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Ranch gears up for first Italian fest

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  • | 4:00 a.m. October 3, 2012
  • East County
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LAKEWOOD RANCH — First generation Italian-American Stella Olinger’s eyes light up as soon as she starts talking about her Italian heritage.

Although the Italian festivals in which she participated as a child originated as religious celebrations, they also were great family- and community-focused events.

“We all grew up with them, especially in the Northeast,” Olinger said. “Everybody goes. It’s a great celebration of life, and it’s part of the Italian culture.”

Lakewood Ranch Community Activities Corp. will host Lakewood Ranch’s first “Festa Italia” from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Oct. 6, at Central Park, 12150 Forest Park Circle, Lakewood Ranch. Parking will be available at B.D. Gullett Elementary, and a shuttle will transport festival-goers to the event.

Attendees can enjoy live musical, opera and dance performances, as well as pony rides, a magician, crafters, face painting, photo opportunities and more. Fresh Italian food such as brick-oven baked pizza, shrimp scampi, zeppole and spedini and more will be available for purchase.

“It’s so Italian,” said festival organizer, Lori Basilone, director of CAC. “You’ve got to do everything. I think (the event) taps in on all levels of interest; there’s something for everyone. Whether you are Italian or not, you are for the day.”

Attendees also can participate in their choice of three contests: pizza eating, dog costume and Venetian mask.

For the dog-costume contest, dogs and their owners can enter in one of three categories: Mario and Luigi, Milan runway fashion and Renaissance. Contest registration costs $5 and starts at 11 a.m., with judging starting around noon.

A raffle being held also will benefit the Manatee County Humane Society; the grand-prize winner will get a seven-night stay in Florence, Italy. Tickets cost $10 apiece or $25 for three.

Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].

Festa Italia Lakewood Ranch
When: 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6
Where: Central Park, 12150 Forest Park Circle, Lakewood Ranch
Contests: Pizza eating, dog costume and Venetian mask contests. Raffle tickets for seven-day stay in Italy and other prizes available at select sites or online at
Parking: Gullett Elementary School, 12125 44th Ave. E., Lakewood Ranch. Free transportation to festival site available.

Event Schedule:
11:15 a.m. — Opera singer Joe Spinella
11:45 a.m. — Marcella Brown
12:15 p.m. — Sarasota Mandolin Orchestra
12:45 p.m. — Tarantella Dancers (TK)
1:15 p.m. — Dog costume contest winners announced
1:45 p.m. — Opera singer Joe Spinella
2:15 p.m. — Pizza-eating contest
2:35 p.m. — Tarantella Dancers
3:05 p.m. — Opera singer Joe Spinella
3:30 p.m. — Venetian mask contest
4 p.m. — Brian Tennyson, as Frank Sinatra