Hoping to get their favorite ethnic food, people took advantage of the break in the weather to catch up with friends and sample old culinary favorites - and try some new ones.
Usztura, above left, a band from Transylvania striving to keep traditional Hungarian folk music alive, made it's Village debut Thursday. Above right, dancers perform dances of various regions in Transylvania. At left is a cimbalom, a traditional Hungarian folk music stringed instrument that's in the dulcimer family.
Fonny Nzuyen's job at the Chinese booth is to make sure the chicken is ready for hungry guests.
McKeesport Police Sgt. Fran Angert introduced his K9 partner Ryco to Village-goers.
The picnic area behind the food booths was a popular place to enjoy dinner.
Rain on Tuesday and at the start of the festival Thursday created lots of mud but it did not deter folks from getting their favorite ethnic food on the final night of International Village.
International Village got its start as part of McKeesport’s Old Home Week in 1960, a 10-day event that celebrated the city’s rich history and ethnic diversity.
The event helped mark the city’s “165 years of Dynamic Progress,” according to a letter from then Mayor Andrew J. Jakomas in an official publication for the occasion. Describing the festival, the publication said it was “an event which will manifest the diverse heritages of the Citizens of McKeesport.”
During Old Home Week, Market Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues was closed and transformed into an International Village with 10 decorated booths manned by folks who made McKeesport home after arriving from their homelands. They served traditional food and displayed original handicrafts.
Not only was there food and handmade items, musical performances were given by each of the nationality groups. Dances were performed in authentic costumes and national songs were sung and played on traditional instruments.
According to the mayor’s letter, “We anticipate that this colorful event will attract thousands to the International Village and accomplish the purpose of demonstrating the makeup of our citizenry.”
According to reports, several thousand people visited the Village making it — and the Old Home Week parade — the most popular part of the celebration.
International Village was only one component of Old Home Week, which started with a beauty queen contest and fireworks on July 1 and concluded with a Soap Box Derby and community religious services in Renziehausen Park on July 10. Various events included a water carnival on the Monongahela River, a tour of the city, McKeesport Boys Club’s Olympics at the White Street playground, a symphony concert at the bandshell in Renziehausen Park, “tavern specialties” with 5-cent beer, an art show, photo displays, baby contest, and a dog show. The chairman was Zoran Popovich.
Part of the celebration included the streets adorned with flags from all the nations of the world. Ten nationalities were represented in that first International Village — Greek, Polish, Ukrainian, Serbian, Hungarian, Italian, Croatian, Romanian, Irish, and Jewish.
The popularity of the International Village component prompted the chairman to continue the Village the following year in August at what would become its new home — Stephen Barry Field in Renziehausen Park.
A 25-minute fireworks display was a perfect way to end the second day of International Village.
ABC by JoAnn entertained with Hawaiian dances.
Greek gyros are always popular at the festival.
An event 59 years ago celebrating the rich ethnic heritage of McKeesport has evolved into a three-day festival of food and entertainment that continues to pay tribute to the city's melting pot of traditions.
This year's International Village is from 3-9 p.m. Aug. 14-16 at Stephen Barry Field in McKeesport’s Renziehausen Park along Eden Park Boulevard. Admission is a $2 donation.
Traditional ethnic food and entertainment has been a mainstay of the festival since its beginning as part of McKeesport’s Old Home Week in 1960. That tradition continues this year when 21 nationalities — Austria, China, Croatia, Egypt, France, Ghana, Greece, Hawaii, Hungary, Irish, Italy, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Philippines, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Sweden, Turkey, and Vietnam — will share their heritage with Village-goers.
Ethnic entertainment is showcased each night on two stages — the main stage beginning at 6 p.m. and under the Jakomas Blue Top Pavilion starting at 5 p.m. Opening ceremonies are planned at 8 p.m. Aug. 14 and will feature a Parade of Flags led by bagpipers and Honor Guard. Fireworks will round out opening night festivities; in case of rain, the fireworks will be Wednesday evening.
