LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Lakewood Ranch resident Stella Olinger founded the Italian-American Club of Lakewood Ranch four years ago with dreams of sharing her heritage with the community and uniting residents of Italian decent.
The club meets monthly for an Italian dinner, bocce ball -- the Italian version of bowling -- and to compare Italian family traditions.
With the help of the Lakewood Ranch Community Activities Corp., Lakewood Ranch will celebrate its first Italian Festival Saturday.
Festa Italia, which is free to the public, will be held at the park inside the Central Park neighborhood of Lakewood Ranch located just south of State Road 64 on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard. The event is set for 11 a.m.- 5:30 p.m. and will feature authentic Italian food for sale, music, a magician for children and costume contest for visitors and their dogs.
"We were looking to add a couple of events to our entire agenda for 2012 and festivals seem to hit upon every demographic," said Lori Basilone, director of the Community Activities Corp. "There's something for everybody."
"The whole point is it's a cultural festival," Olinger said. "Many of us come from the northeast where Italian festivals happen frequently throughout the year."
Wilde Maserati of Sarasota will have Italian vehicles on site and Italian vendors will be selling their wares. Joe Spinella, opera singer and conductor of the Sarasota Mandolin Orchestra, will perform along with 15-year-old Marcella Brown and the Tarantella dancers will showcase traditional Italian folk dancing.
"These dances represented old traditional dances the
younger generation hasn't seen and the older generation probably doesn't remember," Olinger said.
There will even be a gondola, a Venetian rowing boat, and a gondolier, who steers the boat.
The Italian American Club of Lakewood Ranch will sell raffle tickets to win a seven-day stay in Florence, Italy, valued at $1,800, a 14-inch wine refrigerator valued at $1,400 and four tickets to the Suncoast Food and Wine Festival in November. Proceeds from the ticket sales will go towards building bocce courts in Lakewood Ranch.
Prizes will be awarded for best-dressed dogs. Proceeds from the dog costume contest will benefit the Humane Society. There also will be a pizza eating contest and prizes will be awarded to owners of the best male or female Venetian mask.
"On that day, everyone gets to be Italian," Olinger said.
Nick Williams, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitter:@_1NickWilliams