Story and photos by Carol Frazier
Crowds enjoy food, entertainment on Day 2 of Village
Folks once again savor the sights, sounds of the Village
Village-goers were eager to try some of the fare from the African American booth, featuring favorites like sweet potato pie and Hoppin Johns.
The Grecian Odyssey Dancers entertained the very welcoming opening night crowd at the 61st International Village.
Story and photos by Carol Frazier
August 12, 2021
After three days of food, entertainment, and reunions with family and friends, Stephen Barry Field and the Jakomas Blue Top Pavilion in Renziehausen Park are quiet. But the memories that were created at McKeesport's 61st International Village will last a lifetime.
Mother Nature tried to dampen this year's festivities early Tuesday and Wednesday, but clear skies prevailed. That was not the case for the final evening. Hot temperatures and sunny skies gave way to dark, turbulent clouds which burst into a downpour with thunder and lightning. The only group performing on the Main Stage, FAAP Dancers performing traditional Phillipino songs and dances, started their performance early to try and beat the weather. But to no avail. Their performance was cut short as folks scrambled for shelter. Many left when the wind picked up and lightning was visible.
Despite the weather and a fewer booths and entertainment groups, Village-goers proved that absence does make the heart grow fonder. Last year's festival was cancelled because of the pandemic so folks were eager to get their favorite ethnic foods and enjoy traditional songs and dances from around the world. And many showed off their dancing skills under the Blue Top Pavilion.
One of the highlights of the final night of the Village is the awarding of the Casturo Family Education Awards. This year, because none were awarded last year, four awards were given to recipients chosen in a random drawing.
Receiving the $500 awards are Gina Rosso of McKeesport, University of Pittsburgh, and Victoria Miller of Glassport, Community College of Allegheny County. Recipients of the $250 awards are Samuel Renquist of Meadville, Allegheny College, and Olivia Scherrer of Wexford, Duquesne University.
Reflecting on the return of the Village, Entertainment Coordinator Mikey Dee said he was "encouraged by the nice turnout. Hopefully next year we will be back to what we have come to know and love."
Patrick Fisher, the longest-serving member of the International Village Committee at 24 years, was encouraged by this year's festival. "I feel the Village has been very successful, especially with what we went through last year. Even with rain early the first two days and predicted again for tonight, people come out no matter what. For the people of McKeesport, International Village is their tradition. I want to thank the people for coming out because it shows the heart of the community. I'm looking forward to next year when the Village will be bigger and better."
Junriz Santos and Haley Novak perform a traditional Filipino dance for the crowd, who learned about the history of the Philippines and the background of some of their songs and dances.
Rain in the hours leading up to the start of the 61st International Village did not dampen the enthusiasm of a crowd eager to enjoy the sights, sounds and flavors from around the world.
Once the rain stopped and the sky cleared, it did not take long for Stephen Barry Field in Renziehausen Park in McKeesport to have friends and family gathering there once again to enjoy their favorite ethnic food and listen and dance to traditional music. The annual festival was canceled last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but organizers promised it would return this year.
It has been said absence makes the heart grow fonder. Based on the lines at the 15 nationality booths, absence also makes the appetite stronger for traditional foods like sarma, tabbouleh salad, pastistio, gnocchi and baked kibbee. And there are plenty of mouth-watering desserts like palachinka, mango cheesecake, baklava, loukoumades and sweet potato pie.
McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko told the crowd it was "an honor and a privilege" to be able to bring International Village back this year. "Last year was a trying year and we are extremely excited to be able to once again have this event."
He said it was very disappointing to have to cancel the event last year. "This is the biggest event we have to show off what we have in McKeesport. All the collaborations with the different groups and churches, and all the volunteers who work so hard to put this together - that's what makes International Village such a success.
"It is so rewarding and exciting for everybody to be here this year," the mayor said. "International Village has such a significant meaning for so many people. A lot of people plan reunions and vacations around this event. We are very pleased to be able to do it this year."
He was not the only one sharing that sentiment. Diana O'Donnell of McKeesport said the Village is very healing for her. "Just seeing and being able to touch people again is very healing for me. I was a teacher - Mikey Dee was one of my students - and I was involved in many organizations so it was impossible not to be around people all the time and I missed that last year. Being able to come here this year has been very healing for me."
