It All Began
The year was 1980 and things looked pretty bad in Ellwood City with many of the factories closing or moving away. Mary Wiley came up with the idea of holding a revue at the Lincoln High School to brighten the outlook in the community.
She presented the idea to Denny Schill and Joe Ferrara, who were agreeable. She suggested that the revue be titled “Ellwood City, USA.” Joe Ferrara wrote the script entitled “A Stroll Through the Park.” The Revue was held at the Lincoln High School Auditorium on October 17 and 18. The Revue was a success – netting $1400. What to do with the money?
Schill, Wiley, Ferrara, Roy Meehan and Ben Pellicano put on their thinking caps and came up with the idea of having a Festival in Ewing Park during the 4th of July holiday. The $1400 was used to organize the Festival.
The first Festival was held in 1981 with Joe Ferrara as chairman, but due to unforeseen circumstances, Ferrara had to step aside. Roy Meehan took over the chairmanship.
When the Festival started, it was a two-day affair. There were 11 food booths and 25 craft booths. Attendance was between 12,000 to 15,000 visitors. In 1982, the Festival expanded to three days with 26 food booths and 68 craft vendors, drawing an estimated 22,000 visitors. In 1983, the Festival featured 100 arts, crafts, and food booths. In 1985 there were 30 food booths and 100+ craft booths.
In 1982, more than $28,000 was earned by all the food booths combined. Contrast that with recent Festivals, where one vendor alone probably nears that total itself. The first Festival budget was approximately $10,000, while budgets for the last several years are $40,000 and up.
MAKE IT A FESTIVAL WEEKEND
Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but where can you go to mix with old friends, make new ones, enjoy fantastic local music and dancing entertainment, reasonably priced ethnic foods, and then top it all off Sunday evening by watching a display of fireworks at Helling Stadium by world-wide renowned, Zambelli Fireworks!
Planning for next year’s Festival begins one month after the current Festival ends, not only for the Festival committee but also for the many organizations that participate. Each year, it takes more than 800 volunteers to put on this event.The many organizations will use up approximately 1,700 chicken wings, 966 packages of buns, 1,500 pounds of lamb, 670 pounds of tomatoes, 520 pounds of sugar, 580 pounds of peppers, 730 pounds of onions, 4,000 packages of napkins, and 5,110 pounds of all-American favorite POTATOES! (French fries, anyone?) That doesn’t include the many other foods available such as: apples, bottled water, pop, breakfast, hot dogs, donuts, ice cream, cupcakes, pasta and sauce, even deep fried Twinkies (what will you see this year?)
The Festival now attracts more than 200 vendors and visitors from all over the United States. High school reunions are the norm due to the attractiveness of the Festival. Vendor applications are received from New York, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Ohio and Pennsylvania, encompassing more than 116 cities and towns across the United States such as Punta Gorda, King George, Grover, Deltona, Miami, and Hiawassee, to name a few.
Festival funds (when there is a positive balance) go back into the operating fund for the next year, with a reserve held for possible emergencies. The Festival Committee is all volunteer and the Committee is a non-profit organization, solely in existence as the driving force to make the Festival happen! All Festival committee members donate their time to make the Festival possible year after year.