It was a banner year for the Pittston tomato crop in 1989, but in this 1960 photo taken by Stephen Lukasik for the Sunday Dispatch shows Margaret Yonski in her Inkerman tomato garden holding two extremely large tomatoes. Yonski was the mother of 14 children, Ann Marino, Rose Yanko, Frank, Josephine Armalay, Catherine Boccolini, Michael, Joseph, Vicky Gubino, Wanda Ross, Caroline, John, George, Janet Ceresi and Marion Price. - Sunday Dispatch file photos
The Second Annual Pittston Tomato Festival was expected to see over 20,000 people attending. Organizers, from left, were P.J. Melvin, Pittston councilman; Wil Toole, chairman, farmers market; Stanley Strellish, Maria Capolarella, councilwoman; Val D’Elia, Thomas Walsh, Pittston mayor; Ken Scaz, festival chairman; Gary Bradbury, Albina DeAmbrose, Paul McGarry and Charles Bufalino. - Sunday Dispatch file photos
This was just part of the record crowd attending the Pittston Tomato Festival in 1988. - Sunday Dispatch file photos
This young lad got his first Sunday Dispatch balloon at the Dispatch booth in 2004. - - Sunday Dispatch file photos
Kara Corbett tries her luck at winning a fish for her 11-month-old son Colin in 2013. - - Sunday Dispatch file photos
Then-mayor Michael Lombardo is on the receiving end in the Pittston Tomato Festival Tomato Fights in 2002. - - Sunday Dispatch file photos
Students of Seton Catholic High School made a float for the 1990 Pittston Tomato Festival Parade. - - Sunday Dispatch file photos
Members of the Wyoming Valley Youth Soccer Pittston Stoners carry their banner in the 1987 Pittston Tomato Festival Parade. - - Sunday Dispatch file photos
Kolton Styczen expected to fill his bag full of goodies at the Pittston Tomato Festival Parade in 2011. - - Sunday Dispatch file photos
Editor’s note: Columnist Judy Minsavage poured over copies of previous Tomato Guides, as well as issues of the Sunday Dispatch to bring readers this detailed timeline of the Pittston Tomato Festival.
The Pittston Tomato Festival celebrated its silver anniversary in 2008. What unique model of car joined the Chevy SSR, PT Cruiser, Volkswagen Beetle, Humvee delivery truck and school bus in the line of Sunday Dispatch collectible vehicles?
Brothers Mike and Joe Lukash were out to tell the world the rich river-bottom farmland on the west side of the Susquehanna River produced some of the best-tasting tomatoes in the United States. The brothers, along with the Greater Pittston Chamber of Commerce, wanted to promote the fact that, according to agriculture officials, the tomatoes grown locally were of the best quality and best tasting of those produced in other parts of the country.
A sprucing up of Pittston’s image was on the mind of Wil Toole, as he, P.J. Melvin, Ken Scaz, Anne Bradbury and Paul McGarry met to discuss creating an event that would put Pittston on the map. During the meeting, Scaz told the group about Val Delia, a local “tomato enthusiast” who believed the region produced the best-tasting tomatoes. It turns out that was just what the group was looking for — one theme around which they could base the event. Thomas Walsh, Pittston mayor, backed the venture.
Soon after the inaugural three-day festival ended, the Tomato Festival Committee gathered to start planning for the following year. Committee members Mimi Shovlin, Carmen Falcone, Maria Capolarella, Ken Scaz, Ann Marie Stelma, Vince Zerblas, Sandra Ostrowski, Bill Gladish and Vince Gubitoso completed plans for the inaugural two-mile Tomato Festival Run.
Lori Castiglione, 3 and Michael Perry, 3 both of Pittston, were named Little Miss and Little Mr. Tomato. Kathy Argenio 6, of Pittston Township, was chosen Miss Greater Pittston Tomato.
The second year of the Tomato Festival opened on Kennedy Boulevard. Crowds were expected to double from those of the previous year.
