What do to tonight: Guyasuta Days Festival kicks off at Kennedy Park

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Some might say there isn't much to Sharpsburg. A population of 3,000 some people crowded into a community that doesn't amount to a square mile, surrounded by Etna, Shaler, Aspinwall and O'Hara.

But this little pocket of Pennsylvania becomes a hub of activity tonight as the residents kick off their weeklong Guyasuta Days Festival at Kennedy Park.

"This is our opening night, so we start off at 7 p.m. with a little opening ceremony where we crown our chief and princess of the festival," said borough treasurer Roxane Magnelli, who is serving as festival president this year.

For those of you who don't know the chief and princess -- Councilman Matt Rudzki and his sister, Melissa -- you'll recognize them by the Native American costumes they'll be wearing as they mingle through the park selling 50/50 raffle tickets and performing all the other duties demanded of honorary chiefs and princesses.

The real Chief Guyasuta was a hunter guide who was of great assistance to the young George Washington before this part of the country was settled. Old Mr. H.J. Heinz -- who was born in Sharpsburg and started his famous condiment company in his family kitchen there -- donated the statue of Guyasuta that stands at the fork in North Canal and Main streets, right near the park.

Ms. Magnelli said the festival committee also will be honoring Margaret Ann "Peggy" Aurin with its annual community service award, and the borough council will be handing out some checks to the local library and whatnot.

"We're a nonprofit organization," Ms. Magnelli said of the festival committee. "We give back to the community. If an organization needs help with something or if there's floods or anything, we are there. The fire department, the EMS, the baseball association. Anything community-oriented."

Ms. Magnelli has been a member of the committee for six of its 16 years. She credits its success to Jackie Lugara, who served as committee president for the first 15 years and is still involved.

Another contributor is Tony Karpinski, a lifelong Sharpsburg resident who books the festival's entertainment. Everything from the carnival rides to the live music that will play every night.

As far as Mr. Karpinski is concerned, there's no place better than Sharpsburg.

"It's nice, quiet, and there's a lot of friendly people," he said today as he finished setting up the stage for the bands. "It's changing, but it's still enjoyable for me. Everything's within walking distance of my house. You walk up to the bar and your drink's sitting there. I won't leave. I'll stay here."

Tonight's band, which should be striking its first chords of classic rock sometime around 8 p.m., is KardaZ, a group of musicians from the North Hills.

"We've had them in the past, and the residents and guests really enjoy them," Mr. Karpinski said. "Wednesday night we'll have Dr. Zoot, a swing band that really gets people dancing. We'll clear out the pavilion and they'll be doing the jitterbug and whatever on the concrete pad.

"People dance just about every night. They'll stand up in front of the stage and just boogie on down. It's a fun time. That's why I do this. I like to see everybody having fun. It takes a lot of my time, and I take a week off work and devote it to this. But I like to see all the smiles on people's faces.

"We have brought bands in from West Virginia, Ohio and Washington, Pa. We bring entertainment in from all over."

Wednesday night is more than just music. It's free corn night.

"I have 600 ears of corn, and I have these big stainless steel corn-cookers," Mr. Karpinski said. "I boil the corn, stick it in these big pans of butter and people come by and get whatever they want."

Let's see what else. There's food booths of all kinds and various booths sponsored by the local Rotary, the American Legion and the banks and other businesses. The library has a booth. One of the churches is offering soft-serve ice cream. The firefighters and emergency medical teams bring their vehicles by.

Did we mention nightly bingo and fried dough?

And then it all culminates Saturday night with a performance by local musicians Hewlett & Anderson, followed by a healthy dose of Zambelli fireworks.

"This is for anybody and everybody," said Ms. Magnelli. "This is open to everyone in the surrounding area and beyond. Everyone's welcome. It's a night that everybody seems to really enjoy. They love coming up. They'll sit for hours and listen to the music and eat all this good food from the local vendors.

"I checked there this morning and it looks like everything is going about as smooth as it could go. But I don't want to jinx it."

You can find more information on the borough website: sharpsburgborough.com.

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