KENOSHA — There’s more to being Italian than spaghetti and thick, red marinara.
But the noodles and sauce help keep the heritage alive, especially in Kenosha, an ocean and thousands of miles from Italy.
For this reason, each June, 20 to 30 volunteers spend the better part of a week making pasta and sauce for the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish festival and spaghetti dinner.[su_pullquote align=”right”]IF YOU WANT TO GO: Mt. Carmel Festival July 8-9-10 Columbus Park, 2003 54th St., Kenosha Hours: Friday, 6 to 11 p.m. Saturday, 4 to 11 p.m. Sunday, 2 to 10 p.m. Pasta dinner: $10 [/su_pullquote]
Celebrating its 69th year, the Mount Carmel Festival is the longest running parish festival in the city. It began in 1904, stopped during the 1930s, and resumed in 1947.
The festival board anticipates serving more than 1,500 dinners on Friday and Saturday of the three-day event.
To make the 912 pounds of pasta requires 228 dozen eggs. That’s an increase from the 800 pounds made last year with year with 200 dozen eggs. According to Claudia Presta, president of the Mount Carmel Ladies Society and member of the festival board, volunteers made an extra 112 pounds of pasta because they ran out last year about 45 minutes before the end of service on Saturday.
“We make the pasta in the church kitchen and church hall,” she said. “We have pasta all over the place and use the entire hall to dry out the pasta. Once we bag the pasta, all the bags take up the entire stage area in the church hall and we even have to use the rectory basement to holds bags of pasta.”
The traditional Italian pasta recipe is the same one used 69 years ago, but with a few tweaks. While they used to make meatballs, they no longer do that.
“We had to stop a few years ago simply because of the amount of work required,” said Presta. “In addition to making the pasta and sauce, we also make thousands of cookies for the festival, so to add the task of making around 4,000 meatballs, it just became too challenging.”
The dinner, which costs $10 per person, includes spaghetti, two meatballs, salad, bread, dessert and coffee.
Because some of the volunteers are older and have helped with the dinner for many decades, there was concern the homemade pasta dinner might end. However, Presta has recruited younger members with hopes of carrying on the tradition.
“Our goal is to continue the tradition of a homemade spaghetti dinner at Mount Carmel for as long as possible. We are so grateful to our wonderful volunteers who do a marvelous job and are so committed to keeping this tradition alive,” she said. “As long as we have our dedicated volunteers, the tradition will continue.”
While food is a festival hallmark, so is faith.
“Most importantly, we will have our annual (Eucharistic) procession through the Columbus Park neighborhood on Sunday, July 10, with line-up beginning at 12:45 p.m. in front of the church,” said Presta. “All are welcome to participate in the procession which concludes in the church with Benediction.”
According to festival chairman Tom Rizzo, more than 150 volunteers work to make the festival a success.
“We are very fortunate to have a dedicated parish with a festival and I am very fortunate, because the festival would not go on without all of them,” he said. “We are very unique in that we still offer the traditional spaghetti dinner and, as far as I can tell, we are the only one in the state that still does the procession.”
Rizzo has been part of the festival for most of his life.
“I have been involved in this for the better part of 50 years and drove the chairperson nuts when I was a little kid — until she gave me a job. I stayed with it all these years and it has become a labor of love for me,” he said.
For Fr. Dwight Campbell, member of the Apostles of Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim, and pastor of Mount Carmel, the festival is the parish’s most important fundraising event.
“This is a whole parish effort and we have a lot of volunteers and a lot of donors to make this a good fundraiser,” he said. “The funds are very important for our parish operation and while we have designated some of the proceeds for our renovation project, most of it is for our general fund.”
Visitors attend the festival from all over the state as well as Illinois, even drawing former parishioners.
“One of our families moved to the Apostle Islands, but they come back each year for the festival and to run a booth,” Fr. Campbell said. “We have actually had people come from all over the U.S. and some plan to come to Kenosha at festival time to visit their families. They really have an enjoyable time.”