While Italian flags hanging on the poles above waved in the slight breeze on a sunny afternoon, hundreds lined the streets and stands between Oregon Avenue and Bigler Street Sunday. Mummers’ brigades and string bands, local school marching bands and the United States Marine Corps followed Grand Marshall Jerry Blavat, who rolled down South Broad Street in a yellow sports car, during the 52nd Columbus Day Parade. Even though the annual event was canceled last year because of fiscal problems, local Italians and Italian-Americans alike were back in full effect to celebrate their heritage this weekend.
“It will be bigger and better than ever,” City Council Director of Communications Anthony Radwanski said before the event.
The mile-long route, which commenced at Broad and Morris streets, ended in front of Marconi Plaza’s Christopher Columbus statue where local broadcaster Paul Perrello stood announcing each passing group. Mayor Michael Nutter, Council President Anna Verna and U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, who were instrumental in making this day happen, among other local representatives shook hands with parade-goers as they made their way up to the stage.
Many residents embraced their ethnic heritage wearing red, white and green colored clothing or waving mini Italian flags with pride. Amidst the crowd was Madeline DelVecchio Parella, who not only loves Italy, but also visited there a number of times. The Eighth-and-Fitzwater-streets resident ventured south for the past 15 to 20 years to commemorate the holiday and enjoy the festivities. She was delighted for its revival “because of all the Italians and their heritage — they look forward to this,” she said. “I hope they always continue it and I’m very excited it’s back this year.”
The parade was just one of several festivities scheduled throughout the weekend such as an official proclamation of the annual holiday, honoring the parade’s resolution and placing wreaths at the statue in Marconi Plazas to honor explorer Christopher Columbus and traditional Italian customs.
A struggling economy caused organizers of the 2008 parade to scale back while an incomplete grant application canceled last year’s parade, but not the festival.
Making sure it wouldn’t happen again, Pete Ciarrocchi, owner of Chickie’s and Pete’s, 1526 Packer Ave., helped to establish the 1492 Society, Inc. in March. When coming in last year, the committee thought it could pull off the parade, Jody Dellabarba, former Columbus Day Committee chairperson and 1492 Society, Inc. secretary, said. But, it simply didn’t have enough time to settle the grant process and raise about $40,000.
With organizers responsible for trash cleanup and police duty, this year, the city’s cost of $17,000 was paid out of the Greater Philadelphia Traditions Fund intiated by Brady. Philanthropist H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest started the nonprofit this year to lessen rising parade costs.
Other expected expenses, Dellabarba said, included aspects of the festival, entertainment, insurance to indemnify the society with the city and some technical fees. To offset the difference, Verna — whose late husband Severino co-founded the parade in 1957 — donated $10,000 and helped raise $4,000 from the city. Sen. Larry Farnese, P. Agnes Realty, Defense Realty, Sons of Italy, Unico, Chickie’s and Pete’s and Philadelphia Federal Credit Union provided additional funds ranging from $500 to $5,000 each.
Dellabarba was thrilled to see the parade once again come to fruition.
“I think it’s wonderful,” the Sons of Italy member said. “I think sometimes you have to lose something before you realize how important it is and by canceling it, it really woke people up in the Italian community.”
Eddie Tully, just one of several entertainment acts, agreed.
“We really appreciate it coming back this year,” the resident of 13th Street and Oregon Avenue said.
Growing up in St. Monica’s parish, the 37-year-old always looked forward to marching in the parade as part of his school’s color guard, so its cancellation was a major disappointment last year.
“The sense of South Philly Italian pride is getting lost in our neighborhoods and this is the one time we can shine and show our culture again,” he said. “I hope [the cancellation] creates a sense of urgency so it doesn’t happen again.”
A stage erected in the center of the park was the perfect spot for entertainment, which also included The Business, The Munier Mandolin Society, Italian singer Nick Desiderio, the Verdi Band and Tarantella Italian folk dancers to liven up the crowd during the seven- hour celebration. Vendors included Termini Bros., Iannelli’s Brick Oven Bakery, Uncle Oogie’s, Isgro’s and Galdo’s Catering, who dished out local favorites such as tomato pie and freshly filled cannolis under colorful tents.
For many residents, celebrating their heritage was one of the most important aspects of the day.
“I’m Italian and I’m proud of it,” Robert Giannone of 27th and McKean streets said about why he attended the parade for the first time.
But, several attendees wanted to savor a little taste of Italy too.
“As I purchased my porchetta sandwich and aranciata drink and sat down, for a few moments, I felt as if I was in Italy eating my “panino di porchetta” and drinking “una latina d’aranciata” in a little town of Abruzzo,” Mariassunta Barrucci, of Juniper and McKean streets, said.
The surprise and embarrassment of last year’s unfortunate circumstances only made this Italian community stronger and even more aware of what was at stake.
“It is up to us, the younger generations, to keep traditions such as the Columbus Day Parade and Festival thriving in order to continue the vibrant Italian spirit in South Philly,” Barrucci said. SPR