One of the main attractions to the festival is the food and this year promises the same cornucopia of culinary delights folks have come to expect. Food representing 21 countries will be offered, many by local churches that are keeping their cultural heritage alive.
"Many of the food booths are still sponsored by ethnic-based churches," Village secretary Annette James said. "That helps them keep their traditions alive not only by cooking the traditional foods, but also by having dancers in traditional costumes and musicians playing traditional instruments. This is truly a unique festival and folks in this area should appreciate all of the cultures represented."
Other festival favorites will return including the Ethnic Marketplace (see vendor list below under Ethnic Marketplace), a children’s area with inflatables, and a diaper changing area hosted by McKeesport Alliance Church. Handicapped parking is available at Gate 4 behind the Blue Top Pavilion.
Seating will be available under the Blue Top Pavilion and behind the food booths near Gate 3. Chairs will be set up around the main stage for watching the entertainment.
Without the behind-the-scenes efforts of the countless volunteers, James said the Village would not be the success it has been for nearly six decades. "Lots of prep work goes into International Village that people don't think about like the paperwork for participants; ordering things like chairs, tables, tents, etc.; setup and breakdown by the Public Works and park workers; updating the backdrop for the main stage; and all the work by the food vendors. Lots of people think the park is there and it just happens. I'd like to thank all the volunteers that make International Village happen every year. They are underappreciated."
She added that all food vendors must attend a food safety meeting with the county health inspector and the booths are inspected by county health workers before the festival opens.
Not only are there food and craft booths, there are numerous informational booths/tables including Carnegie Library of McKeesport (used book sale); McKeesport Regional History & Heritage Center (books and souvenirs); McKeesport Area Ministerium (prayer table); McKeesport Police K-9 Unit (T-shirts and hoodies); McKeesport Trail Commission; Striffler Family Funeral Homes; Tube City Media (broadcasting the Village); First Ream 1708 Amp'D Robotics; McKeesport Little Tigers; Penn State Greater Allegheny; Auberle; UPMC East/McKeesport Stroke Awareness; UPMC Trauma Care System; MACM; McKeesport High School Reunion Committee; McKeesport Tigers Football Boosters; Mon Valley Independent; One Person At A Time; Pennsylvania American Water; Pure Penn; Senior Lifestyle Connections; and Ziebert of McKeesport.
The parking lot adjacent to the Blue Top Pavilion (Gate 4) is handicapped parking ONLY. Free parking is available at designated areas in Renzie Park for the festival. Parking also is available for a fee in the parking lot of St. John's Ukrainian Church, 1907 Eden Park Blvd. across from McKeesport Area High School. Some of the items sold in the church's booth at the Village will be available in the church social hall.
For many people who attend International Village, the food is the main attraction. This year, 22 nationalities will offer some of their traditional food to this year's festival goers.
AUSTRIA (K&J Concession): Funnel cakes, corn dogs, pretzels, strudel, lemonade
CHINESE: General Tso chicken with rice, sweet and sour chicken with rice, orange chicken with rice, chicken-on-a-stick with rice or lomein, shrimp rice or lomein, egg roll, lemonade
CROATIAN (Rankin Junior Tamburitzans): Lamb, sarma (stuffed cabbage), kielbasa with sauerkraut, hot dogs, pirogies, haluski, Croatian potato salad (with oil and vinegar), chicken noodle soup, sauerkraut and bean soup, palacinka (crepe - apricot, rasberry, cheese), medenjaci (honey cake), bajadera (chocolate nut candy), cherry tart, cupavci (sponge cake, chocolate, coconut), kolacic sezam (sesame cookies)
