Great food, friends, times

ISHPEMING – Ishpeming’s Italian Fest is more than just a celebration in honor of St. Rocco and St. Anthony – though it is that, too. Saturday’s event was a way for area Italian-Americans to connect to those with whom they share a proud history and heritage.

“It’s the 114th year that we’ve been having (Italian Fest),” said Jim Bertucci, president of the St. Rocco-St. Anthony Society of Ishpeming and feast chairman of Italian Fest for the 16 years it has been held at the Al Quaal Recreation Area. “We just try to keep our heritage … We’re Americans first and Italians second, and we just try to keep it that way.”

The festival was expecting several thousand people, on par with last year, Bertucci said, despite recent weather being cool and wet.

“We’re expecting around 3,000,” Bertucci said. “That’s what we normally get. With the weather I’m not sure what we’re going to get today, but we’re hoping for 3,000 again.”

“Turnout’s been very well,” said Nicholas Joseph, who was the St. Rocco-St. Anthony Society’s president for the past 43 years, until Bertucci took the reins this year. “We’ve had a couple years where it’s rained, and rained darned hard. Last year was an example.”

Joseph said he doesn’t think the weather prevented people from having a good time.

“(Last year), lo and behold, the people all came, and it was just as good as any other year when the sun is shining,” Joseph said. “I think people have come to look forward to it.”

The event included kids’ activities, a traditional greased pole competition, bingo, free pony rides, games of chance – and lots of music and food.

The emphasis of Italian Fest is on fun and family, on the value of understanding who you are by understanding where you’ve come from.

“I think people always want to remember where they came from or where their ancestors come from,” Joseph said. “And too much today is, we don’t know who we are or where we come from. I think it’s important to have that base, to know where we come from. I think people just want that.”

The St. Rocco-St. Anthony Society, which hosts Italian Fest, is an organization whose purpose is to help Italian-Americans stay together and help one another and keep their histories intact.

“(St. Rocco-St. Anthony Society) is a fraternal organization,” Joseph said. “When Italians first came to this country, most of them didn’t speak English and have the customs down, so they would come here and form their own locations and all that, and they formed this club to help their members.

If somebody was sick, if somebody needed something, you were repairing your house or something, they’d all get together and they’d do their thing.

“We just get together and rehash the stories, and tell the stories, and the younger ones coming up, they learn the stories. That’s what it is. It’s folk history by word of mouth rather than written,” Joseph said. “It’s just great.”

Zach Jay can be reached at 906-228-2500 ext. 243.