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.
Rain doesn't dampen opening night enthusiasm
When the gates opened to mark the start of International Village, the sun was shining on Stephen Barry Field in Renziehausen Park in McKeesport. But in a couple hours, the sky darkened and festival-goers were told a storm was coming.
At 6 p.m. the deluge came and people were hurrying to find shelter. Many found sanctuary under the Jakomas Blue Top Pavilion, where the Kolo Night Dance Party with "Stari Drugovi" was the evening's only entertainment.
Within 30 minutes of the downpour, which brought wind gusts that threatened canopies covering the informational booths, entertainment on the Main Stage was canceled. Announcing the decision, entertainment coordinator Mikey Dee said, "We are canceled on the Main Stage for today. Fireworks and Jeff Jimerson are rescheduled for Tuesday."
He said the other groups scheduled to perform opening night will not be rescheduled.
Despite the less-than-ideal weather, Village-goers opened umbrellas or put on rain ponchos to brave the weather to get their favorite ethnic foods. When the rain eased to a light drizzle, folks stood in line to get potato pancakes and honey balls and other culinary offerings they have waited a year to enjoy. One booth decided to close up early and one booth was out of at least one item by 7 p.m.
By Carol Waterloo Frazier
Ray Jay and the Carousels got folks dancing for a Polka Night Dance Party under the Jakomas Blue Top Pavilion.
Not only did the festival feature food booths, there were numerous informational booths.
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): Apple strudel, funnel cakes, corn dogs, pretzels, lemonade
CHINESE: General Tso chicken with rice, sweet and sour chicken with rice, orange chicken with rice, chicken skewer with rice or noodles, shrimp rice, veggie rice or noodles, egg roll, lemonade
CROATIAN (Rankin Junior Tamburitzans): Lamb, stuffed cabbage, kielbasa with sauerkraut, hot dog with sauerkraut, potato cheese pierogies, haluski, Croatian potato salad, chicken noodle soup, sauerkraut bean soup, palacinke, medenjaci, bajadera, kolac od tresnje
EGYPTIAN (Pitaland): Chicken scwharma sandwich, falafel sandwich, lamb pie, spinach with feta pie, stuffed grape leaves, Mediterranean salad, baklava, chocolate covered almond roll, lemonade, coffee
FRENCH: Veggie tempura with cheese, french fries, funnel cake with toppings, 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, lamb souvlaki, pastistio, mousaka, spanakopeta, tyropeta, dolmades, baklava, kataiffi, rice pudding, galatoboureka, apple rolls, apricot rolls, wild cherry philo puffs, ravani
HAWAIIAN (Beck Concessions): Hawaiian shaved ice, fruit smoothies, giant fish sandwich, clam strips, pig wings, pulled pork sandwich, tater tots, coconut shrimp, deep fried cheesecake, grilled pineapple
HUNGARIAN (Free Hungarian Reformed Church): Chicken and dumplings, cabbage and noodles, kobalz sandwich, stuffed cabbage, palascinta, kiffles, cheese pockets, csoroge, puff pastries, apple squares, apricot rolls, nut rolls poppyseed rolls, bacon bread
IRELAND: Boxty, Irish spring roll, shepards pie, corned beef potatoes and cabbage, soda bread, fried dough
ITALIAN (St. Patrick Parish): Gnocchi, rigatoni, meatball sandwich, hot sausage sandwich, pizza, ladylocks, pizzelles, stuffed banana peppers
KENYA (Bethlehem Baptist Church/Noah's Ark): Whole wings with two sauces, whole wings with fries, french fries, apple cobbler, peach cobbler, fruit cup
LEBANESE (Pitaland): Gyro sandwich, falafel sandwich, baked kibbee, stuffed grape leaves, spinach pie, meat pie, hummous dip, baba gannouj dip, tabbouleh salad, baklava, apricot roll, lemonade, coffee
LION'S ICE CREAM: Assorted hand-dipped ice cream
MEXICAN (Christ United Methodist Church): Burrito, chicken fajita, nachos supreme, nachos, chicken quesadilla, cheese quesadilla, Spanish rice, stuffed hot peppers, taco salad, chicken taco salad, taco, walking taco, taco burrito and rice dinner, fajita burrito and rice dinner, churro, fried ice cream, hot apple enchilada
