Plaudits came easily Sunday for the food, drink and fun at the 29th annual La Festa Italiana. This was the third and probably final year the festival was at the National Guard Center near 116th Street and Rainwood Road.
“Next year, if we’re ready, we will be at our permanent home at 132nd and Fort,” said Dr. Ted Bolamperti, one of the festival’s founders. “We will have a 14,000-square-foot banquet facility on eight acres of grounds. It will be beautiful.”
La Festa Italiana, sponsored by the American Italian Heritage Society, was first held at Peony Park. About 8,000 dinners are served every year over Labor Day weekend.
Bolamperti said every bit of the sausages, pizzas, pastries, meatballs and sauces are homemade. Even the garden vegetables and herbs are grown by some of the 1,000 volunteers.
“We try to recreate a little bit of Italy here with our food and music,” Bolamperti said. “We're pretty consistent. We've got it down to where we and our festival-goers like it.”
On Sunday, visitors toured a pictorial history of Italian-Americans in Omaha before heading into the dining hall.
Don and Shirley Livingston of Omaha relaxed at a table after devouring salads, pizza, pasta with meatballs, and ice cream.
“This is maybe only the second time we've come, but the food is very good,” Don Livingston said. “You should've seen the size of the meatball she had.”
Sausages sizzled on grills outdoors, and people purchased food and Italian wine and beer from booths.
Beth Patterson sat under an umbrella with her daughter and two friends, listening to music. Patterson sipped a glass of Chianti wine as she talked about her appreciation for the spirit of the festival.
“I just love the tradition and the food and the camaraderie that you see passing from generation to generation,” she said.
“It all starts with the hors d'oeuvres. The calamari and then the sausage and pizza and spaghetti and ice cream. You get here and turn into food mongers,” Patterson said.
Over the years, Bolamperti said, the American Italian Heritage Society has awarded nearly $100,000 in scholarships and donated more than $20,000 to homeless shelters.
His son Ted “Secundo” Bolamperti II, 48, recalled helping in the kitchen as a teenager. Now the kitchen is his domain.
Bolamperti guides every aspect of the food preparation — including showing a youngster how to properly shake Parmesan cheese on bread before it goes into the oven, or stirring gallons of thick red tomato sauce.
“We start making the things we can freeze, like pastries, on the Fourth of July weekend,” he said. “Every weekend we’re making something to get ready.”
When La Festa’s permanent home opens next year, other groups will be invited to use the grounds, Bolamperti said.
“Everybody should be proud of his heritage.”