Having a (meat)ball

Annual Italian Fall Festa returns

By Joyell Nevins

Photo: The Italian Fall Festa, which includes the Meatball Madness 5K race, takes place Sept. 11-13

Benvenuti! Come taste delicious homemade food, play a round of bocce and celebrate all things Italian at the 38th-annual Italian Fall Festa. It is held by the John Pirelli Lodge #1633 Order of Sons of Italy in America, commonly referred to as Sons of Italy, Sept. 11-13 at their Bella Villa estate.

“Festa” is the Italian word for party, and the Sons of Italy and all their friends and family are ready to bring it.

“We get a tremendous crowd every year,” says general chair Brian Andzik, who has been involved with the festa for more than two decades.

Andzik is referring to the 40-50 thousand people who come out every year. The lodge and the 10 shaded acres of the estate are all made available for the influx (although, Andzik notes, several of those acres are taken up with parking). You can listen to a band, walk the grounds or play bocce ball. Children can participate in the special activities in the kids’ area.

And you can eat. Calzones, spaghetti, ziti, Italian beef sandwiches, meatball sandwiches, cavatelli, wedding soup, pasta fagioli, cannolis, tiramisu, sfinge, zeppole … are you drooling yet? And all of the food is made in-house by members, friends and family—no outside vendors.

“We’ve kept it homemade and homegrown for all these years,” Andzik says. “That’s what makes us unique.”

Aside from the food booths, every night there is a special sit-down dinner available inside the lodge. Friday is baked ziti, Saturday is stuffed shells and Sunday is spaghetti and meatballs.

In fact, that’s how the festa started—as a giant picnic. The first year in 1978 was a Sunday picnic. Then, a few years later, it grew into a Saturday and Sunday event. In the early 1990s, the festa became a three-day weekend, always the weekend after Labor Day.

Six years ago, the Sons of Italy added a Meatball Madness 5K. What other race do you know where the entry package includes a T-shirt and a meatball sandwich (no joke—at the completion of the race, every participant gets a free meatball sandwich)? The 5K has averaged about 450 runners.

Registration is $20 and can be completed online. The race starts at 10 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 13.

Dr. Zoot, Focus Point, Cavalieri Real, Happy Days and Aaron Caruso are all on the roster to provide live Italian music during these three days. And Bengals and Browns fans, no need to constantly check your phone for score updates—the Sons of Italy will be playing the football games on their large-screen TVs.

Who are the Sons?

Originally called the Societa di Mutuo Soccorso Italiana, the Dayton chapter of the Sons of Italy is the largest chapter in the country. It is a fraternal organization for Americans of Italian descent. New members must be sponsored in by a current member.

The number of members is currently more than 560 and continues to grow. Andzik notes that number is practically triple the number of members 20 years ago.

“A lot of our events are centered around food, and Italians love to eat,” Andzik jokes.

But the Sons do more than break bread together. The lodge is a proud supporter of several local and national charities, including the Ronald McDonald House, House of Bread and Cooley’s Anemia. They also maintain a scholarship fund through Wright State University.

“We’re an Italian club that’s doing things for our community,” Andzik says. “When you can be who you are and still support the community and your culture, that’s a good thing.”

The group participates in Dayton’s A World A’Fair and hosts a Bocce Classic in the summer.

But the Italian Fall Festa is by far their biggest event and largest fundraiser of the year. Andzik works on the event all year but goes into “heavy planning mode” nine months ahead of time. He says it takes more than 1,000 volunteers to make the weekend happen.

“It’s a big commitment from a lot of people,” he says. “It really is a labor of love. We’re very proud of our heritage and we love bringing that to the community.”

The Italian Fall Festa takes place Friday-Sunday, Sept. 11-13 at Bella Villa Hall, 2625 County Line Road in Kettering. Admission and parking are both free. Parking and a shuttle bus will also be offered at Reynolds and Reynolds. The festival is open 6-11 p.m. Friday, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday. For more information, please call 937.258.3600 or visit italianfallfesta.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Joyell Nevins at JoyellNevins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Joyell believes in the power of the written word, a good cup of coffee, and sometimes, the need for a hug (please, no Tommy Boy references). Follow her on her blog “Small World, Big God” at swbgblog.wordpress.com or reach her at joyellnevins@daytoncitypaper.com

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