THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD by Mike Dudurich
The celebration of the birthplace of the banana split is about to hit the big time. After two years of being put on by the Latrobe Community Revitalization Program, the event will be hosted and produced by the Greater Latrobe-Laurel Valley Chamber of Commerce in 2015.
The event, which will be held Aug. 28-30, will have a new name as well. It will now be known as the Valley Dairy Great American Banana Split Celebration presented by Excela Health. And, just as importantly, the event will be filled with a variety of activities and events for everybody. “Valley Dairy Restaurants has been part of the Latrobe community for almost 77 years and we are proud to sponsor an event that brings recognition to our town and to the banana split that was created here,” said Virginia Greubel, Valley Dairy Restaurants’ Director of Marketing. “Valley Dairy Restaurants serves a banana split that closely resembles the original one created by Dr. Strickler. As Ice Cream Joe says, “It’s a very ‘appealing’ dessert!
Eat ’n Park Great American Pie Eating Contest
One of the fun activities of the Valley Dairy Great American Banana Split Celebration presented by Excela Health, which is hosted and produced by the Greater Latrobe-Laurel Valley Community Chamber of Commerce, will be the Eat’n Park Great American Pie Eating Contest on Saturday, Aug. 29. The person who consumes an entire banana cream pie in the shortest amount of time will not only win the admiration of family and friends but also get the opportunity to hold a championship belt above their head, just like WWE and TNA champions do.
That belt will be created and produced by a Latrobe native, Andrew Lazarchik, the owner of Wildcat Championship Belts. “This is a great opportunity for me and the Banana Split Festival is something I really wanted to get involved with,” Lazarchik said.
His company has made belts for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and Total Nonstop Action (TNA), but there is another reason for Lazarchik wanting to be involved.
The festival is celebrating 111 years of the banana split and the delectable dessert has its origin in Strickler’s Drug Store. Tom Lazarchik, Andrew’s dad, owned that establishment for 35 years and Andrew worked there for over ten years.
For as long as he can remember, he was always interested in wrestling and used to create championship belts out of dot matrix paper, rubber roofing material and scrap metal. All of that took place when he was around 10 years old. As he grew up his interest intensified as he went to LaRoche College and earned a graphic arts degree.
He was confident enough in his work to pursue a goal of making the title belts for major wrestling organizations. It took him a while, but he finally got an audience in front of the right people at the WWE.
After starting Wildcat Championship Belts in 2005, he signed a deal with the WWE in 2007.
“I didn’t do all of their belts, but I do all of TNA’s,” he said. “But I’m branching out now and 70 percent of what I do are specialty awards. It’s still what I grew up with as a kid and now I’m bringing it into the corporate world.”
The winner of the Eat’n Park Great American Pie Eating Contest will get possession of the belt for the day and will be officially presented with it at The Clarks concert that night. The winner will be required to return the belt the next day and will receive a trophy to keep.
“We’re really excited to be part of this event benefiting the Latrobe Community,” said Pat Kehew, Field Marketing Representative of Eat’n Park. “Eat’n Park is famous for our fresh-made pies, and we can’t wait to see who can eat one the fastest!”
Pie-eaters must be 18 years of age or older and will be timed on how long it will take them to devour an entire pie, including the crust. The contestant will be the 2015 champion and their name will be engraved on the belt. The belt will be on display at the Neighborhood Visitor & Information Center.
A Weekend at the Races
Before the pie-eating contest on Aug. 29, the 5K Banana Run will take place. The race will begin at 9:30 a.m., with registration at 8:30, and will be run on the Turkey Trot course, starting at Memorial Stadium. The race will be timed by Gingerbread Man Running Company, which will chip runners’ shoes for accurate timing. Awards will be given to the top three male and female finishers overall and the top three male and female finishers in each age bracket. All participants will receive a t-shirt, and winners will receive banana split-themed medals and prizes.
An increasingly popular event in race circles will also be part of the festival. The YPG Color Dash presented by Saint Vincent College, a family-friendly 5K run, will be held Sunday with participants being able to pick up race packets at 10:30 a.m. and the race starting at 12:30 p.m. A white shirt is provided for each entrant with color added to those shirts by the competitors. This is an event for those interested no matter age, size or fitness level.
Festival of Entertainment
The headliner of the 2015 Valley Dairy Great American Banana Split Celebration presented by Excela Health will, of course, be that wonderful tasty frozen desert, but if you’re looking for entertainment, you won’t have to look far when the event takes place Aug. 28- 30 in Latrobe.
In something of a throwback to years past, there will be three separate shows over the weekend with entertainment for all ages. Michael Mykita will lead the three-person Miracle Elixir Show, which will put on performances both Saturday and Sunday at Roger’s Memorial Park. Rich Bubin and his Ice Creations, a world-renowned ice carver, will create spectacular things from blocks of ice with a chain saw both days as well at Legion-Keener Park. And if you like juggling, you won’t want to miss Bob Nickerson, the Jockular Juggler. He’ll entertain you with his juggling prowess and will have you laughing continuously with his sense of humor. Nickerson will perform Friday and Saturday around Latrobe.