Biagio Dente, proprietor of Dente’s Catering, had the slogan “world’s quality tomato capital” painted on his business vehicles. Falcone City Carpet, LaFratte’s Restaurant, Fino’s Pharmacy, Majestic Lunch and Star Beauty Academy offered raffles and free items. The city of Pittston announced free parking at city meters.
Manny Gordon was named Tomato Festival Parade Grand Marshall.
Ten members of the Main Bike World Freestyle Trick Team — Joe Mehal, Keith Shimley, Randy and Dave Lyback of Duryea; Jack Walker and Kerry Quinnan of Pittston; Pat Kearns of West Pittston; Angelo Medico, Jay Comerota and Jim Falzone, of Laflin — were set to demonstrate their famous freestyle-riding techniques during the festival.
After the fourth annual Pittston Tomato Festival, ABC News named the event the “fastest-growing” in America as attendance hit approximately 80,000 people. A move to a larger location was necessary but organizers agreed the goal was to keep the festival within the city limits to keep the hometown feel.
The three-day festival became incorporated into a private, non-profit civic organization. Val Delia, president of the festival committee, said of the move, “That can only mean growth for the festival and a greater demand for the tomatoes that are produced in the area.”
The Tomato Festival Queen pageant made its debut. The first to be crowned queen was Tammy Lee Johnson.
By popular demand, it was decided the 1988 Pittston Tomato Festival would be expanded from three to four days due to the ever-increasing attendance. Val Delia, festival president, said, “If it was up to me, we’d expand it to a month.”
Members of the Pittston City Police Department participated in a dunk tank, giving festival-goers a chance to soak their favorite police officer. Local politicians and newspaper columnists participated, as well.
The Italian-American Association of Luzerne County planned a fundraiser for the Pittston Tomato Festival. The association awarded to the lucky winner a 1990 Ford Tempo Gl. Committee members were Sam “Greeky” Guarnieri, Matt Colangelo, Mike Butera Sr., Sam Guarnieri, Grace Nolan, Sam Shifano, Angelo Alfano, Rose Maira and Rocky Roman.
The Pittston Tomato Festival suffered a setback as Councilman Ken Scaz, president of the annual event, felt he may have to step down. Scaz, through his leadership, dedicated many hours, weeks and months in arranging the event each year. Beginning in 1984, the festival had grown into one of the largest community festivals in Pennsylvania. A call for help was sent out by Dispatch columnist Paul S. McGarry, director of publicity, to anyone who might “pick up the slack” if Scaz had to step down.
Many organizations became associated with the festival which allowed groups to collect donations and run booths to gain funds that would benefit the community throughout the year. Some of the many vendors participating were The Showcase Theater, Greater Pittston Lioness Club, Knights of Columbus, Veterans of Vietnam, Wyoming Valley Alcohol and Drug organization, as well as many churches and athletic clubs.
Nicole Pirella was chosen Little Miss Pittsto, James Dean Simko, Little Mr. Tomato; winner of the most unusual tomato, George Soltis; ugliest tomato, Rick Van Luvender; smallest tomato, Ken Davis; and largest tomato; Guido Castellani.
After a brief hiatus, the Tomato Festival Queen Pageant directed by Gina Major and Linda O’Boyle was reintroduced. Committee members were Phyllis and Amy O’Boyle, Joan Zaneski, Gerri Degillio and Mary Regula. Former Pittston Mayor Thomas Walsh was named grand marshal at the 10th annual event. As mayor in 1983, Walsh gave his blessing to the initial idea of the Tomato Festival.
Along with the 11th annual Tomato Festival, residents were celebrating Pittston’s 100th anniversary. More events were planned throughout the remainder of the year, culminating in a Centennial Ball. Maria Capolarella Montante chaired the planned celebrations.
Tom “Nitro” Simko, director of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Arm Wrestling Association, was a steady customer of Tomato Festival committee member and Pittston barbe, Ken Scaz. Scaz had been looking for a new attraction to add to the festival and Simko suggested an Arms of Steel arm wrestling event. Both agreed and the event was added.