She enjoys the festival for the music and people, and especially enjoys spending time at the Jakomas Blue Top Pavilion, where there is a different band/musician each night. "I like it there because I can participate by dancing, which is something I enjoy very much and I even teach kolo (dancing). I got interested in it on a dare when some of my friends pushed me into coming here one night. I loved it and now I'm the only one who still comes every year."
Terry Naylor of West Mifflin tries to attend the festival every year. "The food is my favorite part. I miss the Hungarian booth not being here, but I'm trying things from other booths instead. This year is special because my grandson will be on the stage for winning an essay he wrote."
During Monday's Village for Kids, youngsters could enter to win a bicycle by writing why they wanted to be crowned either the Prince or Princess. This year's royalty are Alex Naylor, 8, of McKeesport and Summer Ura, 8, of McKeesport. They each were presented with a bicycle from the McKeesport Trail Council and helmets from the McKeesport Police Department.
Entertainment Coordinator Mikey Dee said once again the Village is providing "a lot of food and a lot of great times" although it looks a little different this year. "This is a compromise year and hopefully we will be bigger and better next year."
Among the nationalities not represented this year are Polish and Hungarian. "They both have been part of International Village since it began," Dee said, "and they have legions of fans but they were not able to participate this year. I would encourage people that instead of dwelling on who isn't here, be grateful for what is here."
Stage Manager Patrick Fisher said he can tell people missed last year's event. "People are happy to be here and you can see it on their faces. They know that every August is International Village and it's in their hearts and mind. They get to see people they only see here and last year they couldn't do that. This year, they can come here and it is some normalcy once again."
The gates open Wednesday at 3 p.m. The main stage entertainment begins at 6:30 p.m. with ABC by JoAnn offering Hawaiian dance followed at 7 p.m. by the Rankin Junior Tamburitzans offering music from Croatia. Mikey Dee will entertain folks under the Blue Top.
There are inflatables for younger Village-goers and a variety of information booths. There is a diaper changing area and students can once again apply for one of four Casturo Education Awards - two for $500 and two for $250.
Alex Naylor, left, and Summer Ura show off their bikes as Prince and Princess of Village for Kids as Sen. James Brewster, left, and McKeesport Mayor Mike Cherepko look on.
This site will offer information about the annual ethnic food and entertainment festival Aug. 10-12 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.
Entertainment Coordinator Mikey Dee and Stage Manager Patrick Fisher, above left, keep the entertainment flowing on the Main Stage. A new eating area, right, was added adjacent to the Blue Top Pavilion.
Terry Naylor and Arnie Mathe of West Mifflin enjoy their dinner, left, while the crowd, above, watches the dancers on the main stage.
Radost Tamburitzans provided a kolo party under the Jakomas Blue Top Pavilion.
The final night of the 61st International Village had large crowds, sunshine and temperatures hovering around 90 degrees. Folks enjoyed their favorite ethnic food and listened to music under the Jakomas Blue Top Pavilion and watched a performance of Filipino songs and dances. But that scenario ended abruptly when the sky turned dark, the gentle breeze turned into strong wind, and then the torrential rain came pouring down.
Alexis Grese, left, and Marissa Trklja offer samples of traditional Serbian fare.
For many people who attend International Village, the food is the main attraction. This year, 15 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
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 grape leaves, hummus dip, baba gannouj 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 (collard greens), red rice, “Hoppin’ Johns,” cornbread or white bread, sweet potato pie
GREEK (Annunciation of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church): Gyro, pastistio, 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 sandwich, deep fried cheesecake, grilled pineapple, deep fried Oreos, Hawaiian barbecue chicken sandwich, fish sandwich, coconut shrimp, loaded tater tots
ITALIAN (St. Patrick Parish): Gnocchi, rigatoni, hot sausage sandwich, meatball sandwich, stuffed banana peppers, pizza, pizzelles, lady locks, Italian knot cookies
LEBANESE: Gyro sandwich, falafel sandwich, baked kibbee, stuffed grape leaves, spinach pie, spinach pie with feta, meat pie, hummus dip, baba gannouj dip, tabbouleh salad, baklava, apricot roll, pita bread (plain or wheat), lemonade, coffee
PHILIPPINES: Inihaw na manok (chicken stick), pancit bihon (stir fried noodles), lumpianitos (egg rolls, 3), adobo rice bowl (braised chicken on rice), empanada (rice), combo platter (inlhaw na manok, pancit and 2 lumpianitos), leche flan, mango cheesecake, turon (fried banana wrap), tropical parfait, cantaloupe drink, calamansi (Filipino lemonade)
SERBIAN (St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church): Lamb sandwich, hot sausage sandwich, kolbassi sandwich, haluski, apple strudel, palachinka, hot dog
SWEDISH (Beulah Park United Methodist Church): Apple dumplings, apple dumplings with ice cream
TAIWAN: 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, teriyaki chicken skewer with rice, egg roll or spring roll, lemonade
VIETNAMESE: Teriyaki chicken-on-a-stick with rice or noodles, stir fry chicken, shrimp or beef with rice, shrimp with rice or noodles, egg roll, lemonade
Staff Sgt. Thomas Leech, left, and Staff Sgt. Christopher Dorneburg talk to folks about the Army and invite youth to play Call to Duty and Madden 2 on large screens in the trailer.