EGYPTIAN: Chicken schwarma sandwich, falafel sandwich, lamb pie, spinach with feta pie, stuffed grapeleaves, hummous dip, baba ganouj dip, tabbouleh salad, baklava, chocolate covered almond roll, lemonade, coffee
FRENCH: French fries, fried vegetables, funnel cakes, lemonade
GHANA (Christ Temple AME): Southern fried chicken dinner, barbecue rib dinner, barbecue rib sandwich, rib slabs and half rib slabs, barbecue pigs feet, southern fried chicken wings, southern tenders, red rice, hoppin johns, corn or white bread, sweet potato pie
GREEK (Greek Orthodox Annuncition Church): Gyro, pastitsio, moussaka, stuffed grape leaves, lamb shank with orzo pasta, stuffed eggplant, spanakopita, strifto, tiropita, buffalo chicken pita, kreatopita (meat pie), baklava, finikia (melomakarona), lady locks, kourambiethes, loukoumades (honey balls)
HAWAIIAN (Beck Concessions): Hawaiian shaved ice, fruit smoothies, pig wings, pulled pork, deep fried cheesecake, grilled pineapple, deep fried Oreos, Hawaiian chicken sandwich, giant fish sandwich
HUNGARIAN (Free Hungarian Reformed Church): Chicken paprikash, chicken and dumplings, cabbage and noodles, kobalsz sandwich, stuffed cabbage, palascinta, kiffles, cheese pockets, csoroge, puff pastries, apple squares, apricot rolls, nut rolls poppyseed rolls, bacon bread
IRELAND: Boxty, shepards pie, corned beef and cabbage, Irish soda bread, reubens, stout burgers
ITALIAN (St. Patrick Parish): Gnocchi, rigatoni, lasagna, stuffed banana peppers, Italian roast beef hoagie, meatball hoagie, hot sausage hoagie with onions and green peppers, pizza (plain and pepperoni), cannoli, Italian geloto
KENYA (Bethlehem Baptist Church/Noah's Ark): Ribs (1/2 rack), rib sandwich, chicken wings (3 or 6) with a variety of sauces (ranch, hot sauce, cheese, Carolina Gold, Sweet Baby Ray's, hand-cut fries (with or without cheese)
LIONS CLUB: Assorted hand-dipped ice cream
LEBANESE: Gyro sandwich, falafel sandwich, baked kibbee, stuffed grapesleaves, spinach pie, spinach pie with feta, meat pie, hummous dip, baba gannouj dip, tabbouleh salad, baklava, apricot roll, pita bread (plain or wheat), lemonade,
MEXICAN (Christ United Methodist Church): Giant stuffed burrito, giant burrito dinner, chicken fajita, taco (hard or soft), chicken taco, walking taco, taco fajita dinner, chicken quesadilla, cheese quesadilla, Spanish rice, stuffed hot peppers, chicken taco salad, beef taco salad, churro (cinnamon stick)
PHILIPPINES: Inihaw (chicken stick), pancit (rice noodle), vegetarian noodle, egg roll (fried or fresh), lumpianitos (3 pieces), rice (plain or fried), rice bowl with adobo, empanada, combo platter (inlhaw, pancit and 2 pieces lumpianitos), leche flan, mango cheesecake, turon, tropical parfait, and cantaloupe and calamansi drinks
POLISH (Holy Family Catholic Church): Potato pierogi, stuffed cabbage, haluski, kielbasa sandwich, stuffed cabbage sandwich, stada babba stew, lazy man pierogi, potato pancakes, platter (2 pierogi, 1 stuffed cabbage, serving of halushki, kielbasa sandwich), kielbasa bites (20) with or without saurkraut, mega bites
SERBIAN (St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church): Lamb sandwich, hot sausage sandwich, kolbassi sandwich, haluski, apple strudel, palachinka, bean and saurkraut soup, hot dog
SLOVAK (Trafford Junior Tamburitzans): Bubba's dinner (1 stuffed cabbage, 3 pierogies, halushki, apple sauce), stuffed cabbage, pierogies (potato cheese, sauerkraut, lekvar), halushki, funnel cake, ceregi, apple streudel
SWEDISH (Beulah Park United Methodist Church): Apple dumplings, hard ice cream, ice cream cones/sundaes
TURKEY: Turkish gyro (bowl, wrap or pita), eggplant salad, green bean salad, feta cheese stick, vegetable wheat rice, grape leaves, baklava with pistachios or walnut, carrot sliced baklava with pistachios, durum baklava with pistachios, sobiyet with pistachios, kadaifi with pistachios, tulumba (Turkish honey balls), Turkish chocolate cake, Turkish chocolate cookie, Turkish chocolate, Turkish coffee with fortune, orangeaid, lemonade
VIETNAMESE: Chicken-on-a-stick with rice or noodles, shrimp rice, vegetable rice, spring roll/egg roll, lemonade
Food is what attracts many people to the annual festival.
