By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
Since its inception, the West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival has grown tremendously, but it has continued to follow many traditions throughout its history too … and one of those traditions is to officially open each year’s festival with the Coronation of Regina Maria who strolls the streets during the three-day street fair meeting and greeting the throngs of people who attend.
As is customary, Regina Maria XL will have her crown placed atop her head at noon in front of the Harrison County Courthouse this Friday, August 31st, to kick off 2018’s 40th annual Labor Day weekend event. This is typically the WVIHF’s way of saying, “Benvenuto … let the celebration begin!”
Selected by the WVIHF Board of Directors from numerous applications, Bridgeport native Miranda Quinn Lang will accept the crown and reign as the 40th queen of Clarksburg’s West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival this weekend. She is the daughter of Bridgeport Mayor Andy Lang and Lisa Queen Lang.
Miranda is 23 years old, a 2013 graduate of Mercersburg Academy in Mercersburg, PA and a 2017 graduate of American University in Washington, D.C. where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in American Studies. Following her graduation, she has remained in the D.C. area and just finished working for a non-profit organization that provides hygiene products to women experiencing homelessness. She plans to continue to work in that field. And even though she is miles away, Miranda also assists her mother with her business in Bridgeport – About You Monograms – helping her research brands, reaching out to wholesalers and facilitating marketing.
Miranda said that despite her family’s long history of involvement with the festival, she had really never considered being its queen. However, this year she decided to apply.
“I did not expect to be selected,” she said, “but I am so grateful for this opportunity and excited to fulfill the responsibilities of Regina Maria XL. I am very humbled that the Board of Directors placed their confidence in me to represent this event that is loved by so many people. I am looking forward to participating in the many events that are a part of this 40th year celebration and to meeting many of those who attend.”
Miranda is certainly no stranger to this annual three-day festival! She recalls being a member of the Minor Court during her younger years and performing in the Florence Chico Cann Children’s Choir. Her aunt, Leslie Queen Pruitt, served as Regina Maria in 1981 as well as cousins Victoria Smith Barnosky in 2012 and Mary Frances Beto Smith, who was the very first Regina Maria in 1979. She says they have all been very helpful to her and will be there for her this weekend to wish her well.
In addition, Miranda’s grandmother, Rosalyn (Burnett) Queen, was the first Executive Director of the WVIHF and worked tirelessly to build its reputation for 16 years.
“Very simply, members of my family have always supported the festival and been involved with it as volunteers and former board members, so I have never known the festival not to exist and not to be among its attendees!” Miranda added. “And certainly, because of the hard work of my grandmother, it lends special meaning to my reigning as queen this year.”
Miranda had the opportunity to travel to Italy in 2015 with her parents, her great-aunt and uncle and two family friends. Her Italian roots trace back to her maternal great-grandfather William Burnett in San Giovanni in Fiore.
“While I was there, I met some of my relatives and some I discovered I was more closely related to than I thought. One family member, in fact, still lives in the home where my great-grandfather was born!” she continued. “He immigrated to the U.S. when he was just a boy of 8 or 10 years old, so this trip gave me a greater appreciation for him. And since my visit there, I now feel much more connected to my roots and heritage.”
Regina Maria XL recognizes the importance of preserving Italian traditions and says that serving as queen is not about ‘her’ but about those traditions.
“All of those who came here generations ago worked very hard to keep our Italian culture alive, so I think that perhaps one of the most important things the West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival here in Clarksburg tries to accomplish is to set an example for the younger generation that our heritage is worth celebrating. We need to continue to keep those traditions alive so that our children and grandchildren can enjoy them as well in the future,” she concluded.
Although Miranda has lived in the Washington, D.C. area for five years now, she has been “home” for the past week and a half, attending pre-festival events. She says she will be on the streets this weekend enjoying all of the events just like everyone else and welcomes festival attendees to come up and introduce themselves to her!
Other members of her Court include: Maids of Honor Maria Leona Bowers and Presley Marie Caplinger; Senior Princesses Cara Anne Flanery, Maralisa Lynn Marra, Gina Marie McNemar, and Johna Rose Sedlock; Junior Court Princesses Mia Elizabeth Janes, Molly Ranee Korn, and Caroline Ann Queen; Minor Court Princesses Estelle Grace Gentilozzi, Charlotte Rose Hanlon, Addison Kathleen Heise, Harper Gracelynn Moore, Emory Elizabeth Maunz, MaKenna Lynn Robey, Fina Rose Smucker, Devyn Lynn Wanstreet and Lizah Ann Wash; Crown Bearer Matthew Wanstreet; Scepter Bearer Brooks Antonio Bellotte; and Train Bearers Dante Emil Destito and Parker Anthony Smith.