Honoring a favorite son of Italy

Celebration of Columbus Day brings festive feeling to Washington Park

Section: Perspective,  Page: B1

Date: Sunday, October 7, 2007

ALBANY - Buona festa!

Mayor Jerry Jennings shouted the Italian phrase - which translates to good festival - at the end of his speech Saturday afternoon in Washington Park, marking the end of the 16th annual Columbus Parade and the beginning of the Italian Festival.

The event drew thousands of revelers and included marching bands, food, music and more. Italian flags were displayed through out the park; and red, white and green ballons decorated trees and signs, marking the end of Italian-American Heritage Week in Albany. Before Jennings spoke, Jessica Vadney belted out the national anthem, followed by another performer singing the Italian anthem.

Performing during the festival held special significance for the Albany resident - she's of Italian descent: "It was wonderful. I wasn't here last year but I (sang the anthem) the two years before that."

The festival has grown since its inception, when it was held in front of City Hall and included just a few vendors. Eventually, the space became too small. The festivities were moved to Washington Park 11 years ago.

"I know we Italians are rooted in tradition," said Steve Longo, president of the parade committee. "But we moved here because we like to try different things."

The parade and festival weren't all fun and games, though. For some, it was a test of endurance. Chocolate Thunder, a march and dance team from Albany, was at the back of the half-mile long procession. It's members performed for more than two hours in the blazing sun. Not that they minded much.

"It was hot but exciting because everyone in the crowd was following us," said Omar McGill, 17, of Schenectady. Added Patricia Perez, 17, of Albany: "We're usually asked to be in the back because half the crowd ends up staying with us. We're used to it."

Philip J. DiNovo had a quicker and easier trip through the park. He led the parade. He established the American-Italian Heritage Association in 1979 and was honored as Saturday's grand marshal because he is opening an American-Italian museum and cultural center next year on Central Avenue in Colonie.

David Filkins can be reached at 454-5456 or by e-mail at dfilkins@timesunion.com.