Day two of the 61st International Village offered the crowd everything it wanted - mouthwatering food and foot-tapping entertainment.
There is one more day to enjoy the annual ethnic food and entertainment festival. Gates open Thursday at 3 p.m. and booths will serve their traditional fare until 9 p.m. or until sold out.
Entertainment at the Jakomas Blue Top Pavilion will feature Karl Lukitsch Autobahn Polka Band from 5-9 p.m. The Main Stage will feature the FAAP Dancers (Phillipines) at 7 p.m. and Christ Temple AME (Ghana) at 7:30.
Students will be able to register for one of the Casturo Education Awards that will be awarded in a random drawing Thursday evening. Because there was no festival last year, the Casturo family will award four scholarships this year - two for $500 and two for $250. Applications are available at the Carnegie Library of McKeesport booth across from the Blue Top Pavilion.
Folks who park in the lot adjacent to the McKeesport Regional History & Heritage Center can take a shuttle golf cart to and from the festival.
Dancers from ABC by JoAnn took festival-goers to the islands with a variety of Hawaiian dances. They performed on the Main Stage and in the front of the stage, performing right in front of their audience. They used a variety of items common with traditional dances from the 50th state.
Frank Grunwald of Belle Vernon and Sandy Tokosh of White Oak, right photo, dance to the music of the Karl Lukitsch Autobahn Polka Band, above.
The Rankin Junior Tamburitzans entertained an appreciative crowd with a variety of traditional Croatian songs and dances. The performance was their first since resuming in-person rehearsals just a few months ago.
Entertainment Coordinator Mikey Dee and his friends entertained folks at the Jakomas Blue Top Pavilion.
Memories made, friendships reunited at 61st Village
A spectacular 20 minute fireworks display wrapped up opening night festivities at the Village. At right, belly dancer Sahra DeRoy performed to a receptive audience.
The Village offers lots to do for younger visitors, including several inflatables, left photo, that are sure to prove exciting for children. Ilona Ralston, right photo, transforms Paisley Brownfield, 6, of McKeesport into a super hero.
August 10, 2021
Folks line up for honey balls at the Greek booth, above. At right, Nadine Campbell of Jefferson Hills enjoys some pastistio. She and her mother attended the first Village when it was part of Old Home Week.
Entertainment from around the world will be presented each day at two locations. Each night there will be entertainment under the Jakomas Blue Top Pavilion from 5-9 p.m. and several groups performing nightly on the Main Stage. Fireworks are planned Tuesday night. Entertainment coordinator is Mikey Dee.
TUESDAY, AUG. 10
Grecian Odyssey Dancers (Greek) - 7:30 p.m.
Introduction of City Officials - 8 p.m.
Sahra DeRoy (Belly Dancer) - 8:15 p.m.
Kolo Party with Radost Tamburitzans
WEDNESDAY, AUG. 14
ABC by JoAnn (Hawaiian) - 6:30 p.m.
Rankin Junior Tamburitzans (Croatian) - 7 p.m.
THURSDAY, AUG. 15
FAAP Dancers (Phillipines) - 7 p.m.
Christ Temple AME (Ghana) - 7:30 p.m.
Karl Lukitsch Autobahn Polka Band
August 11, 2021
VILLAGE FOR KIDS
The 12th annual Village for Kids will be Monday, Aug. 9 from 12-4 p.m. at the Lions Band Shell and ballfield in Renziehausen Park. This is a free event. Adult supervision is recommended for children younger than 6.
Festivities will include food, crafts, games, music, inflatable rides, and a Meet and Greet with LOL Doll and Minion. A Prince and Princess will be crowned at 3 p.m. and must be there to win. 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. 10 at 8 p.m. at International Village.
