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Festival offers food, fun and music

July 16, 2011
By WARREN SCOTT - Staff writer ( , The Herald-Star

FOLLANSBEE - Over the years Follansbee Community Days has offered a mix of food, fun and live music, with both nationally known performers and local favorites taking to the stage at the Ray Stoaks Plaza.

It's also offered local schools, churches and other organizations an opportunity to raise funds for various projects and causes.

Many turned out on Saturday for the Follansbee Community Days Parade, which was led by Parade Marshal Joe Prest, a Follansbee native who celebrated his 101st birthday in March; Honorary Parade Marshal Mary Andriano, who was selected for her service to her church and community. Also participating were Nina Meca, who was named the 2010 Follansbee Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year for her efforts as co-chairman of the festival since it was established and in other volunteer groups; Mayor David Velegol Jr. and past mayor Tony Paesano; local clergy honored at the Follansbee Community Days Dinner on Wednesday, the Tri-State Young Marines color guard, and local police and fire departments, dance studios and youth sports teams.

Music was provided by the MacDonald Pipe Band of Pittsburgh, who may have surprised parade-goers with their bagpipe renditions of "You're a Grand Old Flag," "God Bless America" and other patriotic tunes; The Driftin' Hoopie Experience, a local country band that performed aboard a flatbed truck; and the Brooke High School Marching Band.

The high school also was represented by its dance team, cheerleading squad, football team and Homecoming King and Queen Zeke O'Connell and Katelyn Swager.

Following the parade many walked over to Virginia Avenue, where a number of vendors were selling food, crafts and other items.

Five Follansbee Middle School pupils were selling hair bows to raise money for the ALIVE Domestic Violence Shelter. The five - who include Carlie Diserio, Caitlin Cuomo, Lauren Fritz, Alexa Gerrard and Kelly Schambach - explained they have formed a new group - dubbed Act, Give, Care - to support various local charities, particularly ones involving families.

They have made at least 100 of the bows, which they also have sold online, and are planning a bake sale.

Vince Croce, grand knight of the Follansbee Knights of Columbus, could be found selling meatball and sausage sandwiches, hot dogs and french fries.

He estimated the group will have peeled about 2,500 pounds of potatoes for the fries.

"This is our main fundraiser," he said, adding proceeds go to such causes as the Anderson Children's Home, a local home for children with special needs.

Mary Virginia Gaudio of Follansbee has participated in Community Days for many years, often selling children's toys with her husband, Frank. But this year she joined fellow members of Olde St. John's Episcopal Church of Colliers in selling grilled corn on the cob, strawberry smoothies and chances on gift baskets to support the church, whose roots can be traced to more than 200 years ago.

Gaudio said of the festival, "It's always been a nice opportunity to see old friends. This is a weekend when everybody comes home and gets together. You make new friends and renew old acquaintances."

For some participating in the festival is a means of income, but one they said they enjoy.

"It's really nice down here. We've been here about four years," said Olivia Carter of Follansbee, who was assisting her husband, Byron, in selling the spare ribs and barbecued chicken he prepared on his grill.

"He's retired and this is his hobby," she explained.

Sharon Cunningham of Windsor Heights displayed many pumpkins in which she had carved various intricate designs and scenes. She draws the scenes onto the pumpkins freehand, then cuts into them with a hot knife, she explained.

She also makes decorative porcelain angels, many of which were hung in her booth, and stained glass stepping stones, but had to take a break from the latter following surgery that prohibits her from lifting.

Representatives of the Brooke County West Virginia University Extension Service and its Energy Express summer reading program weren't selling anything.

They are just seeking donations of school supplies to be distributed to children of families in need, explained John Lyonett, a Brooke County school teacher and the program's coordinator.

Nat "Sonny" Marino of Weirton said Follansbee Community Days is a mix of business and pleasure for him. He enjoys attending the parade and talking with old friends when not helping fellow members of the Theta Chi Alpha social fraternity serve up Italian sausage sandwiches and other food at their booth, he said.

Mary Conley of Follansbee said the festival is a good place for families.

Conley, who was accompanied by her 7-year-old granddaughter Isabella Yetts of Wellsburg, said, "We come every year. We love it."

(Scott can be contacted at

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