St. Rocco’s celebrates local Italian culture, by Jamie Lafreniere

Ishpeming will be celebrating Italian heritage on July 28 at the St. Rocco’s Festival at Al Quaal recreation area in Ishpeming. It’s a chance for families to enjoy Italian delicacies, play games and listen to some great music.
The festival has its roots in Italy, but actually honors a French saint. In 1340, Saint Rocco was born to a noble family in Montpellier (France). His childhood was steeped in religion, and he was even born with a birthmark in the shape of a red cross on his chest. When he was a young adult, St. Rocco took a vow of poverty and gave all his worldly possessions to the poor, freeing himself for a pilgrimage to Rome.
During this same time, Italy was suffering from a deadly plague. On his journey, St. Rocco was able to cure many people with prayer, but sadly fell victim to the plague himself. He has been known since as a protector from plagues and contagious diseases, and his festival is celebrated every summer around the world.
Ishpeming’s celebration will include Italian and American food booths, including Ralph’s Deli and Lawry’s. No doubt, the highlight will be an authentic taste of Italy, served by the Valela sisters Teresa Valela-Bertucci, Catherine Carlson, Clara Joseph and Mary Jacobson. They’ve been serving at the fest for the last eight years with traditional favorites such lasagna, gnocchi and cudighi.
Family member Jim Bertucci said everyone pitches in when it comes to cooking. Siblings, parents, aunts and cousins get together in one kitchen and help with the work, which will end up serving a crowd of almost 3,000.
“We’ll have spaghetti, meatballs, garlic bread and salad this year,” Bertucci said. “Last year, we prepared food for a week before the fest and we were still sold out by 4:00 p.m.”
Bertucci is serving his tenth year as chairman of the Italian American Mutual Aid Society of St. Rocco & St. Anthony (St. Rocco’s Society), which got its start in 1942, but actually was formed from groups dating back to 1899.
“The society started for people who came to this country and couldn’t speak English,” Bertucci said. “They joined the club to be close to others from their hometowns. And everyone had to pay their dues. That money helped to cover costs, like insurance, for taking care of each other and the families of people who needed help.”
Bertucci’s family will be there to keep up the tradition of caring for others with their homemade sauce, meatballs and pasta. Their dishes always are crowd pleasers.
Musical guests include Ray and Dan Adamini from noon to 1:30 p.m, the Jimmy Allen Trio from 1:30 to 4:00 p.m., the Ishpeming Blue Notes from 4:30 to 5:00 p.m. and Chicago’s Diamanti Band from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.
Everyone is welcome to enjoy bingo, free children’s games and activities, pony rides, an inflatable slide and arts and crafts vendors.
Admission is free to this all-day picnic. It’s enough to make anyone an honorary Italian for the day.
—Jamie Lafreniere

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