Sons prepare for festival

BELLAIRE – The Upper Ohio Valley Italian Festival is celebrating its 31st birthday this weekend in downtown Wheeling.

And one of its annual staples will once again be available to the thousands of patrons who descend on the Friendly City’s waterfront.

The Sons of Italy Club in Bellaire has been working for several weeks to make sure it’s well stocked in sausage sandwiches.

“We’ve been selling these sandwiches for as long as the festival has been held,” said Sons of Italy Club President Dick Vanelle during the club’s annual media day, Tuesday. “We used to have sausage sales before the festival, but they never did the volume that we do now.”

The Sons of Italy, which was chartered in 1917, membership began preparing the sausage for this weekend three weeks ago and follow the same process each week.

“We cut meat on Monday, grind it on Tuesday and cut on Wednesday,” Vanelle said. “We usually do two or three batches at a time.”

All told, the Sons of Italy has turned out 1.5 tons of sausage for this weekend.

On the average, one pound of sausage can produce upwards of four sandwiches, meaning there could be roughly 12,000 sandwiches produced this weekend.

All of the cooking of the meat is done in Bellaire and then transported to Wheeling.

“We used to cook it at different places, but we really improved our kitchen here and it just made it so much easier,” Vanelle said. “We have a crew with a van and once we’re done cooking one batch, they’ll take it over there along with the peppers and onions.”

Along with the large amount of meat, some 750 pounds of onions are cut up and 15 cases of peppers are utilized.

According to Vanelle, the Sons of Italy actually cut back somewhat on the amount of sausage this year. The club pays close attention to the weather reports as a guide.

“If you get four or five days of 90 degrees, you’d better cut back a little bit,” Vanelle said.

The Sons of Italy actually sells its sausage by the pound a handful of times a year as well.

“We sell it around Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving,” Vanelle said. “We take orders and you can either get bulk. We usually sell over a thousand pounds during those times, too.”

For those unable to get to Wheeling this weekend, the Sons of Italy will be selling their sandwiches at their club on Belmont Street in Bellaire all three days from approximately 11 a.m. until 7 p.m.

The Sons of Italy’s proceeds go to helping the community. Whether it’s schools or other charitable organizations, the Sons have done their part.

“Most of the money we make goes to scholarships or helping other people,” Vanelle said. “We’ve probably given out 70 or 80 thousand in scholarships. We support the local schools and we usually get eight to 10 requests from other groups.”

The Sons of Italy, which still hosts its pasta nights on Thursday, also announced plans for a cookbook to be available later this year.

“The book is going to have recipes from families of club members,” Vanelle said. “We hope to have the book out by October or November.”

Staskey can be reached at