HomeJobsRita Carapellotti Named Italian-American Of The Year

Rita Carapellotti Named Italian-American Of The Year


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Rita Carapellotti stood with family and members of the Undo’s Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival Board Thursday after named the 2024 festival’s Italian-American of the Year. From left are festival Chairman Tony Filberto; Vice President Marilyn Wehrheim; Franco Carapellotti; Maura and Magdala Carapellotti; Rita and Chiara Carapellotti; Nikki Carapellotti; Michael Carapellotti; President Michele Fabbro; and Treasurer John Balzano.

STEUBENVILLE — The Undo’s Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival Board named the daughter of Italian immigrants its 2024 Italian-American of the Year Thursday, citing her devotion to keeping her culture alive and dedication to the community.

Rita Carapellotti of Steubenville received the honor, an annual tradition of the board that has been hosting the Italian heritage festival since 1983. Carapellotti was honored at the Harp and Habit restaurant in Franciscan Square, a property she and her family have worked together to develop.

Candidates for the honor must meet three requirements, said Michele Fabbro, president of the festival board: They must live in one of the festival’s six covered counties — Belmont, Jefferson, Brooke, Hancock, Marshall or Ohio; they should be successful in their business or profession; and they should show leadership in the community, either through volunteerism or economically.

Fabbro said Carapellotti embodies all of that and then some.

“We thought Rita was the perfect fit,” Fabbro said. “The biggest thing is that she really embodies the Italian-American spirit. She lives it every day of her life, and she encourages other people to do that with their Italian heritage and other heritages.”

Carapellotti said the recognition came as a surprise, and she’s honored to have been selected from among so many individuals in the Ohio Valley who share an Italian heritage.

“I’m so honored that they picked me” Carapellotti said. “There’s so many wonderful people in the Tri-State Area who are of Italian descent, and I’m sure they could have picked many, many other people, but it’s an honor that they picked me. … Hopefully I will represent the festival and our heritage very well.”

Carapellotti’s parents both immigrated from Italy, she said, and they appreciated the opportunities the United States afforded them. In spite of their new home, Carapellotti said, “they always kept their traditions and their Italian values in the forefront.”

Having grown up speaking Italian, Carapellotti recalled participating in Italian traditions including the Feast of the Seven Fishes, an Italian-American Christmas Eve celebration. Other traditions passed on from her parents included wine making, canning and gardening.

She was “blessed” to marry into the Carapellotti family, which she noted has a history of community involvement in Steubenville. She and her husband, the late local businessman Michael Carapellotti, had three children: Franco, Nikki and Michael.

Professionally, Rita Carapellotti had been a stay-at-home mother until her husband’s death in 2014. At that point, she and her family decided to work together and start a small business.

After trying various ventures, the family developed Franciscan Square under the leadership of her son, Franco. Today the square boasts a permanent ice-skating rink and two buildings containing the Harp and Habit and other businesses.

“We’re looking in different directions to do other projects,” Rita Carapellotti said. “Anything to promote our area just to help (it) because it’s a great area — great families, great people — and we’re blessed to be here.”

She said her Italian heritage is important to her, and she has tried to keep her culture alive by passing along traditions to her children. She and her family visit Italy, where they still have family, as often as they can to keep those familial ties strong.

Present to see Rita honored was her son, Michael, who said his and his siblings’ appreciation for Italian traditions stems from their mother.

“She’s instilled a lot of the culture in all of us,” he said.

The festival will return for its 41st iteration on July 26-28 at Wheeling’s Heritage Port.

Tony Filberto has served as chairman of the festival board for three years. Filberto noted that his father was on the original 1983 festival board, and his son currently sits on the board.

Filberto said the board is excited to present this year’s festival, which will feature numerous vendors; a national-level performance act yet to be announced, as well as other entertainment; a “Little Italy” section with Italian food; and more.

“We want to invite everybody,” Filberto said. “(The festival) is a very welcoming place. A lot of people have family reunions there. We have great, great food; we have great entertainment. There’s going to be something for everyone from children to older adults.”

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