Farmers and residents could enter their tomatoes into the 12th annual Best Pittston Tomato Contest, but all entries had to be from the “Pittston tomato belt” which was designated as between Tunkhannock and Shickshinny. The first judges of the competition were farmers Harold Golomb, Carl Zekoski and Bernard Gigarski.
Organizers sent invitations to local car clubs, inviting them to enter classic, custom and muscle cars into the annual festival parade.
Ken Scaz, president and general chairman of the Pittston Tomato Festival, announced he would step down after 15 years of running the Tomato Festival. Mayor Mike Lombardo assured the community the festival would continue to be held at the lot across of street from the Pittston Post Office. Lombardo hoped more people from the community would volunteer to keep the festival going and indicated future plans included moving the event to Main Street.
Festival parade Grand Marshals were Jack Grimes and Mae Middleton McHugh and the contestants for Pittston Tomato Queen were Leanne George, Alycia Palsha, Courtney Dombroski, Cindy Morris Jessica Taroli, Jennifer Forlenza, Angel Webby, Winter Rusiloski and Heather Olszewski.
in correlation with the Pittston Tomato Festival, Joan Martin, Exeter; Pauline Reedy, Duryea; Rachel Alba, Pittston; Tony Pacchioni, Exeter; Dorothy Rubel Leyshon, Pittston; Ann Haas, West Pittston; Joan Martin, Exeter; Bruce Falkinburg, Pittston; Marcia Wazeter, Pittston; Janet Altieri Russo, Avoca; and Connie Lyn A. Saia, Pittston, all submitted their best tomato recipes for a contest sponsored by the Sunday Dispatch.
Jamie Bartollotto, 1999 Tomato Festival Queen, was prepared to give up her crown to one of six girls vying for the title — Donna Kaminski, of Harveys Lake, Ashley Razawich, of Dallas, Theresa Gilhooley, of Avoca, Amy Withers, of Dallas or Kristina Baron, of Laflin.
Pittston Area advanced placement chemistry class members Christopher Corey, Wally Bechtold, Dana Klush, Tracey Nowrocki, Adam Joyce and Gene Melvin planted 20,000 tomato seeds in a greenhouse with the help of Ann Marie Roberts, Penn State Cooperative Extension instructor. Though the original intent was to learn about farming methods, the ultimate plan was to experiment with the Rutgers hybrid they hoped one day would become the official Pittston Tomato. The Rutgers variety weighs about 12-14 ounces and does not grow higher than approximately 36”. It reaches maturity in 70-80 days.
The first “Dispatch car” was available to win at the Sunday Dispatch booth.
The former Spring Street Auto building on Main and Spring Streets was demolished to allow a space large enough to accommodate the growing festival. The historic Eagle Hose Company building on Kennedy Street, just off the festival lot, added new garage doors, windows and exterior lighting, along with a fresh coat of paint.
The first”Tomato Fights” were scheduled for Cooper’s Seafood Restaurant parking lot. It was the newest and some considered the “most controversial event” to be added to the Tomato Festival. Pittston joins Bunol in the Valencia region of Spain in sponsoring a Tomato Fight. In Bunol, a cannon fires to begin the fights which are held in late August during the region’s La Tomatina Festival. After one and, sometimes, two hours of hurling tomatoes, the cannon fires again, ending the battle.
The festival celebrated its 20th year.
Former Tomato Festival Queen Jennifer Angelo wanted to reunite all the festival queens to date. With the help of her mother, Debbie, grandmother, Mary Dzieciol, and the Sunday Dispatch archives, Angelo was able to assemble each to add to the 20th anniversary celebration of the festival.
Joe Lukash learned how to grow and appreciate the Pittston tomato from his father Joseph and his uncle Mike Lukash. After all, both men extolled the unique flavor of the Pittston tomato back in 1963. After the younger Lukash retired from the U.S. Postal Service in 1992, he took up farming full-time, raising not only tomatoes, but cabbage, herbs, peppers, cucumbers and more. Admitting the family farm was not as large as in earlier years, Lukash, who tended the fields beginning at age 9, dubbed the work as “leisurely as compared to delivering the daily mail.” Along with his wife Rose, Lukash operated a farm stand along Susquehanna Avenue and their daughter Sall became a natural food chef.
