Italian Festival set to return for 50th anniversary celebration

Jan. 18—Plans are to bring the Italian Festival back to McAlester this year for its 50th anniversary celebration.

"We're going to have it," said Bobby Lenardo, who is co-chairman of the Italian Festival Committee, along with Luke Whitfield.

"This is our 50th anniversary," Lenardo said. "We're planning one of our biggest festivals. We're going to have a lot of entertainment."

This year's festival is set for May 13-14 at the Expo Center in McAlester. It will mark the first time the festival has been held in three years, following the festival's cancellation in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19 concerns .

Members of the Italian Festival Committee met and approved bringing back the event this year, following the two years of cancellations. The hope is the COVID-19 surge of the omicron variant will have subsided by the time the festival is held.

Although this year does not mark the 50th year since the festival began, it will be the 50th year the festival has been held, Lenardo said. It started in 1970, but cancellation of the 2020 and 2021 festivals moved the 50th anniversary celebration forward to 2022.

A few changes will be in store for this year's event. May 13-14 is a Friday and Saturday. Many previous festivals were held on a Saturday and Sunday. No Sunday activities are planned for this year.

Another change is the festival's official opening ceremony, when the festival's Re and Regina are crowned. It's set for May 14 — the second day of the event.

"Our opening ceremony will be on Saturday, which is not on opening day," Lenardo noted.

Plans call for the Italian Festival food tent and sandwich shop to open from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. on May 13-14.

"The booth vendors and food vendors will open on Friday (May 13) from noon until 7 p.m. and on Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.," said Lenardo. More information regarding vendors should be available soon, he said.

Hopes are to include a cornhole tournament and a carnival as part of this year's festival, although plans have not yet been finalized.

What led to the decision to bring back the festival at this time?

Lenardo recalled that due to COVID-19 concerns, there were provisions against bringing large crowds together during some of the previous years when it was canceled.

Those are no longer in place, he noted. Another reason the festival is set to return is due to numerous requests from fans of the event.

"We had a lot of people asking about it," said Lenardo. "We're ready to do it again."

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