Rockford’s family-friendly Festa Italiana is returning Aug. 4-6 to the Boylan High School Grounds, 4000 St. Francis Dr. In addition to delicious food and beverages, festivalgoers can expect carnival rides, Italian dancers, “kids krafts,” wine and limoncello demonstrations, genealogy searches and bocce games all weekend. A special outdoor mass is celebrated by Bishop Malloy on Sunday at 10 a.m.
“Forty-four years ago, two men, Noe [Whitey] Marinelli and Bob [Corky] Corirossi had an inspiration – a festival that would join the Italian community in Rockford for one weekend a year,” says Karen Cantele, a member of the Festa Executive Committee and co-chair of Greater Rockford Italian American Association [GRIAA].
“It was one big family reunion, but it turned into so much more,” she continues. “They started a scholarship program for Italian-American students to go to area Catholic Schools, and here we are 44 years later still raising money for more scholarships. Over $755,000 has been given through the years to students in grades K-12 through our umbrella organization, GRIAA.”
GRIAA is a nonprofit organization headed and staffed solely by volunteers, Cantele adds. It serves as a conservatory of Italian culture and traditions and provides the community an opportunity to experience the customs and traditions of Italy firsthand through a variety of educational programs and public events provided by GRIAA Committees.
“Italian-Americans in Rockford are very proud of their heritage,” Cantele says. “And we are very proud to be a part of the Rockford community in our businesses, the four Italian Clubs [Lombardi, St. Ambrogio, Verdi and Venetian], many community leadership roles, and of course our beloved home church St. Anthony of Padua. Rockford is such a melting pot of cultures – I feel that the community is very supportive throughout the year to all.”
Over the past 44 years, Festa Italiana hasn’t changed very much from its original form. And that’s intentional, Cantele says.
“I think that is why we are the longest running festival in Rockford. People have learned they can depend on Festa to provide great food and fun for the whole family every year,” she says.
More than 100 volunteers are the backbone of this year’s festival, and planning is an all-year task, Cantele adds.
“We also have so many great sponsors that support us every year. Every donation is appreciated and all profits go to our scholarship fund.”
General admission is $8 per ticket, while kids ages 10 and under and military active duty and veterans enter free. A family pack is available for $90 and includes four admissions, two ride wrist bands and $20 worth of food tickets. Special ride wristbands are available on Saturday from 1-6 p.m. and Sunday from noon-7 p.m. for $30.
“What I love most is the feeling of family that you get when you come to Festa,” Cantele says. “You see old friends and make new ones. And while you may only see them once a year, it’s always full of fun and makes lifetime memories.”
To see the full entertainment schedule, visit festaitalianarockford.com. ❚