Nickerson lives in Cresson, PA but has entertained crowds throughout the United States and Canada. He’s been featured in Sports Illustrated, performed at the White House, and has made rounds on the network television shows like Good Morning America, CBS This Morning and NBC Evening News.
“Over the years, it’s become an obsession with me, but it’s a fun obsession,” Nickerson said. “I still enjoy doing shows.” You might see him juggling hatchets or baseball bats or bouncing five basketballs at the same time.
The words “miracle elixir” have always raised eyebrows and curiosities and Professor Nicodemus Style’s Miracle Elixir Sideshow does a great job of playing to those emotions. Michael Mykita lives just outside of Mars, PA and is the leader of this three-person troupe and plays the role of Styles. “We’ve combined an old circus side-show with a medicine show and a snake oil salesman,” said Mykita, who is joined by friends who play the roles of Lavinia Warren and Zephyr Wilcox III. “We think we have a wide range of audiences and we try to shift our show to suit the ages of our audience.”
The group was honored as Best of the Burg by Pittsburgh Magazine, has played recently at a Pittsburgh Cultural Trust event, and performed at a birthday celebration for famous composer Stephen Foster.
Their show is one with variety, ranging from lying on a bed of nails, eating fire and consuming broken glass. “But we’re a pain-free show,” Mykita said. “We’ve been doing shows for three years and we were so glad to get a call from the folks at the chamber of commerce. We’re excited to be coming to Latrobe.”
Rich Bubin is no stranger to Latrobe, having been part of DiSalvo’s Taste the Good Life for nearly 20 years.
Bubin is an ice carver, and a very good one at that. He captained the 2002 United States Ice Carving team at the Salt Lake City Olympics, and is the Guinness World Record-holder for the fastest ice carver for 61, 300-pound blocks carved into 61 different sculptures in four hours, 22 minutes and 55 seconds in 2002.
“The previous record was 10 hours, 50 minutes and 22 seconds,” Bubin said. “We didn’t have any templates, and the carvers didn’t have any idea what was the next thing we’d have to carve.”
Ice Creations is located in Churchill and has been in existence for 28 years. Bubin has performed at Kennywood Park for 23 years, Light Up Night and First Night in Pittsburgh. “I always try to get the kids involved in my shows,” he said. “I’ll make souvenirs for them. It’s a lot of fun.” Bubin lists American Eagles and Harley Davidson motorcycles among the popular things he’s created over the years.
The Clarks to Headline Latrobe Memorial Stadium
Nothing goes better with an old-fashioned banana split than a big concert and that’s exactly what will happen during the Valley Dairy Great American Banana Split Celebration presented by Excela Health.
Headlining the concert at Latrobe’s Memorial Stadium on Aug. 29 will be The Clarks, the rock-and-roll band founded at Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 1986 that has thrilled audiences around Western Pennsylvania and beyond ever since.
“The Clarks have played the Latrobe area on a number of occasions, though none recently. We played at the Rolling Rock Town Fair … which was an amazing experience,” said Greg Joseph, bass player for The Clarks. The band is made up of locals to Western Pennsylvania: Scott Blasey, Connellsville native, who lives in Peters Twp; Rob James, a North Allegheny native, who currently lives in Beaver, PA; Greg Joseph, a North Allegeny native, who lives in Hampton Twp, PA; and Dave Minarik of Mercer, PA, former resident of Natrona Heights. All were IUP students and honored as IUP Distinguished Alumni.
Local singer/songwriter Jessica Saenz will open the show before a performance from Lovebettie, a nationally known touring band from Latrobe recently named a “band to watch” by Rolling Stone magazine.
Tickets for the concert will be $15, with student tickets available at $10 with student ID. There will also be standing floor tickets next to the stage for $20.
The Clarks’ biggest moment came on Aug. 31, 2004 when they appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman. On June 23, 2006, they played on ESPN’s Cold Pizza. The band has toured along the East Coast, the Southwest and Pacific states.
They average 150 live shows a year and sell in the neighborhood of 250,000 album sales locally.
“What better way is there to showcase all that our communities have to offer than bring in a national headlining show?” asked Allen Martello, GLLV Director of Marketing and Events. “Pair that with two extremely popular local sensations, and The Clarks LIVE at Memorial Stadium becomes the pinnacle of a weekend full of fun events!”
The 2015 Valley Dairy Great American Banana Split Celebration presented by Excela Health will be giving attendees even more bang over the weekend with the addition of the Verizon Wireless Zone Great American Fireworks Show, which will bring a spectacular finish to an outstanding night on August 29. The show will be put on by Pyrotecnico of New Castle. The fireworks will follow the big concert: Latrobe Shop ‘n Save presents The Clarks Live at Memorial Stadium, driven by Sendell Motors of Greensburg at 7 p.m.