PHILIPPINES: Inihaw, pancit (chicken or beef), lumpia (fresh or fried), shanghai, rice (with menudo or zdobo), atchara, empanada, leche flan, mango cheesecake, palitaw, turon, milon, calamansi
POLISH (Holy Family Catholic Church): Potato pierogi, stuffed cabbage, haluski, kielbasa sandwich, stuffed cabbage sandwich, stada babba stew, lazy man pierogi, potato pancakes, kielbasa bites
SERBIAN (St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church): Lamb sandwich, hot sausage sandwich, kolbassi sandwich, haluski, apple strudel, palachinka, bean and saurkraut soup, hot dogs
SLOVAK (Trafford Junior Tamburitzans): Stuffed cabbage, pierogies, apple sauce, funnel cake, ceregi, nut roll, assorted desserts
SWEDISH (Beulah Park United Methodist Church): Apple dumplings, ice cream (with dumplings, sundae with hot fudge or caramel)
TURKEY: Turkish gyro, baklava, eggplant, feta cheese stick, vegetable wheat rice, grape leaves, Turkish coffee with fortune, orangeaid, lemonade
VIETNAMESE: Chicken-on-a-stick, chicken with rice or noodles, teriyaki chicken tenders with rice, shrimp rice, veggie rice or noodles, spring roll, egg roll, lemonade
The 57th annual International Village is from 3-9 p.m. Aug. 16-18 at Stephen Barry Field in McKeesport’s Renziehausen Park along Eden Park Boulevard. Admission is $2.
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. While Village favorites are returning, there are a couple new groups making their festival debut.
There will be fireworks this year, but they will be part of the opening night festivities instead of the last night.
Other festival favorites will return including the Ethnic Marketplace and the Heritage Education which gives representatives from the nationality booths a chance to share some of their traditions with Village-goers.
There also will be a children’s area with inflatables, informational booths, and a diaper changing area. 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.
Some things to know about the Village:
The Lajkoniki Polish Dancers performed many traditional dances from throughout Poland.
Lines were common at the food booths.
August 19, 2016
Big crowd attends final night of Village
Ishtar performed Turkish songs. A young dancer, Rosa, demonstrated traditional dances.
August 16, 2016
Good weather resulted in a big crowd for the final night.
Mikey Dee headlined Variety Night under the Jakomas Blue Top Pavilion.
Photos by Carol Waterloo Frazier
Former Glassport resident Bruce Sechrist takes the reigns on a replica of the first carousel. Powered by Molly, a former Amish work mule, festival-goers can experience the unique ride, located adjacent to the Jakomas Blue Top Pavilion near the inflatables. Sechrist purchased the 1995 replica six months ago because of his "love of amusements and animals."
Several inflatable attractions were popular with younger Village-goers.
Photos by Carol Waterloo Frazier
Village-goers were treated to traditional Hawaiian dances by students from ABC by JoAnn.
Postponed from Tuesday night, the fireworks did not disappoint. For more than 10 minutes, the annual pyrotechnic display -- which has become a festival tradition -- was well received by the crowd on the second night of the Village.
Jason Mols, lead mentor of Team 1708 at McKeesport Area High School, explains how the robot was built by high school students.
INTERNATIONAL VILLAGE 2016
This site will offer information about the annual ethnic food and entertainment festival Aug. 16-18 at Renziehausen Park in McKeesport. Stories and photos will be posted each evening of the event. If you have memories of International Village, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org for possible posting on the site.
The Rankin Junior Tamburitzans performed traditional Croatian songs and dances.
