CLARKSBURG - Wood County resident Kasandra Ruscitto has been selected as Regina Maria XXXVI to reign as queen over the West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival, which takes place Aug. 29-31 in Clarksburg.
Ruscitto's selection was announced recently at the 36th annual festival's Spring Gala, which took place at Village Square Conference Center in Clarksburg.
Ruscitto, 23, who lives in Williamstown, said she was honored to be selected as queen of the West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival. "It is a big honor," she said.
Regina Maria XXXV Elleyse Gemondo, left, stands with Kasandra Ruscitto, right, of Wood County, the new queen of the West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival in Clarksburg.
She is the daughter of Michael and Sherry Ruscitto of Vienna.
Kasandra is a 2008 graduate of Parkersburg Catholic High School and a 2012 graduate of High Point University in High Point, N.C., with a degree in Business Administration and Entrepreneurship.
Parkersburg attorney George Cosenza, Kasandra's godfather, nominated her to the West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival Board as a queen candidate.
"I feel very blessed to have someone that believes in me like he (Cosenza) does," Kasandra said at the April 26 gala after the announcement was made.
Kasandra was pleased that her grandmother, Angela Ruscitto of Staten Island, N.Y., was able to attend the festival gala. Angela was born in Italy and moved to the United States at the age of 8, living in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Kasandra is the marketing manager for The Original Pizza Place in Vienna and Marietta and manager of the Marietta restaurant.
Upon graduation from college, Kasandra said she moved back to West Virginia to work with her father in his pizzeria business, one in which he started in 1976. In August 2012, the Ruscittos opened a second The Original Pizza Place in downtown Marietta.
"I work everyday with my father - learning the business and respectfully taking pride in the product he has made famous in our town," Kasandra said in her gala speech.
"The pride I share in the family pizzeria is a reflection of the pride I was taught to take in my Italian heritage. When I think of my Italian heritage, I can't help but think of all the Italian families through the years I have met and bonded with through my own families' involvement with the Mid-Ohio Valley Sons of Italy Chapter and the Italian friends and family I was raised around," Kasandra said in her speech.
The two things that resonate with her when thinking of these groups are their pride in being Italian and their appreciation of family, Kasandra said.
"As a child, I was raised participating in the local community's Sons of Italy organization - where my father served as a founding board member. As long as I can remember, the organization has shared holidays, dinners, picnics, celebrations, charity events, and created lasting memories for so many of us who grew up with these events," she said.
"Most of the members have become like family to me - adopted aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins that I have grown up with," Kasandra said at the gala.
Kasandra noted in her speech that her paternal grandmother, Angela Ruscitto, is an Italian immigrant from Monte di Procida, Italy, a small town near Naples.
"To this day, my grandma still visits Italy just about every summer, and I have been lucky enough to go back to her town in Monte di Procida with her a few times. In fact, my favorite vacation was a visit to Italy for a month one summer, touring Rome, Florence, Naples, Venice, and ending with a two-week stay at my grandma's house, meeting my distant Italian family; some are in the pizza business like me," Kasandra said.
"My grandma has been a very influential person in my life, and I know it makes her very proud to see her granddaughter from West Virginia crowned as the West Virginia Italian Festival Queen," she said.
"I am ecstatic to be able to share this honor tonight with my grandmother, my parents and sister, my godfather and his family, and to my extended Italian family, the Sons of Italy of the Mid-Ohio Valley, the Alessandro Manzoni Lodge - and all of my fellow young Italian female friends," she added.
Kasandra's love of Italy was one of the reasons she was chosen as Regina Maria XXXVI.
At the gala Kasandra received the gold medallion from Regina Maria XXXV Elleyse Gemondo.
Kasandra's coronation will take place on the first day of the Italian Heritage Festival in front of the Harrison County Courthouse in Clarksburg.
The queen's court members include Alyssa Marie Oliverio, 22, daughter of Joe and Paula Oliverio of Belmont, Pleasants County. Alyssa is a student at Fairmont State University.
After being nominated by two people, the festival committee decided to interview Kasandra as a queen candidate.
Kasandra wore a red gown April 26 as the incoming queen, while Gemondo wore a green one as the outgoing queen.
Michael Ruscitto will escort his daughter at her coronation during the festival. A parade will be held on Saturday, Aug. 30, and Kasandra will be a guest at Mass, she said. She also expects to host a pasta cook-off, among her duties as festival queen.