As current president of the Italian Heritage Association, John Hopkins is overseeing plans for the 2011 IHA Days Festa, which will be Oct. 8-9.
Of note this year is the 100th anniversary of when the Christopher Columbus statue was dedicated in 1911 and placed on the Walla Walla County Courthouse lawn. Virginia Locati Ayres has photos and details from the first dedication, when her grandfather led the parade on horseback as grand marshal.
The festa always celebrates food, family, the Italian culture and fun. Tickets for the Festa dinner fundraiser are on sale now for $25 per adult, $12 for kids 6-12 and will be sold until Oct. 3. They are available at B&L Marine, Cugini Italian Import Market, Snyder Crecelius Paper Co., Dominick's on the Runway, Walla Walla Chamber of Commerce and from IHA Board members. For more information call Bob Locati at 509-529-5354.
Many descendants of those named on the base of the Columbus statue continue to reside in the Valley, according to the IHA website wallawalla festa.com.
Some 97 men from the Italian community commissioned and paid for the Columbus statue in 1911 to "honor their countryman, who gave to the world a continent." Columbus Day had been declared a legal holiday in Washington State on the second Monday in October that year.
Francesco Orselli has the distinction of being the first Italian to come to the Walla Walla area in 1857. He was stationed at Fort Walla Walla as a member of the U.S. Cavalry, Company T, 4th Infantry, and had immigrated from Lucca, Italy. He also established the first vineyard and winery here in the late 1850s.
With the arrival of Pasquale Saturno in 1876, large numbers of Italians began arriving here, according to IHA. Orchardist Frank Villa came in 1878 and Joe Tachi in 1880. Joe's two nephews, Anthony "Tony" Locati in 1886 and John Arbini in 1890 came from Lonate Pozzolo, Italy, near Milan.
Tony Locati is credited with recruiting most of the large local Locati families to Walla Walla. John Arbini helped organize and became the first president of Walla Walla Gardener's Association produce house, a going concern to this day and the oldest produce house west of the Mississippi operating under its original charter.
The list of family names common here today had arrived in the 1880s and 1890s. The largest influx of Italians came between 1895-1915. By that time, more than 120 Italian gardeners had settled here and many of their grandchildren farm the lands they first tilled in the early 1900s.
The association is collecting memories, trinkets, and the histories from the early days when Italian families came to the Walla Walla Valley. Anyone wishing to share may write memories down, make copies, including of photos, and submit them so members can share how the Italians arrived here.
The first festa was planned for October 1986 and is held annually on the second weekend of that month.
"We are proud of our Italian heritage and enjoy educating our population of the impact our heritage had on the history of the formation of the Walla Walla Valley," said Lorrie Toye, IHA secretary.
Stay tuned to the U-B for more details about the Festa as they unfold.