Following is the agenda:
NOON - 4 p.m.
* DJ at the bandshell
* Food Gallery (Freeze pops, hot dogs, chips, fruit, drinks, fruit snacks; nachos and pop will be available to purchase from the Kiwanis Club)
* Activity Zone by Family Tent Rental
* Screenings, information, crafts, game tables, activities, fingerprinting by police, fire smokehouse
* Covid-19 vaccines administered by the Allegheny County Health Department (Lions Pavilion)
NOON - 2:45 p.m.
Registration table for "A Village Kids" Day Prince and Princess. Children 12 and younger are eligible.
2-30 p.m. AT THE STAGE
Meet and Greet with LOL Doll and Minion. (Made possible by P.G.H. Party Creations)
3 p.m. AT THE STAGE
* Crowing of the Prince and Princess
The following groups are part of this year's event:
Nuttall Public Safety Equipment LLC
Cash For Kids
Altrusa International of McKeesport
Mon Valley Independent
Goodwill of Southwestern PA
PA American Water
UPMC for You Dental
Human Services Center Corp
McKeesport Hospital Foundation
PGH Party Creations
McKeesport Area School District
McKeesport Police Department
McKeesport Fire Department
McKeesport Area Rescue Services
Senator Jim Brewster’s Office
McKeesport/White Oak Kiwanis
TCV Community Services
Latterman Family Health Center
Allegheny County Health Dept Dental
Faith Lutheran Church
Penn State Greater Allegheny
YouthCAST Leadership Network
McKeesport Area Shared Ministry UMC- Christy Park Celebrity Kids Kitchen
Women for a Healthy Environment
McKeesport Family Center
Representative Austin Davis’ Office
McKeesport Regional History & Heritage Center
Allegheny County Health Dept.
The Carnegie Library of McKeesport
Auberle SNAP® Program
PA State Police
St. John’s Lutheran Church-North Versailles
FAAP Filipino dancers prepare for their Main Stage performance. Above, Gabi Young applies makeup to Carmen Shively. Below, Aubrie Knapp makes sure her headpiece is properly positioned.
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.
Diana O'Donnell of McKeesport and David Hrabac of Munhall dance the night away.
Folks took advantage of the dance floor under the Blue Top to show off their kolo skills.
Story and photos by Carol Frazier
Folks lined up at the Croatian booth for their favorite traditional food, including lamb which sold out by 5 p.m.
Ever wonder who keeps the Village grounds clean and tidy? It's the Sanitation Crew. Some of the hard-working members of that team include, from left, Naderian Jone, Landon Jackson Dan Cochran, Quadir Felder, Charlie Tomovcsik and Alana Demis.
An event 62 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.
The festival returns after an absence last year due to Covid-19. At the time, planners said the Village would return this year and the sites and sounds of this much-anticipated ethnic food and entertainment festival will once again fill Stephen Barry Field and the Jakomas Blue Top Pavilion.
This year's International Village is from 3-9 p.m. Aug. 10-12 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 14 nationalities — Austria, Croatia, Egypt, France, Ghana, Greece, Hawaii, Italy, Lebanon, Philippines, Serbia, Sweden, Taiwan, and Vietnam — will share their heritage with Village-goers.
A Village spokesperson said several food booths were unable to take part this year because Covid restrictions kept them from getting together to prepare in advance for the festival. She said some of groups begin baking and cooking as early as December to assure there is plenty of food for all three days and they were not able to do so this year.
Ethnic entertainment will again be featured each day under the Blue Top and on the Main Stage (See Schedule Below). Although the number of groups taking part this year on the Main Stage are down from past years because of limited rehearsal time, the groups that will perform each night are sure to impress Village-goers.
The Ethnic Marketplace will not be part of this year's festival, but there will be a children’s area with inflatables and face painting by Dynamic Brush, and a diaper changing area hosted by McKeesport Alliance Church. 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.
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.
There are numerous informational booths/tables including Carnegie Library of McKeesport; McKeesport Regional History & Heritage Center; Pure Penn; Senior Lifestyle Connections; McKeesport Area Ministerium; McKeesport Police K-9 Unit; Striffler Family Funeral Homes; Tube City Media (broadcasting the Village); UPMC East/McKeesport Stroke Awareness; UPMC Trauma/Injury Prevention; and U.S. Army Recruiting.