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Vendors, organizers happy for Italian Festival’s return

Photo by Scott McCloskey Terry Fields wipes down the front of Ginocchio’s Authentic Italian Cuisine concession stand at Wheeling Heritage Port Thursday in preparation for the 38th Undo’s Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival this weekend.

WHEELING — As Wheeling resident Ryan Yanik set up the stage lighting for the 38th Undo’s Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival at Wheeling’s Heritage Port Thursday, he said it was exciting to get back to work and light the festival stage following a year away.

Dozens were setting up around the festival site, feeling the same way as Yanik — eager to see people enjoy one of the region’s largest festivals after the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 edition.

“It’s nice to get back to work,” Yanik said. “The pandemic was rough with not having any type of festival or entertainment at all.”

This was Yanik’s fourth year setting up the lighting for the festival.

“It’s very exciting. I missed it a lot,” he added.

Festival Coordinator Janice Whipkey said organizers are expecting a great turnout for this year’s event.

The three-day festival officially kicks off with opening ceremonies at noon today and continues through Sunday.

Whipkey said that, in addition to nearly 40 food vendors, there will be a full slate of live entertainment.

Something new this year will be food tents set up near the corner of 12th and Water Streets, a site they are calling, “A Little Taste of Italy.”

Despite only having a few months to plan for this year’s festival, Whipkey said there’s a great deal of anticipation building for this weekend’s event. While festival planning is traditionally a year-round effort, the pandemic curbed those efforts over the past year, according to Whipkey.

“We just had just like three months to get ready,” she said, “so it has been hectic. We weren’t sure if we were going to be able to have it or not because of the COVID restrictions.”

New Springfield, Ohio resident Karen Rutana, a longtime vendor who operates the Rutana Hot Apple Dumplings concession stand, said it feels “absolutely fantastic” to be part of the Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival once again.

“It feels like coming back home,” she said as she waited to set up her stand in its usual spot. “It’s absolutely wonderful to see everybody. We love it here,”

The line-up of entertainment for today includes:

11:30-1:0pm Rick Pastre & Al Provenzano

12:30-1:30pm Robert ‘Moose’ Dodrill

5:00-6:30pm Eli and The Mojo Kings

7:00-9:00pm Ray Massa Big Italian Show

9:30-11:00pm Spinning Jenny

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