BY JACK SMILES
West Pittston couldn’t live through two years without its Cherry Blossom Festival so the 2021 fest has been rescheduled to Sept. 11-12. The festival is expected to retain its usual features, including the Little Miss Cherry Blossom Pageant, parade and Boy Scout food tent. Gina Malsky is back as entertainment director.
Festival president Lori DeAngelo wrote about the date change in an email Q&A with Greater Pittston Progress.
Q: When did you decide to move the festival to September?
A: January of this year, we decided to move it due to the current restrictions.
Q: How and why was the September date chosen?
A: We chose September because it seemed like a beautiful time of year to hold the festival if we could not have it in May. Of course, we know there will be no Cherry Blossoms in bloom, but we still think the riverbank will be pretty at that time of year and we will not interfere with any other summer festivals and summer vacations.
We really wanted to have the festival this year. It is our 50th year and we want to celebrate that milestone with our community.
Q: Is there anything new?
A: We are combining efforts this year with the (Wyoming Area) Kiwanis Club. They will be doing their annual Duck Derby on Sunday of the festival, which we hope will bring more people to the riverbank for our festival and provide a new spin to the festival.
Our vendor list will be smaller this year due to COVID and space requirements.
On Wednesday, Sept. 8, we will be holding a cocktail reception at Fox Hill to kick off the 50th anniversary. Tickets will be $35 per person. They are not available yet, but we hope to have them ready to purchase in early summer.
We are holding a lottery ticket fundraiser as well. Tickets are $10 for the week of Father’s Day, June 14 thru June 20. These tickets are available now and can be purchased through a committee member.
There will also be a Cherry Blossom Golf Tournament this year on Tuesday, Sept. 21, at Emanon Country Club in Falls. We are hoping all avid and casual golfers join us in this special event this year for our 50th anniversary.
Festival has blossomed over the years
If Roy Stauffer — who at his own expense planted more than 2,000 Japanese Cherry Blossom trees throughout Greater Pittston — was the “Father of the West Pittston Cherry Blossom Festival,” then Carmen Mauriello might be considered the festival’s kindly old uncle.
Stauffer was the honorary chairman of the first West Pittston Cherry Blossom Festival in 1971, when he was 74. A year earlier, Mauriello, from Exeter, was a King’s College associate professor and moderator of the King’s Business Club. He suggested a Valley River Regatta — a raft race from West Pittston to Wilkes-Barre as part of the Wyoming Valley Cherry Blossom Festival in Wilkes-Barre, which was then in its third year — thereby connecting the Wilkes-Barre festival to Greater Pittston.
But according to Mary Smith, who was there at the beginning, if anyone should be considered “The Founder” of the West Pittston Cherry Blossom Festival, it’s Ada Rostock.
Rostock and Smith were officers of the West Pittston Junior Women’s Club. In 1971, Rostock came up with the idea to display art by Wyoming Area students on the riverbank as a Women’s Club project during May. The idea bloomed. Mayor Red Campbell declared the week of May 16-22 as Cherry Blossom Week. May 16 from 1 to 6 p.m. was billed as “Blossom Time on the West Bank.” Smokey the Bear and a clown showed up to entertain the kids. There was art and music but no food or vendors.
“We strung the kids’ art from tree to tree,” Smith said as she tried to recall events of a half century ago. “The following year we branched out more,” Smith said. “We had a bigger art display and a few vendors. I remember Jake Sobeski went door-to-door to get permission from the Susquehanna (Avenue) homeowners. It started to grow with entertainment, and a food tent. The Junior Women ran the food tent.”
The tent was provided by Mark Farrell of Big Top Rentals. In time, the Boy Scouts took over the food tent.
Within a few years, dance studios got involved and attendance grew.
“You put kids on a stage and you get parents,” Smith said.
In the late 1970s, the festival went to two days and a Little Miss Cherry Blossom Pageant and parade were added. Smith was the first grand marshal.
Smith said Manny Gordon, the state district forester and TV personality, would check the trees in April and predict when the blossoms would bloom.
“He was a good guesser, he usually got it right,” Smith said.
Smith, who stayed with the committee until about 12 years ago, said whatever money the committee made went back into the community, to the hose company and other non-profits.
“A lot of work and planning went into it,” she said. “We had a secretary and she kept notes and records, but they were lost in floods and just lost over time. We don’t know what happened to them.”
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Caitlin Heaney West is the content editor for Access NEPA and oversees the Early Access blog in addition to working as a copy editor and staff writer for The Times-Tribune. An award-winning journalist, she is a summa cum laude graduate of Shippensburg University and also earned a master’s degree from Marywood University. Caitlin joined the Times-Shamrock family in 2009 and lives in Scranton. Contact: email@example.com; 570-348-9100 x5107; or @cheaneywest