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Avoca's celebrating 150 years

A celebration that has been 150 years in the making is just a month away. Avoca’s sesquicentennial celebration — marking the 150th anniversary of the founding of the borough — is happening Labor Day Weekend.

The anniversary celebration is actually a little past the 150th anniversary of the borough’s founding in May 1871, but COVID restrictions forced organizers to postpone events. A ceremony was held at the borough building May 23 to mark the actual date, and while some events have been held so far this year, the main celebration was rescheduled to coincide with the holiday weekend.

“I am really excited that it is finally here. It’s been a long time coming,” said Kelly O’Brien, borough secretary and president of the anniversary committee. “We started these conversations about our sesquicentennial over two years ago and we had so many ideas and fundraising events planned and when it all got put on hold due to the pandemic, it was disappointing to say the least. As soon as we saw a little bit of light through the tunnel, our committee got to work and did what we could in a short amount of time. To see everything come together when we celebrate in September will be exciting.”

The weekend-long celebration will kick off Friday, Sept. 3, when the Avoca vs. West Avoca Battle of the Tracks returns to the West Avoca Little League Field. In what is known to be a friendly rivalry between Avoca and West Avoca, participants will be able to duke it out in a one-night kickball tournament to see which side is the best. Four Avoca teams and four West Avoca teams will face each other in two rounds of play. For those from outside of Avoca who want to take part, a wild card game has been added this year. Open to anyone regardless of past or present Avoca residency, for the wild card game, players’ names will be drawn randomly and each player will be assigned to a team.

In tournament play, each inning will be 25 minutes long or three outs — whichever comes first. The team to score the most points throughout the tournament will be named the sesquicentennial battle champion.

There is a $10 per player fee to join, and each player will receive a team T-shirt to be worn during the tournament. Assemble your teams and register by Saturday, Aug. 7. To sign up a team or as an individual, text or call Colleen Velehoski at 570-466-0492, Holly Homschek at 570-237-7190 or Kelly O’Brien at 570-499-7013.

On Saturday, Sept. 4, the sesquicentennial committee will showcase Avoca’s small businesses. The community is encouraged to support Avoca businesses, bars and restaurants and enjoy Avoca’s small-town atmosphere. The Avoca 150th anniversary committee’s social media pages will showcase special offers available at local businesses. More details about this event will be available soon.

The weekend will culminate with the sesquicentennial parade and party Sunday, Sept. 5. According to O’Brien, the parade will start at 1 p.m. and while the route and details are still being finalized, the committee hopes to begin on York Avenue and travel down Main Street and down McAlpine Street, so that the whole town is covered.

“That’s our hope,” said O’Brien. “Those are our main roads, (so we) at least hope to do something though there.”

The two selected grand marshals for the parade are former Fire Chief Chris VanLuvender and Fire Chief Robert Matthews.

The sesquicentennial committee is seeking participants for the parade. Any businesses or organizations interested in being part of the parade should send a message to the Avoca Borough’s 150th Anniversary Celebration Facebook page.

After the parade, a 150th anniversary party will be held. It will be an indoor-outdoor event at the Queen of the Apostles Parish hall, with food, raffles baskets, and live music. The committee is looking for donations of theme baskets and other items to be raffled off at the event. The committee announced this week on its Facebook page that musical entertainment will be provided by Eddie Appnel and friends and the Tom Petty Appreciation Band, with Avoca’s own Appnel and Mark Kiesinger taking the stage.

While the main activities are still a month away, the sesquicentennial committee already organized a lot of events leading up to the big anniversary celebration, with calendar raffles and a clothing sale having been held. Some events had to be dropped or changed due to the pandemic, but organizers said the community has been very enthusiastic and supportive of all the endeavors to celebrate the sesquicentennial.

“The feedback was very positive, and they were all successful events for not being able to do many things,” O’Brien noted.

More information about the sesquicentennial weekend will be announced as the celebration draws near. Avoca Borough’s 150th Anniversary Celebration Facebook page will be updated periodically.

Local names can be ‘Tricky’

I introduced my friend Jack McCarthy to my friend Ron Dietrick at the gym one day and the three of us enjoyed a lengthy chat before Ron had to be on his way and Jack and I returned to our workouts. I feel compelled to say this was “pre-Covid,” which if you’ve been paying attention, is taking over the Agnes Flood of 1972 as a line of demarcation in our histories.