With the start of the Pittston Tomato Festival just days away, Pittston Mayor Mike Lombardo and former Yatesville Mayor Jim Zarra set about cleaning up debris that had fallen from two condemned buildings on Main Street. With more than 50,000 people expected to crowd the city and line the streets for the upcoming parade, barricades were set in place to cordon off the area. With the date of demolition of the properties not yet set, Lombardo and Zarra cleared bricks from the sidewalk to make the area more presentable. Lombardo originally served as mayor of Pittston from 1998-2006. He was again elected as mayor of Pittston in 2017 and is currently serving his second term.
The Tomato Festival Arms of Steel Armsport Championship entered its 12th year and more than doubled in contestants. Considered one of the top two arm wrestling competitions of the year in Pennsylvania, Arms of Steel Tournament Director Tom “Nitro” Simko said he expected eight to 10 women to join in the tournament in 2006.
Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell came to the festival to present a $5,000 check to festival committee chairmen Lori Nocito and Phil Campenni.
Val Delia, president of the Pittston Tomato Festival Committee, one of the “founding fathers” of the festival and undeniable champion of the Pittston tomato, passed away earlier in the year. He was honored posthumously by being named grand marshal of the annual parade. His wife Ethel assumed his place in the parade’s lead car.
Growing in popularity each year, the annual Tomato Fight at Cooper’s Seafood Restaurant was expecting over 100 people to participate.
The Mini Cooper joined the line of collectible Sunday Dispatch vehicles in 2008 during the silver anniversary celebration of the Pittston Tomato Festival.
Local restaurants entered their tomato sauce into the Sauce Wars Contest. Festival-goers were able to sample the entries and vote for their favorite. To enter, contestants contributed $1 to the Greater Pittston YMCA.
In her Sunday Dispatch column “Maria Remembers,” Maria Capolarella Montante mentioned that a 350-lb. tomato sculpture created by artist Laura Lengyel was scheduled to be installed at the corner of North Main and William streets. She also mentioned that Brian Yarvin, of the Washington Post, wrote a column which appeared in the Aug. 2 edition of the Post, “giving a vivid account” of the Pittston Tomato Fights. Yarvin also listed accommodations and places to eat while staying in the city. He was expected to re-visit the festival.
Arms of Steel Arm Wrestling Contest female winners were Alana DeMinico, Patricia W., Debbie Price, Crystal Malek and Sue Fisher.
The Pittston Tomato Festival celebrated its 28th anniversary. The May 2011 issue of Parade Magazine highlighted the Pittston Tomato Festival in its national publication
The Tomato Festival 5K run was held in honor of Spc. Dale J. Kridlo, killed on Nov. 7, 2010, in Kunar province, Afghanistan, He was assigned to the 27th Engineer Battalion, 20th Engineer Brigade, 18th Airborne Corps. The number of runners was expected to go beyond the 230 that had participated in the previous year. Planners included Albert Kridlo, Dale’s father; Michelle Hopkins, Jay Duffy and Jerry Mullarkey.
YMCA, sponsor of the festival’s Sauce Wars, reported a record-setting 1,100 people participated in the Tomato Festival’s annual contest. Craig Lukatch, executive director of YMCA, presented the first-place trophy to Rob Musto of Junior’s Pasta House.
The annual Tomato Festival 5K Run was christened with a new name to benefit the Miles for Michael Fund. Jay Duffy, organizer, hoped the number of participants for the race would hit the 300 mark. Miles for Michael was named in honor of Michael Joyce, who passed away in 2011 from cancer. Proceeds provided support for cancer patients and their families.
To celebrate the Pittston Tomato Festival’s 30th anniversary, Executive Chef Biagio Dente and son Chef Blaise Alan Dent, baked a tomato-batter cake expected to feed 800 people. According to Dente, the cake, shaped like a tomato and topped with a tomato-flavored buttercream icing, took approximately 40 pounds of flour to make.
