The Premier Fund-Raising and Networking Event of the Italian Community

Viva La Panza 2023 was a huge success! We raised over $125,000 for our scholarship fund. We appreciate all that participated in this years paddle raise. Thank you to all of our sponsors! We could not do this without all of your. We look forward to seeing you next year on Wednesday, October 30, at Todaro's!

2023 Viva La Panza

2022 Viva La Panza

For the past 84 years, business professionals of the Italian community have been gathering with their families, friends, and business partners to eat some of the best Italian food in the area, drink fine wines, and enjoy one another’s company while raising money for the youth in Summit County. Viva La Panza (Joy of the Belly), started in 1938 as a small gathering of Italians in the back room of an Akron grocery store formed by Joseph Licitri’s Belt Line Grocery Store on Baird Street. 

The dinner was an appreciation of those persons who helped many Italian immigrants come to America. In those days many of the immigrants could not speak or write the English language, so the Italian community enlisted lawyers, judges, and politicians all versed in the immigration process with the clout to find them jobs. Instrumental in this was “Whisky Dick” Percoco. Active in local politics, Percoco sought out politicians who could help Akron-area Italians bring their loved ones to “The Land of Opportunity.”

In addition to hosting the dinner, Percoco and the Italian businessmen also assisted in helping the politicians get elected. And that is why, to this day, Viva La Panza continues to be held one week before the elections, serving as a venue for area politicians. After WWII, Viva La Panza moved to the Sicilian Club on Grant Street, where the men served a bowl of tripe and a traditional Italian meal consisting of pasta, sausages, veal, and plenty of wine.

For entertainment, a local comedian told jokes along with suggesting that the largest men have their stomachs measured to see who had the biggest belly. That tradition continued for many years with Tony Gatto bringing a measuring tape to measure the bellies in a comedic fashion. The measuring of bellies no longer exists but the tradition of fellowship, fundraising, and cultural enrichment continues to this day. 

Over the years, Ralph Trecaso and John Montisano have assumed leadership roles and have with their committee members, gone above and beyond to provide this event annually while raising money to provide scholarships to local high school seniors of Italian descent in Summit County. This event continues to be the “Premier Networking Event of Summit County.” 

Viva La Panza for 2024 will be held at Todaro's on Wednesday, October 30th.