulton, left, and Jackie Colancecco cook up wings at the St. Joseph’s Festival in Summit Hill a few yea. Wings are just one of the many ethnic and American foods that will be available during the 80th annual St. Joseph’s Festival July 18-20.
Marlene Basiago counts out tickets at the festival ticket stand.
Halupki, haluski, bleenies, blooming onions, fried Oreos, hot wings, pizza and more.
These are just some of the delicacies that people will be able to find at the 85th annual St. Joseph Parish of the Panther Valley festival this weekend.
Besides the food, festivalgoers will also be able to enjoy auctions, games, live entertainment and even a fireworks display.
But there is one thing that many visitors will overlook as they take in all that the church festival has to offer, and that is the parishioners who have volunteered their time, finances and talents to make sure the festival goes off without a hitch.
Approximately 250 volunteers, ranging from high school age to well into their 80s, are the heart and soul of what has been an annual staple in the hilltop community for almost a century.
Nearly 50 years and counting
Barbara DiMattia, who is just one of the dozens of volunteers who roll up their sleeves to prepare food for the event, has been helping with the festival for nearly 50 years, perfecting the parish’s halupki recipe for the festival.
“I am 84 years old and I have been doing this since before my son was born,” she said.
DiMattia heads the halupki production with about five parishioners over a four-day period.
During that time, they make approximately 1,500 perfectly packed cabbage delights that will most likely sell out by the end of the three-day event.
“We use 250 pounds of meat and about 75 heads of cabbage,” she said. “I look forward to doing it every year because I have a great crew.”
When asked why she believes the festival is a success, she summed it up this way, “Nothing happens if you don’t have cooperation. We have good cooperation and good leadership.”
A family affair
Brothers David and Joe O’Gurek are other longtime volunteers who have a combined nearly 80 years of volunteering under their belts.
David has been one of the coordinators of the food and game stand construction and pretty much has it down to a science and can be seen manning the bleenie stand pretty much every day of the festival.
“For many years my involvement was limited to set up and breakdown,” David said. “However a long time ago — 20-25 years — when my brother Joe said there was not going to be bleenies at the festival because he didn’t have anyone to fry them, my brother Bill volunteered himself and me to be the fryers and we’ve been frying bleenies every year since.”
David and a crew of about a dozen volunteers were found on the parish’s grounds Monday, setting up the stands and beginning food preparations for the three-day event.
“It all comes together in time for the opening night on Friday,” he said. “The importance of volunteers is simple, without them there is no festival. It is truly amazing that for 84 years we as a parish have been able to successfully keep our festival alive.
“I remember as a child there were several festivals/block parties throughout the valley, sponsored by churches, fire companies, etc. Today, St. Joseph Parish Festival is it, and we are bigger and better than ever. And that is a tribute to the many, many volunteers who come together year after year to make it happen,” David said.
Joe’s story is similar to his brother’s, starting with the festival close to 40 years ago and moving to festival chairman.
He oversees pretty much all operations on food prep, set up, and the days of the festival.
Most days leading up to the festival, you will find Joseph down in the Rev. James Burdess Social Hall, making sure there is enough of everything to please the visitors.
“Prep actually started last week,” he said. “Soups have been made, turkeys and pork roasts have been roasted. This week will be filled with a lot of preparing. The group will begin making halupki on Wednesday and each day until the 300 pounds of hamburger allotted is done. Sausage will be cooked, batters will be made for funnel cakes, waffles and fried Oreos.
“Without the support of our parish family who have volunteered to work during the festival, as well as those who sent monetary donations to defray costs for specific items, we’re planning on another successful year.”
3 days of family fun
The St. Joseph Parish Festival will run Friday, Saturday and Sunday and features an assortment of homemade ethnic foods, nightly entertainment, children’s activities, a theme basket Chinese auction, baked goods, appliance sales and more.
The festival kicks off at 6 p.m. on Friday with entertainment by Maggie and the Nuts.
An air-conditioned Mass will take place at 4 p.m. on Saturday and the festival will begin around 5.
Saturday’s entertainment will be provided by Honky Tonk Medics.
On Sunday, there will be the procession of the statue of St. Gabriel through the west end of town by members of the St. Gabriel Italian Club and parish, and the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament from 3:30 to 4:15 p.m. All are welcome to participate in the procession.
The festival will open at 4 p.m.
Sunday’s entertainment includes Jay Smarr from 4 to 6 p.m. and Toolshed Jack from 6 to 10 p.m.
The three-day event will conclude with a fireworks display after 10 p.m.
For more information on the festival, visit the parish’s Facebook page at “St. Joseph Parish of the Panther Valley” or the church’s website at www.stjscatholicchurch.org.
St. Joseph Parish of the Panther Valley is located at 462 W. Ludlow St., Summit Hill.