Entertainment from around the world will be presented each day at two locations - the main stage beginning at 6 p.m. and the Jakomas Blue Top Pavilion from 5-9 p.m. Entertainment coordinator is Mikey Dee. This year's schedule features:
TUESDAY, AUG. 14 — Main Stage
William Penn Magyar Folk Dancers (Hungarian)
Trafford Junior Tamburitzans (Slovak)
Christ Temple AME (Ghana)
Introduction of City Officials
St. Nicholas Junior Tamburitzans (Serbian)
BLUE TOP: Kolo Night with Trubaduri
WEDNESDAY, AUG. 16 — Main Stage
Alpine Duo (Austrian)
ABC by JoAnn (Hawaiian)
Rankin Junior Tamburitzans (Croatian)
Grecian Odyssey Dancers (Greek)
Otets Paiisi Bulgarian Dancers
BLUE TOP: Variety night with Mikey Dee sponsored by the Mexican booth
THURSDAY, AUG. 17 — Main Stage
Gypsy Stringz (Swedish Booth)
Lajkoniki Dancers (Polish)
FAAP Dancers (Phillipines)
Uszturu from Transylvania
PAS Slovak Folk Ensemble
BLUE TOP: Polka Night with the Nu-Tones
Members of the Pittsburgh Firefighters Memorial Pipe Band performed a few numbers during opening night of the Village. American Idol contestant Aubrey Burchell, below left, sang the National Anthem during abbreviated opening ceremonies. McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko recognized Jennifer R. Vertullo and Alison Piccolino, below, for their work in bringing the mobile Vietnam Veterans Wall to the city and Piccolino received a proclamation from the mayor and State Sen. James Brewster for the 10th anniversary of Village for Kids.
The youngest members of Otets Paiise Bulgarian Dancers, right, aspire to one day be one of the veteran dancers, left.
The Rankin Junior Tamburitzans entertained the crowd with traditional Croatian songs and dances.
August 15, 2018
Seating at the Main Stage was hard to come by during the second night of International Village.
The Jakomas Blue Top Pavilion came alive with the sounds of Trubaduri, right, and dancers enjoyed the Kolo Night.
INTERNATIONAL VILLAGE 2018
This site will offer information about the annual ethnic food and entertainment festival Aug. 14-16 at Renziehausen Park in McKeesport. Stories and photos will be posted of the event. If you have memories of International Village, send them to email@example.com for possible posting on the site.
McKenzie Winter and Pastor Sang Choi take a break from serving customers at the Mexican booth, hosted by Christ United Methodist Church of North Huntington.
Nu-Tones hosted Polka Night under the Blue Top, left, and Gypsy Stringz, above, performed on the Main Stage
Amaiyah Walker, 4, of Rankin sits patiently while Ilona Ralston creates a work of art on her face.
August 17, 2018
VILLAGE FOR KIDS
The 10th annual Village for Kids will be Monday, Aug. 13 from 12-4 p.m. at the Lions Band Shell in Renziehausen Park. This is a free event. Adult supervision is recommended for children younger than 6.
Festivities will include food, crafts, games, music, finger painting, and inflatable rides. PJ Masks will be at there from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Special guest will be Swin Cash.
A Prince and Princess will be crowned at the end of the day's festivities. Each will receive a 20-inch bike donated by the McKeesport Trail Commission and helmet donated by the McKeesport Police Department. The bikes will be presented to the recipients Aug. 14 at 8 p.m. at International Village.
