Betty O’Neill-Roderick

Viva La Panza means “Joy to the Belly” in Italian, and there were 675 joyful foodies at Todaro’s Party Center Wednesday evening for the 76th annual party.

Ralph Trecaso and John Montisano co-chaired the event presented by the Italian-American Professional and Businessmen’s Club and The House of LaRose.

Viva La Panza, the premier fundraising and networking event of the Italian community, was expected to raise more than $75,000 for college scholarships for students of Italian heritage.

Emcee T.K. O’Grady of 97.5 WONE Radio introduced the Rev. Jim Ragnoni, who gave the invocation before dinner, and Gerard Barroteran, who sang the national anthem.

Jack DeLeo, Tony Gatto, Ralph Palmisano, Jim Leone and Joe Maite moved through the crowd selling raffle tickets for cash prizes and Cavs tickets.

John Villilo said over the past 38 years the event has raised more than $1 million for scholarships. He enjoyed the dinner with his son, Matthew, and Brian Taylor, Mike Nicolino, Dan Testa, Mike Mural, Brian Winchester, John Cubar and Jim Napier.

Libert Bozzelli introduced Bill and Bob Carr, grandsons of Dick Percoco, who founded the event with a small group of men of Italian descent back in 1938. After World War II the event was moved to the Sicilian Club on Grant Street, where the tradition continued — measuring to determine who had the biggest belly. This year’s winner was Tony Nicolino.

The event was a family affair: Darryl Piglia introduced his son, Michael; Phil Polefrone brought his son, Michael; and Richard Mathern brought his son, Robert, to join Trey Pitman and Justin Corbitt for dinner.

O’Grady introduced members of the Todaro family, who provided a family-style dinner of pasta, chicken and pork, serving 675 dinners in just 25 minutes. A huge platter of Italian cookies provided the centerpiece at each table for dessert.

Spotted in the crowd were Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, State Sen. Frank LaRose, Judge Tom Teodosio, Jason Butterworth, John Childs, Joe Musitano, Frankie Stans, Roger Plaster, Tony Gallo, Ray Vaccaro, Brian Fortney, Jim Yarnell, Joseph Levack, Joe Weber, Tom Wistrcill and George Van Horne.