Returning after a year hiatus, the Tomato Festival Sauce Wars sponsored by the Greater Pittston YMCA was held. Nearly 700 people cast votes for the best sauce in the competition which included Cafe Italia, Callahan’s Cafe & Coffee House, CrisNics, Gigio’s Subs and More, and Napoli’s Pizza.
Members of the 2014 Pittston Tomato Festival Committee were Mike Lombardo, Susan Lombardo, Jim Zarra, Lori Nocito, Lee Bantell, Jeanie Bantell, Tony Bantell, Clairellen Hopple, Mary Chiarelli, Joan McFadden, Michael Lombardo, Esq., James Deice, Judy Deice, Joleen Lazecki, Jerry Mullarkey, Chris Latona, Alan Dente, Theresa Colella, Angel Noone, Jerry Mecadon, Esq., Krista Mecadon, Sheri Petrikonis, Tom Sewatsky, Alyssa Kelly, Kristina McHale, Paul Geroski, Judy Strelish, Ginger Murphy, Rosemary Dessoye, Bob Pugliese, Katie Duffy, Atty. Ben Tielle, Jay Duffy, Paul Cooper, Rich Kossuth, Brandi Bartush, Nicole Sowinski, Mike Sowinski, Esq., Carmella Gubbiotti, Tina Rava, Tiffany Ferentino, Sal Sciacca, Nick Chiumento, Jessica Linskey, Maria Caporella-Montante and Chester Montante.
A 1.5-mile Fun Walk was added to the Miles for Michael 5K run event, enabling all ages and abilities to participate in the charity event.
Two grand marshals presided over the Pittston Tomato Festival parade. Former Pittston Secondary Center graduate, former Miami Dolphins wide receiver and current radio personality Jimmy Cefalo served as Grand Marshal and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolfe served as honorary Grand Marshal.
The Mini Cooper joined the line of collectible Sunday Dispatch vehicles in 2008 during the silver anniversary celebration of the Pittston Tomato Festival.
It was a banner year for the Pittston tomato crop in 1989, but in this 1960 photo taken by Stephen Lukasik for the Sunday Dispatch shows Margaret Yonski in her Inkerman tomato garden holding two extremely large tomatoes. Yonski was the mother of 14 children, Ann Marino, Rose Yanko, Frank, Josephine Armalay, Catherine Boccolini, Michael, Joseph, Vicky Gubino, Wanda Ross, Caroline, John, George, Janet Ceresi and Marion Price.
The Second Annual Pittston Tomato Festival was expected to see over 20,000 people attending. Organizers, from left, were P.J. Melvin, Pittston councilman; Wil Toole, chairman, farmers market; Stanley Strellish, Maria Capolarella, councilwoman; Val D’Elia, Thomas Walsh, Pittston mayor; Ken Scaz, festival chairman; Gary Bradbury, Albina DeAmbrose, Paul McGarry and Charles Bufalino.
This was just part of the record crowd attending the Pittston Tomato Festival in 1988.
People gather around the Pittston Tomato Festival mascot in 1989.
Festival-goers enjoyed a beautiful day at the 1996 Tomato Festival.
Festival-goers took a chance on the big wheel in 2014.
This young lad got his first Sunday Dispatch balloon at the Dispatch booth in 2004.
Kara Corbett tries her luck at winning a fish for her 11-month-old son Colin in 2013.
Then-mayor Michael Lombardo is on the receiving end in the Pittston Tomato Festival Tomato Fights in 2002.
Students of Seton Catholic High School made a float for the 1990 Pittston Tomato Festival Parade.
Members of the Wyoming Valley Youth Soccer Pittston Stoners carry their banner in the 1987 Pittston Tomato Festival Parade.
Kolton Styczen expected to fill his bag full of goodies at the Pittston Tomato Festival Parade in 2011.
Reach Judy Minsavage at 570-991-6403 or on Twitter @JudithMinsavage.