Viva la Panza, “hooray for the stomach” or “joy to the belly” according to an article published March 29, 1943 in the Akron Beacon Journal, described the event as a tradition to eat until your knife and fork scream for help! Started a few years earlier before the outbreak of WWII by local Italian immigrants, now U.S. citizens, to provide political influence and assist new immigrants upon arrival to the States, Viva has now grown to an annual event raising nearly $100,000 each year for scholarships and charitable contributions. Names such as Joe Lucchesi, Tom LaRose, Ernie Teodosio, Sam Comerato, Leo Santillo, Tony, Fred and Joe Sica, Nick Cardarelli, “Whiskey” Dick (Liborio) Percoco, and Joe Gareri all were instrumental for setting the stage for an event that would exceed their wildest dreams. Percoco, a man of substance himself, started the tradition of awarding a trophy to the member with the biggest belly. In the early days, men would drop their drawers for the measuring ceremony and, according to Bob Bruno in the November 1, 1998 Beacon, you could say their choice of underwear was quite peculiar.
Viva la Panza is held one week before the November elections each year and area politicians of both parties are invited to attend in appreciation for their public service to the entire community. The event also showcases the strong presence of Italian American businesses in NE Ohio and their contributions to the future development of the region.
Over $1,000,000 has been raised by this event for the IAPBC during its 80-year run which has all been awarded to area students of Italian descent as well as deserving charities and non-profits. Thanks to the volunteer efforts of IAPBC members and committee chairs Ralph Trecaso and John Montisano, Viva la Panza will continue the traditions of faith, family and FOOD well into the future. “A tavola, non sin’ vecchia,” (at the table, you never get old).