“We’re a small family-owned business in Latrobe, and even though we’ve been here eight years, a lot of people don’t know we’re here,” said Verizon Wireless Zone owner Bob Musser. “We’re back here in the area behind Sharky’s, not far from Aldi’s. We got involved with this event because we want to support the chamber, but also we want to let people know we’re here. We pride ourselves in our customer service and believe that we can give better service than the bigger stores can.” The addition of the fireworks show only enhances what will be a jam-packed three days celebrating the birthplace of the banana split, the first of which was made 111 years ago. “Latrobe has so many unique things about it, things that distinguish it from other places,” Musser said. “The Banana Split is one of those, and we’re looking forward to it. We like to be there, supporting the chamber.”
Dan Altman, the owner of Latrobe Shop ‘n Save, had similar thoughts about getting involved with the Celebration. Altman had been looking for some way to get more involved in the community, but he was looking for the right thing.
“You can sponsor a baseball team, but there are 40 other teams playing, and they wonder why you didn’t sponsor them,” Altman said. “We had to find something that was right.” Sponsoring The Clarks concert was that thing. “I’ve felt like there was something we could do, something that had an impact,” Altman said. “It’s a great event for the town, and I felt like it was a good thing for community involvement and exposure of our name.”
The Lincoln Avenue store will be one of three places selling tickets to the concert, which is expected to pack Memorial Stadium. The other two are at the Neighborhood Visitor & Information Center and online at banana splitfest.com. Shop ‘n Save will also put a flyer with information about the concert into each grocery bag that leaves the store.
“We’re a store that is convenient for a lot of people; a family-owned community store,” Altman said. “I think this is going to be great.”
“Community support for this year’s event and the concert has been phenomenal,” said GLLV Chamber Director of Marketing & Events Allen Martello, who was excited to announce that Sendell Motors of Greensburg would be on board as the signature sponsor of the concert. “It was a tie-in that just made sense,” added Chamber President David Martin. Sendell Motors will have multiple cars on display throughout the Banana Split footprint in Latrobe but will also have cars on both sides of the stage on Saturday night, as well as at the entrances to Memorial Stadium. That’s where concert-goers and banana split visitors will be able to participate in Sendell’s popular “Sendellfie” promotion and have the chance to win a great prize.
“My main motivation for getting involved is to support what they (GLLV Chamber) are doing, energizing the Greater Latrobe area,” said Chris Mohler-King, who along with her brother, Bill, owns Sendell Motors. “I want this event to be successful, and if we can be helpful that’s great. Any kind of community involvement is good for us. I’m all for good things happening in Latrobe and hopefully this will be a great success and pump up the reputation of the town.”
Beyond providing cars for display and the “Sendellfie” promotion, Sendell Motors will also be adding concert Banana Split Celebration promotions to their vehicles on display at the Westmoreland Mall. The Chamber is also excited to announce that 1480 WCNS will be the media sponsor for the concert that evening. You’ll be hearing Clarks ads on the station throughout the month of August and WCNS will be in the stadium during the concert.
“1480 WCNS is thrilled to partner with the GLLV Chamber of Commerce in being the media sponsor for the Clarks Concert on August 29th, during the Great American Banana Split Celebration. It is a fantastic opportunity for us to support this momentous event that will benefit not only Latrobe but the greater Westmoreland community at large,” said Brandon Kail, general manager at 1480 WCNS. The station will also be giving away concert tickets live on air! Tickets for the concert will be $15, with student tickets available at $10 with student ID. There will also be standing tickets next to the stage for $20. To make the concert a success, many volunteers are needed, including help with ticketing, parking and security. All volunteer opportunities for the celebration can be found on the event website.
“Excela Health is pleased to be a presenting sponsor for the Banana Split Celebration. Just as the banana split is synonymous with Latrobe, so too is Latrobe Hospital, and they share an equally long legacy. In fact, Strickler’s Drug Store, the birthplace of the banana split, is featured in the hospital’s History Corridor, where we celebrate the early days of pharmacy and the important role they played in the health and well-being of our community,” said Maryann Singley, Vice President of Patient Care Services, Excela Latrobe Hospital.
On the 28th (Friday), there will be a Yellow Tie Gala at the Latrobe Art Center. It’s a semi-formal event with heavy hor d’oeuvres, wine and yes, a banana split bar. Tickets for that event are $40 and are available at the Latrobe Art Center.
“This is the third year of the festival and it’s a wonderful thing for our community. I hope everybody is as excited about it as I am and support it and help it to grow,” said Latrobe mayor Rosie Wolford. “It’s a day for the community. I’m a firm believer we should remember and celebrate our history, and this is a great way to do that.”
The event has grown in its’ first two years and that growth is expected to continue in a big way this summer. “It started out as a hometown thing,” said Jim Okonak, the executive director of the McFeely-Rogers Foundation. “If Punxsutawney can do what they did with Phil, imagine what we can do. This could become an important thing for the Greater Latrobe area. It’s great for Latrobe. We’ve gotten some great exposure from this already.”
“The re-imagined event has amazing momentum and can be a true signature event for the city of Latrobe and the region,” said GLLV president David Martin. “Some of the event’s elements will have a regional draw and that is a win-win for the entire Greater Latrobe area.”