Following is the agenda:
DJ at the bandshell
Food Gallery (Freeze pops, hot dogs, chips, fruit, drinks, fruit snacks provided by Human Services Corp., McKeesport Hospital Foundation and Auberle; Mon Yough Community Services is manning the freeze pop booth; nachos and pop for sale for adults by the Kiwanis Club)
Activity Zone by Family Tent Rental
Screenings, information, crafts, game tables, activities, fingerprinting by police, fire smokehouse
McKeesport Regional History & Heritage Center open with a scavenger hunt and other kids activities
Registration table for "A Village Kids" Day Prince and Princess. Children 12 and younger are eligible.
12:30-2:30 p.m. at the stage
Meet and Greet with favorite friends PJ Masks (made possible by P.G.H. Party Creations)
2:45 p.m. at the stage
Presentation of the 22nd annual WIC Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace/Public Place awards by the Allegheny County Breastfeeding Coalition
3 p.m. at the stage
Announcements/Pictures and crowing of the Prince and Princess
Appearance by McKeesport's Swin Cash and Cash for Kids
The following groups will be part of this year's event:
Human Services Corporation
McKeesport Hospital Foundation
REWIND Behavior and Stimulation Center LLC
McKeesport First Steps
CCP White Oak
McKeesport-White Kiwanis Club
Altrusa International of McKeesport, Inc.
McKeesport High School Cheerleaders
Greater Valley Community Services
McKeesport Family Center
Penn State Greater Allegheny
Carnegie Library of McKeesport
Latterman Family Health Center
Angora Gardens Junior Gardeners
Public Health Dental Hygience Practioners from UPMC for You
McKeesport Area School District
Pediatric Alliance P.C.
State Rep. Austin Davis
Mon Yough Community Services
St. John Lutheran Church in North Versailles
Faith Lutheran Church in White Oak
The Maternal Child Health Program - Allegheny County
Breastfeeding Coalition - Allegheny County
WIC Program - Allegheny County
Duquesne Family Support Center
Nuttall Public Safety Equipment
McKeesport Fire Department
McKeesport Police Department
McKeesport Regional History & Heritage Center
Century Heritage Federal Credit Union
McKeesport Message Committee
Goodwill of SWPA
PAS Slovak Folk Ensemble returned to the Village to share traditional songs with attendees.
August 16, 2018
Rain did not deter these die-hard Village-goers.
The Mikey Dee Band hosted Variety Night under the Jakomas Blue Top Pavilion and several folks took to the opportunity to dance the night away.
The Grecian Odyssey Dancers performed many dances common throughout Greece.
Large crowd enjoys entertainment, food at Village
Day two of McKeesport's International Village offered folks all the food and entertainment they could possibly want. In stark contrast to the rather wet opening day of the ethnic festival at Renziehausen Field, the weather was perfect at Stephen Barry Field from the time the gates opened at 3 p.m. until the fireworks were finished at 9:45 Wednesday night.
Tuesday's weather prompted the cancellation of the Main Stage entertainment, but that was not the case Wednesday when traditional songs and dances from around the world were performed before a large and attentive audience. Under the Jakomas Blue Top Pavilion, Mikey Dee played a variety of music, prompting many people to show off their dancing skills.
There's plenty to do when taking a break from sampling the international food and enjoying the entertainment. The vendors at the Ethnic Marketplace offer a variety of items from around the world and the information booths provide an array of services and information including a diaper changing area, a prayer booth, a used book sale, and items representing the city's history. Visitors have a chance to support the McKeesport Police and college students can register to win one of two scholarships awarded Thursday night via a random drawing by the Casturo family.
"We had a disappointing first night because of Mother Nature," stage manager Patrick Fisher said. "But the crowd realreally turned out tonight, which goes to show how important International Village is to the community. Thank you for coming out to make the second night such a success. We're keeping our fingers crossed that our final night on Thursday will be dry and we get another huge crowd."
Gates open at 3 p.m. Thursday for the final day of the festival. If Wednesday was indicative of what will happen the final night, get to the festival early so you're not disappointed if you can't get your favorite ethnic food - many of the booths were sold out of several items by 6 p.m., at least one booth was sold out of everything shortly after 7, and many were completely sold out by the end of the night.
