Holtz returns for Follansbee Community Days event

FOLLANSBEE – Former Notre Dame University football coach Lou Holtz told the many attending the Follansbee Community Days kickoff dinner Thursday he came from humble beginnings but doesn’t believe he was disadvantaged.

The record-setting college football coach said his father dropped out of school after third grade and his family struggled financially. Holtz said with the help of Dr. Ralph McGraw, he was born in the basement of his family’s Follansbee home.

“But I tell people all over the world I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. That’s because I was born in the U.S.A. and learned the values cherished by residents of the Ohio Valley,” he said.

Holtz said he would have grown up in Follansbee, had his mother not moved their family to his maternal grandmother’s home in East Liverpool while his father was serving during World War II.

Nonetheless, he has fond memories of childhood days in Follansbee, including playing with the Quattrochi brothers.

Meredith Stucin, granddaughter of Daniel Quattrocchi, recalled being introduced to Holtz while cheerleading for West Virginia University at the 2012 Orange Bowl, that he spoke of her grandfather and uncles and later called to offer condolences when her grandfather died.

After Stucin introduced Holtz as guest speaker, he sang along as an instrumental ensemble that included Justin Schwertfeger, a local graduate of Notre Dame and former member of its band, played the university’s fight song.

Holtz said his career, though often successful, wasn’t without its setbacks. Politics led to his being dismissed as coach at the Unviersity of Arkansas, he said, admitting that for a while he was bitter.

But Holtz said the same athletic director who fired him later had a change of heart and recommended him for the Notre Dame position that won him the most accolades.

“The point I’m trying to make is we’re all going to have ups and downs,” he said, adding all of his successes have resulted from working with others as a team.

He said whether playing on a team or working in a community, everyone should work hard in the role they’re given for the betterment of all.

Holtz noted each of four musicians honored at the dinner acknowledged the many others with whom they have performed.

Mayor David Velegol Jr. said in keeping with this year’s theme of “Celebrating the Sounds of Follansbee,” the Community Days Committee chose to recognize local members of four bands that have been staples of the festival. They were:

Tom Andreozzi of Legend. Fellow band member Scott Hicks said Andreozzi, a lifelong Follansbee resident, is both a consummate musician and a kind and modest man who has faced cheerfully the various obstacles he’s encountered.

Andreozzi recalled being hooked on music after taking up the accordion at age 9, when many other boys were playing sports.

“It’s always special to be performing at Community Days because it’s playing in my hometown,” he said.

Robert DiCiccio of the Original Fantasys. Jen DiCiccio noted over the last 40 years, her father has performed in several bands as well as the St. Anthony Catholic Church choir and has made music a key part of her family’s home.

He said his father, a jazz buff, sparked his interest in music but he doesn’t know what led him, as a fifth-grader, to choose the clarinet as his instrument.

“God works in mysterious ways. He sometimes has a plan, and he had one with me,” he said, adding he and fellow members of the Original Fantasys always feel “blessed and proud” to perform at Follansbee Community Days.

Lou Casini, musical director of the Vince Villanova Big Band. In introducing Casini, City Attorney Michael Gaudio said Casini’s had a distinguished musical career that has included being named Hancock County Teacher of the Year and Outstanding West Virginia Bandmaster during his 26-year career with Hancock County Schools, serving as lead trumpet in the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra and performing with The Temptations, Maureen McGovern, Al Martino and Dave Brubeck.

Casini said when he became interested in music, a nun at St. Anthony’s School lent him a trumpet and invited him to perform at the school. He said he played 16 songs, without looking at his audience, before the nun brought an end to his debut.

Casini said he and his fellow big band members enjoy playing in Follansbee and he appreciates being “in an area that appreciates music and respects musicians.”

Jeff Wise of the Driftin’ Hoopie Experience. Greg Wise noted his brother and his band have appeared at many community events, including the Community Days parade, where they perform on a float covered with hay bales.

Wise said he became a musician later in life, while listening to country music radio and attending college in Columbus. Big city life wasn’t for him and hearing Merle Haggard, Charlie Price and Tom T. Hall played on WWVA took him home to his mother’s kitchen.

“It’s really an honor to be a small thread in the social fabric of this great community,” he said.

Recognition also went to long-time Community Days committee members Don Layburn and Dan Reasner. Velegol said as the festival’s entertainment coordinator, Layburn has brought a variety of performers, from popular local bands of various styles to nationally known singing groups from the 1950s and 60s.

He told Layburn, who will serve as parade marshal this year, “You are a vital member of the Community Days team and it wouldn’t be the same without you.”

Layburn said, “I love what I do. It’s a wonderful job.”

Alluding to tighter financial constraints sparked by the struggling economy, he said, “We’ve got to keep Community Days and the music going.”

Velegol said Reasner has been involved in various aspects of the festival, from sponsoring performers through his business to organizing the parade for many years and even bringing pizza to the festival’s committee meetings.

Reasner said his part “is nothing big, but it means a lot to make everyone happy.”