Walking around the St. Rocco Festival in Oyster Bay Sunday night was a vastly different experience for native Tracey McIntyre than it was 20 years ago.
As a teenager, McIntyre, her twin sister, Tricia, and their friends would attend every single night of the five-day festival that takes place at Fireman’s Field on Shore Avenue. They’d ride the amusement rides, play the carnival games and enjoy the Italian-American food served up at the various concession stands.
“It was the highlight of the summer,” she recalled.
On Sunday, McIntyre, now 34 and a mother of two, noticed the rides, games and food were still pretty much same, and so were many of the faces, but like her, all her old pals now had kids of their own.
“It’s funny to see all the people we used to hang out with have kids,” she said as she held her 1-year-old daughter, Molly, while her 3-year-old son, Joey, enjoyed one of the amusement rides.
This year’s festival, which ran from July 11 to July 14, drew roughly 50,000 people, according to the Italian-American Citizens Club of Oyster Bay, which hosts the event. Saturday night’s crowd was the largest of the five days as many came to view the festival’s one-night only firework display.
“We try to keep it family-friendly, so we don’t really want it to grow,” said Barry Ranaldo, 59, the club’s past president.
Oyster Bay’s St. Rocco Festival dates back to the early 1900s. From the 1970s until 2009, he said St. Dominic Church in Oyster Bay sponsored the event, but for the past four years, the local Italian-American Citizens Club has taken over this task.
All the money raised through the festival, which usually amounts to a few thousand dollars, according to Ranaldo, goes toward scholarships for local college-bound high school students, as well as food and toy drives that the club hosts throughout the year.
The organization also collects donations for St. Dominic Church throughout the festival inside a booth featuring a statue of St. Rocco. Attendees can come inside to pray and tack dollar bills onto the statue, which was also featured in a parade that processed from St. Dominic Church to the festival grounds Saturday.
“In the old days they used to carry it on their shoulders,” said Ranaldo’s brother Gary Ranaldo, 57, adding that now the statue is pulled along the parade route on a dolly.
The festival also included live music including professional impersonators Jesse Posa and Joe Perce who channeled Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, respectively, Sunday evening. At the conclusion of the final day of the celebration, one lucky raffle winner also walked away with a $10,000 prize.
But it wasn’t the cash that had most people excited about the festival. Numerous adult attendees including Richard and Giulia Liguori, of Levittown, said they came for the “sausage and peppers.”
Meanwhile, youngsters such as Julianna Gasparro, 5, of Brookville, and Jessica Sanders, 14, of Jericho, who each won two goldfish at the festival, said the games and the rides were their favorite attractions.
“I like the Gravitron ride,” Sanders added.
For McIntyre’s mother, Margaret Basta, a 33-year Oyster Bay resident, the festival is all about family and friends.
“I have six grandchildren, so it costs me a fortune,” she joked, but said she didn’t mind. With her husband, Robert Basta, her children, their spouses and grandkids by her side, she added, “I just like that the whole family is together and we get to see our friends who we haven’t seen in years.”