FROM THE VERY BEGINNING, there were memories.......
Memories of the old country and the old village, where the patron Saint of Patrica was honored. Those memories precipitated the birth of the San Rocco Festa in the new country, the United States of America and the new neighborhood of Plan 11, Aliquippa, in Pennsylvania, a special merger of cultures, friendships and memories were born. From the very beginning, the liturgy in church and the procession of the saint through the streets were the heart of the celebration. As with all Italian celebrations, the Festa was blessed with beautiful music, delicious food, rich laughter and family traditions. And just for good measure, the spectacular effect of exploding color and intense sound filled the air with the excitement of fireworks.
Those remembered as the founders of the first Festa are Cesare Biancucci, Pio Colonna, Domenic Montini, Joseph Paladini, Domenic Rinaldi and Francesco Vallecorsa.
According to an article in The Woodlawn Gazette, August 4, 1925, the first Saint Rocco celebration was a gala two-day event. The patron saint of Patrica, Italy was remembered by the 200 members of the Italian Political Citizens Club of Woodlawn with a high mass celebrated at St. Titus Roman Catholic Church by Rev. J.J. Greaney. Led by Philip Refice, The Woodlawn Band and members of the Italian organization marched from their hall on Plan 11 to and from St. Titus Church. Following the procession, dinner was served at noon. Later in the afternoon, a program of races and other sport events featured prizes for the winners. Fireworks and band concerts completed the two-day program.
Officers for the Italian Citizens Club were: President James Piroli, Vice-President Leo Andreozzi, Secretary Frank Rossi, and Treasurer Sam Ruscitti.
Ten years later, The Aliquippa Gazette, August 13, 1935, announced Aliquippa's Italian colony's plans for the annual Saint Rocco weekend. Since the 1925 festivities, dancing, parades and multiple bands were added to the entertainment and children dressed in white joined the procession participants.
The Sons of Italy Band of West Aliquippa, conducted by Carl D'Atri, as well as many Italians residing in West Aliquippa, joined the Italians of Plan 11 for the procession to church. The J&L Band, under the direction of Walter Iacobucci, alternated with The SOI Band for continuous concerts throughout Saturday evening. Sports events were expanded to include men's tug-of-war, one-legged race, pie-eating contest and young men's and girl's races. Prizes were provided by Aliquippa's merchants. The highlight prize awarded was a bedroom suite.
The committee in charge was Chairman Francesco Vallecorsa, Assistant Charirman Cesare Biancucci, Secretary Domenic Rinaldi and Treasurer Antonio Bologna.
By 1945, The Evening Times was reporting the cooperative efforts of numerous Italian clubs and organizations. They joined efforts to present the festivities of St. Rocco's Day in the boro. Several civic organizations included the M.P.I. Club headed by it's President Louis Fontana; The Council of Saint Rocco, Federation of the Sons of Columbus led by it's President Eleuterio Marocco; The Council of Queens of Columbus led by it's President Mrs. Lucy Docchio. The Ladies Auxiliary to the Musical Political Italian Club led by it's President Mrs. Antoinette Kenety, participated in the annual procession.
The celebration had grown to attract 5,000 Italian by 1945. Special committees were in charge of the arrangements for the event. In charge of arrangements for the celebration were: Ugo Alviani, Serafino Sperduti, Vittoria Mele, Cesare Biancucci, Anthony Refice, Arnold Mansueti, Patsy Cozuccolli, Jimmy Montini, Luigi Montini, Mrs. Onorina Tolassi, Beatrice Rita, Mary Rossi, Mary Montini, Josephine Pellegrini and Mary Brunico.