“What a nice guy,” Jack said as Ron headed for the door, and when I responded, “Yeah, Beagle is a gem,” Jack’s face lit up. “What a minute,” he said, “that was Beagle Dietrick!”

It was like I had just introduced him to Dwayne Johnson and only later revealed he was also known as “The Rock.”

I tell this story not so much to point out how legendary Beagle Dietrick is around here, but also how pervasive nicknames are in Greater Pittston. As I write, I am wondering how many readers will be saying to themselves, “I didn’t know Beagle Dietrick’s name is Ron.”

Which brings to mind the oft-told story (by me, of course) of another local legend with a legendary nickname, Pop DiBuono.

Back in the ’60s, my friend Mike Caputo met Pop DiBuono and the two immediately hit it off. They made plans to do something together, but Mike was hesitant to call Pop’s house to set it up. He had no idea what Pop’s real name was and if Pop’s mother answered, he couldn’t very well ask for “Pop,” could he?

So he set out to discover the name Mrs. DiBuono had given her son at birth. It was no easy task, but he eventually found someone who told him it was Joseph. Now, he was ready to make the call.

Sure enough, Pop’s mother answered. “Mrs. DiBuono,” Mike said, “is Joseph home?”

“Just a minute,” she answered and then yelled, “Hey, Pop, it’s for you.”

Which brings me to the late “Tricky” Kridlo. If this column were not about nicknames but about genuinely nice people, Tricky would still be mentioned. Tricky had been dead a few years when I met his wife one day. I told her I had never heard his real name and she said it was William. “What did you call him?” I asked, and she shrugged and said, “Tricky.”

It was the same with my old boss, “Pidge” Watson. He was another William, but few knew that. Even his wife called him “Pidge.” Nicknames often run in families (think Joseph “Moe” Mullarkey, son of Joseph “Moe” Mullarkey) and Pidge’s sons were not known as John and Billy, but as “Chicky” and “Cowboy.”

The late “Moon” Kopp just popped into my head, and if you are starting to think I could do this all day long, you are probably right. I knew Moon Kopp since I was a toddler and as I grew older I thought his name made him sound like an extraterrestrial law enforcement officer. Who gives out speeding tickets in space? The Moon Cop.

Moon’s real name was Leonard. At his funeral, I asked his son Bobby what Moon’s wife Clara called him. “Moon,” he said. “Everybody called him Moon.”

One of my assignments early in my career was to write about the Greater Pittston Slow Pitch League. We had typesetters in those days and one Saturday afternoon as Sheila Gelb typed the names of players “Pickles” Alaimo, “Peanuts” Trotta, and “Bananas” Lanunziata, she stopped and said, “This sounds more like a grocery list than a softball team.”

For the record, they were George, Richard and Vince.

A while back, the late Joe Keating, a former Pittston mayor, handed me a list of local nicknames he had been compiling for some time. There were 89 names on it, but surprisingly not Moon Kopp. I glanced over it looking for the guys so known by their nicknames that hardly anyone knew their real ones. A handful jumped out:

Flash Flanagan, Juggy Touhill, Moe Mullarkey, Moose Demich, Sugar Shandra, Wimpy Frushon, Nippy Nowakowski, Bunny Linnen, Shag Ardoline, Harpo Gallo, Bozo Connors, Ace Brogna, and Ace O’Malley.

Real names: John, James, Joseph, John, Charles, Guy, George, Francis, Joseph, Frank, John, Al, and John.

These also made Joe’s list. I know only a few of their real names. See how many you do.

Squash, Tarzan, Chippy, Big Head, Tonto, Weasel, Smitty, Minner, Digger, Pikey, Sarge, Cosmo, Chicken, Moo Moo, Moo Cow, Detroit, Squirrel, Toke, Geronimo, Hot Dog, Butters, Swimmy, Ape, Gabby, Snapper, Tuffy, Tubby, Worm, Wormsy, Spindles, Curly, Yipper, Shoemaker, Mattress, Babe, Ziggy, Yogi, Bumsy, Bing, Migsy, Bonesy, Bubbles, Socks, Buster, Corpy, Freshy, Wolf, Fatso, Muscles, Beefy, Lumpy, Streaky, Buzzy, Booty, Weiner, Brownie, Bouncer, Slick, Silky, Porky, Sudsy, Skeets, Danky, Buster, Bubby, Beastie, Mugsy, Piccolo and Trotters.

Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.