Annual Altoona Day stirs memories

Commentary

When I was growing up in Altoona, I used to read a column in the Mirror by a man named Os Figard, who shared about the happenings in Florida.

Now that was at least 50 years ago, so my memory may be a little foggy, but I recall that he wrote about Altoonans who spent their winters in The Sunshine State.

So, in honor/memory of Mr. Figard, let me give this a try.

Twenty years ago, our family moved to Seminole, a city of about 20,000, west of St. Petersburg.

While we enjoy the weather, we miss the wonderful people from Altoona. We get back home every two or three years, but we’ve discovered an opportunity for us to visit with folks from Altoona, and Blair County, once a year.

I’m referring to Altoona Day, a yearly gathering held in February, when the population of snowbirds (a name given to northerners who spend their winters in Florida) is at its peak.

For the last six or seven years, Altoona Day has been held on the last Thursday in February at Duff’s Original Buffet in Bradenton, quite conveniently the winter home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

My wife, Sheila, and I have attended Altoona Day the past three years, and since I’m still working in radio, that means I’ve taken a vacation day.

But it’s well worth it.

We get there in less than an hour, which includes a drive over the beautiful Sunshine Skyway Bridge, but others drove as far as three hours to spend time with old friends and make new ones.

The president of Altoona Day is the Mirror’s own Jim Lane, who is assisted by his wife, Jean, and a group of others that handle the responsibilities to put this event together.

By the way, Jim has been offering his presidency to “anyone” for the past decade, but so far, no takers.

During my three years, I’ve reconnected with members of my graduating class of 1969 at Altoona Area High School, including Barry and Darlene (Fiochetta) Weston.

I’ve known Barry for 60 years but hadn’t seen him since our high school graduation until last year’s Altoona Day. And at last week’s Altoona Day, I met a few other classmates, including Mountain Lion quarterback John Fusco.

I’ve seen Dennis Murray, former AASD superintendent, the past two years, and there even was a Herk Betar sighting in 2016. I’ve also met with a handful that knew me as Ted Maier’s son and shared stories about my dad.

Some attendees were there for the first time while others were regulars. All who attended got a goodie bag and the chance to win prizes from local businesses including DelGrosso’s, Benzel’s and the Mirror.

These are just a few reflections of Altoona Day from my perspective, and I’m sure that each of the others, the 150 or so who joined us, have similar stories.

For two or three hours once a year, we can put the problems of the world on the back burner and reconnect with others that call Altoona their hometown.

If you plan to be in Florida about a year from now, put a circle around Feb. 22 and join us at Duff’s Original Buffet in Bradenton.

Maier is the former voice of Altoona Lady Lion basketball on WRTA Radio.

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