For Thursday's entertainment lineup, see the listing below.
- Story and photos by Carol Waterloo Frazier
Volunteers at the Swedish booth fill customers' orders.
The Carnegie Library of McKeesport is hosting a used book sale during the festival.
Folks did not mind waiting in line for their favorite ethnic foods during the festival's opening night. The 21 booths offer culinary treats from around the world.
Rain cancels entertainment but not Village-goers spirits
The 59th annual International Village opened Tuesday afternoon to the sites and sounds of the ethnic festival in Renziehausen Park in McKeesport - and rain.
Rain started shortly after the festival opened but it did not dampen the spirit of those who came early to get their favorite traditional food from 21 countries. By 6 o'clock, the rain stopped and the sky partly cleared and lines started to form at the food booths.
For the next couple hours, Mother Nature cooperated. Although entertainment on the Main Stage was canceled and Village officials announced earlier in the day that fireworks would be Wednesday night, the Pittsburgh Firefighters Memorial Pipe Band performed and American Idol contestant Aubrey Burchell sang the National Anthem.
McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko welcomed Village-goers and thanked Jennifer R. Vertullo and Alison Piccolino for their work on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial replica wall that was in McKeesport recently. Piccolino received a proclamation from the mayor and State Sen. James Brewster for the 10th anniversary of Village for Kids.
The Village resumes Wednesday at 3 p.m. with fireworks planned at 9. Entertainment will be on the Main Stage starting at 6 p.m. (see schedule below) and under the Jakomas Blue Top Pavilion from 5-9 p.m.
- Story by Carol Waterloo Frazier
- Photos by Carol Waterloo Frazier and Robert Frazier
Village comes to a close with eyes focused on next year
The final night of International Village started out wet but Mother Nature decided to cooperate and beginning around 6 o'clock there was some blue sky and a little sunshine.
Despite some rain, the spirit of McKeesport's ethnic food and entertainment festival could not be dampened. Folks quickly made their way around the mud-soaked grounds for their last chance to savor some medenjaci, spanakopita, kiffles, boxty and a cornucopia of other foods from 21 countries.
Crowds were light early but it didn't take long for lines to begin forming at the food booths and the picnic tables to fill up. Volunteers did their best to remove water from the tables while folks dried off chairs around the main stage so they could relax and enjoy the entertainment. Some die-hard attendees came equipped with papers and shared with others to dry off seats.
Entertainment coordinator Mikey Dee said the weather resulted in an abbreviated entertainment schedule, but folks didn't seem to mind. The crowd was treated to music from Gypsy Stringz, Usztura from Transylvania, and PAS Slovak Folk Ensemble. It was Polka Night under the Jakomas Blue Top Pavilion with Nu-Tones.
Usztura made its Village debut from Transylvania. "It's exciting that we can bring a group of this magnitude to the Village," Dee said.
Before the stages fell silent and the food booths went dark, the committee has been looking ahead to next year when the Village marks its 60th anniversary.
"We want to do something special for next year to mark the 60th year for International Village," McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko said.
Reflecting on this year's festival, the mayor said, "We had a light rain Tuesday but Wednesday was a wonderful night and I think it was one of our largest crowds. It rained early again today (Thursday) but where would we be without rain for International Village? I'm grateful for the committee that makes this a success every year and always exceeds expectations."
- Story and Photos by Carol Waterloo Frazier
For many years, a popular part of the festival have been the crafts. A couple years ago, the name was changed to Ethnic Marketplace and the location moved from under the Jakomas Blue Top Pavilion to the grassy area adjacent to the pavilion.
This year's vendors include:
Richard Maldonado - Native American crafts
Designs by Laris - Austrian crystals
Pitttsburgh Area Slovak Folk Ensemble - Slovak Christmas ornaments
Herminia Lees - Peruvian crafts
Eveleen Coope - Irish, Scottish and Welsh heritage gifts
Ilona Ralston - Polish painted glass, face painting
Betty Jean McClirk - Fudge