SEASIDE HEIGHTS – Long time Parade Chairman Michael A. Blandina said recently that the annual Italian Heritage Festival and Ocean County Columbus Day Parade never rests on its laurels and that he and his committee always try to offer something new and exciting to those who come out to it.
Blandina said that the festival, held from Friday, Oct. 6 to Sunday, Oct. 8 “has become one of the most popular ethnic cultural festivals in the state.” He added that for the past 19 years the parade committee arranged to bring in “special groups of talented people from Italy to add an authentic spirit of Italian Heritage and Culture to these events.”
“This year it was our honor to have for the first time with us the folkloric groups Città di Tropea from the Region of Calabria, Italy and La Teglia from the Region of Molise, Italy,” Blandina said.
Both Folkloric Groups consisted of around 25 members, divided between singers, dancers and musicians. All were experienced in folklore and wore historical costumes typical of their respective region of Italy. Such attire was usually worn for special occasions like weddings, engagements and other important events.
Blandina thanked John Giavatto, International Relations Chairman for the festival, with continuing to arrange groups like La Teglia and Città di Tropea to attend the iconic cultural event, which has become a staple activity for county residents and visitors for nearly 30 years.
The heritage festival kicked off with Seaside Heights Mayor Anthony Vaz cutting the ceremonial ribbon at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in the borough at 6 p.m. on Oct. 6.
“I am always happy at this festival,” the mayor said while strolling with his wife to explore the festival. “It brings out Italian heritage to our community. This is also a wonderful family event and Seaside Heights is very family oriented. This is a one of our best post-season activities.”
Entertainers on Friday night included the Juke Box Legends, The Gems and a strolling Metropolitan Festival Band.
Among the many vendors that were part of the weekend festival was Roe’s Casa Dolce owned by Mike Caruso. His stand featured an Italian flag canopy. “We’ve been here at this festival for five years now. Before this we did the St. Gerard Italian Festival in Newark for 20 years. I met Mike (Blandina) at that festival and he asked if I’d be interested in coming here. I did and we’ve been here ever since.”
Caruso, whose stand sells cannolis and other Italian baked goods, moved his family to Toms River from Staten Island a few years ago.
Not all the stands were for a profit making operation. John Salemi, Toms River, joined fellow members of Simon’s Soup Kitchen in bringing awareness to their cause of helping the needy.
“The Columbus Day Parade Committee has allowed us to have a table here for the last 14 years. We serve meals twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the parish hall of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church. They are healthy meals. We ask no questions and we welcome those who come in for a meal,” Salemi said.
Saturday’s entertainment included Jersey Shore DJ Entertainment followed by children’s characters at noon along Grant Avenue provided by Absolutely Bonkers. Saturday’s entertainment included Julian & Dominique, Jimmy Bono Geany, The Cameo’s, Kim Jenkins of Strictly 60s and another appearance by La Teglia and Citta di Tropea.
Despite gray skies and a few sprinkles of rain, the 26th annual Ocean County Columbus Day Parade stepped off at 1 p.m. as planned on Oct. 8. The rainfall that put a damper on last year’s parade would not be repeated.
Rancho Folclorico “Danca Na Eira,” a Portuguese group, performed at 3 p.m. and were followed by Tympanic Plexas and Patsy Palma, who performed a tribute to Frank Sinatra and the Juke Box Legends All Star Review. They were joined by Vic Rubino and Frank DeRosa.
Sandra Lazzaro is a regular at the festival. She’s attended the borough’s last 20 Columbus Day celebrations. “As the daughter of two immigrant parents of Italy it is wonderful to see our culture and heritage honored like this. I feel it with all my heart.” She previously worked with the parade/festival organizers to bring representatives of Italian law enforcement to the borough’s festival as special guests.
Gary Leonardo of Hamilton brought his family to the parade on Sunday, including his 4-year-old son who was waving an Italian flag as bands, floats and marchers passed by.
“For us it is a tradition that three generations of Leonardos have enjoyed for many years,” Leonardo said.