The Miss America program, featuring Margaret Bucci, had the following committee: Floria Salvati, Matilda Rossi, Genevieve Mansueti, Norma Sperduti, Hilda Montini, Ida Tarquinio, Julia Scarazza, Josephine Spaziani and Norma Montini. Gilda Capella, Ambridge; Jim Montini, Serafino Salvati, Detroit, Michigan; Elia Mansi, Guido Montini, Flint, Michigan; Silvio Del Marrone, Vittorio Grossi, Luigi Appaloni, Egidio Pallani, Crestline, Ohio; Luigi Mansueti, Tullio Cellini and Cataldo Bresciani, Herminie, PA.
In the 1950's, Florence (Flossie) Catroppa chaired the first committee to coordinate the Sunday morning procession. Thanks to her efforts, generations of Italians have childhood memories that include gathering on neighborhood porches to create paper flowers and bows to decorate the San Rocco floats. On Sunday morning, the official festivities began when The MPI Band, committee members, three young girls selected as banner carriers, and others gathered at the home of Pio Colonna on Third Avenue to receive the San Rocco banner and carry it to church.
Jimmy Mansueti was a familiar sight at the forefront of the procession riding his motorcycle and holding his air gun high. Each time the gun popped, shouts of "Viva San Rocco" echoed from the crowd. Second Avenue held a special treat for the onlookers. Bushel baskets of ciambelli, Italian pastry, were distributed. The neighborhood women who baked the pastry distributed them with pride and love.
The San Rocco statue, imported from Italy in 1958, was carried through the streets of Plan 11 on the shoulders of a group of men who considered it an honor to bear the patron of Patrica. The statue was housed within a cupola, an ornate wooden enclosure, carved by Oresto Costanza and Rudolph Marocci. Sylvester (Silver) Montini served as the first statue marshal.
A unique annual sight that closed the Festa on Sunday night was the enormous eight-foot, wooden-framed likeness of an Italian woman known simply as the baby doll. She swayed through the crowd to the Festa site where the fireworks attached to her four-foot arms were ignited. She danced the Tarentella, the Tarantula, an ancient Italian folk dance that tells a folk tale of a woman spinning faster and faster to rid herself of poisonous venom. According to folklore, her only hope for survival was finding true love. To represent that found love, the fireworks on the doll were ignited.
At last, the structure was removed and the baby doll dancer was revealed. In the beginning, that was Sam Sperduti. In the decades following, a male doll was added. Other dancers have been: Stanley (Stelio) Montini, Henry Bufalini Sr., Victor Sperduti, Henry Bufalini Jr. , Arlene Costanza Sustar, and Harry Vallecorsa.
Early Festa memories recall the delightful sounds emanating from The MPI Band, led by Umberto Biancucci as members marched from street to street stopping to play on each corner. Traditional favorites such as marche sinfoniche were enjoyed and remembered. Band concerts were an important element of the Festa from the earliest days to the present.
In 1991, The San Rocco Cultural Committee issued an open invitation to former band members who performed at past celebrations. Thrity-five responded to Reunion Chairman Vince Biancucci. They came from all over the United States of America, from location such as Nevada, Florida, New York and Ohio to join Beaver Countians for a San Rocco Jazz Band Review. Directed by Lee Tolfa and Edmund (Mo) Scarazzo, the results were delightful and are still enjoyed on audio tape. In 1997, The San Rocco Festa Band was officially formed.
Over the last decade, The San Rocco Cultural Committee has successfully added charitable works to its efforts. Recipients have been as varied as the community needs. For example, donations have been made to an Italian child in need of a transplant, the Aliquippa Fire Department and the St. Titus Roman Catholic Church.
On a weekend in August each year near the feast day of the 16th, the community of Aliquippa gathers it's resources, talents and neighborly love to celebrate an ethnic tradition born from old world memories. August 2015 marked the 90th Anniversary of Aliquippa's San Rocco Festa, distinguishing it as the longest continuous running ethnic celebration in Western Pennsylvania. This fact has been entered into the records of the Library of Congress.
The San Rocco Cultural Committee welcomes your input. Please contact us with your memories and family records of San Rocco Festas past.