VILLAGE FOR KIDS
The eighth annual Village for Kids takes place at the Lions Bandshell grounds in Renziehausen Park from noon to 4 p.m. Aug. 15. The free event was started as a way for youngsters to get into the spirit of International Village a day before the ethnic food and entertainment festival.
Activities include crafts, finger painting, music, games, physical activities, inflatable rides, and food. From 1-3 p.m. kids can meet their favorite "Fire Dog" and "Doc" characters. Booths will offer information to adults about programs available in the city.
Adult supervision is recommended for all youth under 6 years old.
Once again, a Prince and Princess will be crowned. Winners must be present to claim the titles. Winners will receive a 20-inch bike and a helmet. The bikes are donated by the McKeesport Kiwanis Club and helmets are donated by the McKeesport Police Department. Bikes will be presented to the winner on Aug. 16 (opening night) at International Village.
This year's agenda is:
Noon to 4 p.m. -- DJ music at the bandshell, Food Gallery (freeze pops, hot dogs, chips, fruit, drinks, fruit snacks; nachos and soda will be sold by the Kiwanis Club); Activity Zone by Family Tent Rental; and screenings, information, crafts, game tables, activities, police fingerprinting, and the fire smokehouse
Noon to 2:45 p.m. -- Registration table for Prince and Princess
1-3 p.m. (stage) -- Meet and Greet with your favorite "Doc" and "Fire Dog" characters
3:30 p.m. (stage) -- Announcements, pictures, and crowning of the Prince and Princess
The following sponsors made the free food booths possible for the youth:
McKeesport Hospital Foundation -- chips, fruit snacks, and drinks
Human Services Center Corp./McKeesport Collaborative -- hot dogs, buns, napkins, and condiments
Auberle -- hosting a food booth
Mon Yough Community Services -- freeze pop booth
Village for Kids is presented by the MHCP Youth Logic Model in sponsorship with state Sen. James R. Brewster, McKeesport Hospital Foundation, McKeesport Collaborative/Human Service Center Corp./MVPC, Auberle, and McKeesport International Village.
Community partners include AIU Head Start-McKeesport, Allegheny County Health Department-Maternal Child Health Division, Altrusa International of McKeesport, Angora Gardens Junior Gardeners, Century Heritage Federal Credit Union, City of McKeesport, CCP White Oak, Eden Park Roller Rink, Faith Lutheran Church, Family Links, Family Foundation Early Head Start, Family Resources-Counseling Center, Goodwill of SWPA, Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, Latterman Family Health Center, MARS Ambulance, McKeesport Family Center, McKeesport Fire Department, McKeesport First Steps Parenting Program, McKeesport Kiwanis Club, McKeesport Regional History & Heritage Center, Mon Valley Circles, Mon Yough Community Services, Pittsburgh Gymnastics Club, state Rep. Marc Gergely, SNAP-Auberle, Small Seeds Development LLC, Turtle Creek Valley MH/MR, Tobacco Free Allegheny, UPMC McKeesport, WJS Psychological Assoc., Youth CAST, YMCA, and YWCA.
August 18, 2016
Fireworks highlight second night of Village
Entertainment from around the world will be presented each day at two locations — the main stage and the Jakomas Blue Top Pavilion. Entertainment coordinator Mikey Dee has announced this year’s lineup. Main stage entertainment begins at 6 p.m. each day and at 5 p.m. under the Blue Top.
