Everybody is Italian as festival opens in Wheeling

WHEELING – Community leaders from the municipal to national level gathered with hundreds of others Friday as Italian-American of the Year Bob Gaudio cut the red ribbon to officially begin the 2014 Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival at Wheeling’s Heritage Port.

“I was lucky enough to be born Italian,” U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said as the ceremony ended and vendors and entertainers kicked off three busy days. “There are those smart enough to marry Italian. But everybody’s Italian today. It’s just a wonderful weekend.”

State Delegate Mike Ferro, D-Marshall, said the Italian festival is all about community.

“This is one of the most exciting events of the year,” Ferro said. “It just really unites the entire Ohio Valley.”

As the Italian-American of the Year, Gaudio said he considers himself and his family extremely honored. The award, he explained, is given each year to a resident of the Ohio Valley based on their contributions to the community. With a record including service in Youth Services System Inc., Legal Aid of West Virginia, local Sleep Out programs and more than 6 years one the Italian festival’s board of directors, Gaudio said he does a lot in the Ohio Valley.

“When you reach a certain place in your life that you have the ability to serve others, then you have a duty to do so,” Gaudio said. “I feel it is my duty. I humbly accepted (this honor) on behalf of my family.”

Gaudio said a weekend of fun lies ahead for those visiting the festival including delicious food, unique vendors and plenty of entertainment, with two stages set up on opposite sides of the festival.

For the city of Wheeling, Mayor Andy McKenzie said the festival has a special place of distinction.

“The Italian Festival is the best of the best,” McKenzie said. “What’s unique about it is that the Italian Festival was the benchmark of creating all these other festivals. Now we have festivals and events all summer long. This was the grandfather of them all. What a wonderful weekend this is going to be.”