A mix of accordion music and the scent of cheese puffs wafted from the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Festival in Niles on Saturday evening as its annual festival continued from Wednesday.
Pulling off the church's festival takes little more than a miracle, but with so many parishioners devoting their time to help, they conjured the perfect recipe for a good time for the 80th year in a row.
"I think it's the tradition more than anything," Vince Cerbara said.
Alyssa Smith, a freshman at Niles McKinley High School, reacts Friday after dunking fellow student Stefanie Clymer at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Festival in Niles. Photo by Allie Vugrincic
Relaxing on a chair near the sausage booth, Cerbara, 74, was taking a break from putting together the sandwiches. He said he's been helping with the festival for about 10 years and the food and fun are enough to attract his daughter to come out for a visit from Baltimore - an added bonus.
While Cerbara said all the food isn't quite authentic Italian, the sausage comes pretty close.
"At what other festival is all the food homemade?" said Bob Marino, 67, of Niles.
Marino and Ray "Skeeter" Smith joked that they were born into the festival; they've been volunteering with it for almost 20 years. The two were also taking a well-earned break from pizza making and potato frying to cool off in the corner.
"I look forward to it every year, and every year you get to see people you haven't seen in 20 years," Marino said.
This year he said he ran into someone he knew from his teenage years. The two had joined the military and weren't able to keep in touch. He and Smith have maintained their friendship though, both being members of the Robbins Avenue church. Friday they said they'd been working at the festival since 6 a.m. prepping the food and booths.
When asked who has been working at the festival longer than them, both men pointed across the way to the sausage booth where Cerbara had returned to work.
"Rose has," both men agreed.
Tucked behind a counter, with only a wisp of her red hair visible from afar was 83-year-old Rose Ann Cantola.
This year she's handling the cash register, but in the nearly 50 festivals she's volunteered at she said she's worked in numerous positions, including the card tables. It didn't take long after she moved to Niles in 1964 for her to get involved.
"You meet a lot of people and you make a lot of friends," she said.
Cantola said there is little she'd rather be doing than helping out. Even when she's not volunteering with the church, she said she's helping her older friends.
"I love working at the festival," she said.
As the day wore on the festivities continued, Cantola said she would probably be stationed at the cash register until 11 p.m. For Marino and Smith, their time to go home was unsure.
"We'll be here till God knows how long!" said Smith.
The festival continues from 3 to 11 p.m. today on the church grounds, 381 Robbins Ave, with a wine tasting contest, bocce tournament, and the Frank Gallo Band.