TUESDAY, AUG. 16 — Main Stage
William Penn Magyar Folk Dancers (Hungarian)
Kenya Booth entertainment
Trafford Junior Tamburitzans (Slovak)
Grecian Odyssey Dancers (Greek)
8 p.m. — Introduction of Officials/First Night Welcome
St. Nicholas Junior Tamburitzans (Serbian)
BLUE TOP: Kolo Night Dance Party presented by the Swedish Booth with “Stari Drugovi”
WEDNESDAY, AUG. 17 — Main Stage
Matt Sepesy Alpine Duo (Austrian)
ABC by JoAnn (Hawaiian)
Rankin Junior Tamburitzans (Croatian)
Otets Paiisi Bulgarian Dancers
Ghana Booth entertainment
BLUE TOP: Variety Night presented by the Mexican Booth with Mikey Dee
THURSDAY, AUG. 18 — Main Stage
Italian and Irish booths present Christina Chirumbolo
Lajkoniki Polish Dancers
FAAP Philippines Dancers
PAS Slovak Folk Ensemble
Presentations and Closing Remarks
Finale with The Tamburitzans (formerly known as the Duquesne University Tamburitzans)
BLUE TOP: Polka Night Dance Party with Ray Jay and the Carousels
Italian singer Christina Chirumbolo, who recently performed with the New York Philharmonic, made her festival debut and wowed the audience.
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 are:
Eveleen Coope: Celtic items
Herminia Lees: Peruvian items
Angie Lipchick: Christmas ornaments, rosaries, ethnic items
Preston Marusa: Candies
Betty Jean McClirk: Fudge
Gohul Messana: Turkish jewelry
Chris Miller and Laraine Kuchma: Austrian crystals
Ilona Ralston: Polish painted glass, face painting
Joe Rodkey: Cutting boards
Scott Blasey of the Clarks, left, and Jeff Jimerson, the national anthem singer for the Pittsburgh Penguins, shared the Main Stage for a song leading up to fireworks. Jimerson performed the national anthem and "God Bless America" and Blasey did several songs.
International Village -- the ethnic food and entertainment festival in Renziehausen Park in McKeesport -- has come to a close. The booths are dark, the food is gone, and the stage is quiet.
But the memories forged at the annual festival will last a lifetime.
Opening night was greeted with a downpour that resulted in the cancellation of entertainment on the Main Stage and the rescheduling of fireworks for Wednesday. But spirits were not dampened. Stari Drugovi kept die-hard Village-goers entertained under the Jakomas Blue Top Pavilion for a Kolo Night Dance Party. Even during a light drizzle throughout the evening, folks did not leave but went booth to booth to get the ethnic food they haven't had for a year. There were lines at many booths and at least one was sold out of an item early.
It looked like Wednesday might be wet once again, but the weather cooperated. Workers did a good job doing what they could to try to get the festival area ready. Straw covered the muddiest of areas to make it easier -- and safer -- to walk the grounds.
The soggy conditions didn't deter people from enjoying the festivities. Entertainment resumed on the Main Stage and fireworks wowed the crowd after performances by Jeff Jimerson and Scott Blasey.
When the gates opened Thursday, folks were eager to take advantage of perfect weather for the last night of the Village. There were lines at every booth, many of which expected to sell out of items by the end of the evening.
Seats were hard to find around the Main Stage as people relaxed while watching groups perform ethnic songs and dances from around the world. The picnic area was crowded as was the pavilion, and folks strolled through the Ethnic Marketplace and informational booths, while youngsters took advantage of the huge inflatables.
An International Village tradition continued Thursday when two students were awarded Casturo Education Awards. Colin McCready, who attends Ohio State University, received $500, and Ryan Martin, who attends the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, received $250.
Although the Village may be done for another year, there is still much work to be done. Tomorrow workers will be busy taking down the chairs, moving picnic tables and dismantling the booths. Planners will be starting to think about next year's festival and everyone who considers the Village a must-do summer tradition will be anxiously awaiting the announcement of the dates for next year's event.
Without the support of the people who attend each year, International Village would not be the successful event it has been for 57 years. "It's because of the support of the people that the Village is always a success," stage manager Patrick Fisher said, "and I want to thank everyone who comes out. Even with the bad weather on Tuesday they were here."
For those who missed this year's Village, you have something to look forward to for next year. If you were there one, two or three nights, you can hold on to the memories made and friendships rekindled until the gates open again next year.
By Carol Waterloo Frazier