THE TRADITION OF THE NIAGARA FALLS PICNIC IN ARIZONA
The Niagara Falls Picnic in AZ (NFPAZ) was started in 1978 by Tony Previte, Dom Elia, Vic Conti and several other guys that had moved to Arizona from Niagara Falls. They thought that it would be nice if everyone that moved from WNY/Niagara Falls could get together on a Sunday in the early spring in Arizona to enjoy a day of food, friends and fun in the sun while anyone that was still living back east would probably be still stuck in the house because of cold weather or even worse maybe even shoveling snow. They picked Sunday since traditionally it is the one day of the week when most people aren’t working and would be able to attend, maybe even after attending church. The first couple picnics were held at Thunderbird Park, 59th ave north of Deer Valley Rd. It moved around and was held at several different locations during the early 1980’s including North Mountain Park (7th st & Peoria) and Roadrunner Park (Cactus rd & 35th st) until finally settling into Saguaro Ranch Park, which was to become its permanent home for the next 20+ years.
The picnic has been going strong now for 36 years and has become quite a tradition, especially for the “Faithful Fifty” as those of us who have attended every picnic refer to ourselves. The Faithful Fifty are the ones that attended the first couple picnics in ’78, ’79 and the early 80’s, when it was held at several different sites and changed location seemingly every year and have been to just about every single one if not all of them since then.
While Tony and his goombahs started the NFPAZ, it is the “younger guys” that have taken over the organization and scheduling of this event and keep it alive today. Dominic Zito, Frank Damone, Vini Abdullah and Don Elia took on the task of keeping the tradition of the NFPAZ alive. Each year they would call everyone they could think of and let them know the date and location of the picnic. Remember, this was before the internet, cell phones and texting!
Back in the mid 1980’s, when the NFPAZ moved to a more permanent location, Saguaro Ranch Park, a couple key decisions were made to make it easier for those who were organizing and for all who would like to attend. Since you couldn’t reserve picnic tables at that park, a couple of the guys, (Frank Damone, Don Elia, Vini Abdullah and Rick Harvey) would get up bright and early, go to the park and after claiming as many picnic tables in one area as they could, by putting coolers and table cloths and stuff on them, would then clean up the area of debris, hose down the tables and have coffee and doughnuts while waiting for the rest of the crowd to show up. It became a tradition with those guys. The picnic was held at Saguaro Ranch Park for over 20 years. So the first decision the young guns made was to keep the picnic at the same location every year so attendees would have no question as to where the NFPAZ was going to be held. The second thing the young guns did was to pick a date that would be easy to remember and be consistent each year, so if someone didn’t get a phone call reminder of the picnic, they would still be able to know when it was going to be held. Since tradition had the picnic held on a Sunday every year, it made it impossible to choose an exact date. So the decision was made to have the picnic on the 3rd Sunday in March every year. So now, even if you didn’t hear from anyone and wanted to go to the picnic, you would know that it was going to be held on the 3rd Sunday in March at Saguaro Ranch Park. I don’t know the exact number of years but my best guess says that from about 1985 to 2006, the NFPAZ was on the 3rd Sunday in March at SRP.
For most of those 21 years or so at SRP, the 3rd Sunday in March was a beautiful spring day in Arizona. However, starting in 2001, about 3 or 4 of the next 5 years, including several in a row, the 3rd Sunday in March was a torrential downpour of rain! A rainy 3rd Sunday in March created a huge hassle for the NFPAZ! First the question of was the picnic on or off had to be addressed. Then it had to be somehow communicated to everyone that it was still on or it was being postponed. Then the decision of when it would be rescheduled had to be made. Then the new date had to somehow be communicated to everyone! Remember, even back in the early 2000’s not everyone had a cell phone, texting or the internet, so all of this “communication” had to be done by good old landlines!
Fast forward to 2007. The LaSalle Senior Highschool Class of 1977 decided to have its 30 year reunion in Phoenix, AZ. The event would include a Friday night formal dinner, a Saturday night pool party and a family get together/picnic on Sunday. Since some of the organizers of the NFPAZ were also LaSalle Class of ’77 alumni, the decision was made to move the date of the NFPAZ to coincide with the LSHS Class of ’77 reunion, which was going to be in April 2007. It made sense for several reasons. The first was we would have all these people from Niagara Falls in Arizona, so might as well make the picnic on a day when we could get the biggest crowd. The second was that in the past 5 years we had to cancel and reschedule the picnic at least 3 times because of weather, so moving it to the end of April would all but guarantee a warm sunny day and more importantly almost no chance of being rained out. It was for this picnic that a change of venue was considered. Since at Saguaro Ranch Park there was no reserving of tables and the amenities and overall general appearance of the park and it’s “patrons” had deteriarated over the past few years, we decided to look for a better park. Rio Vista Community Park was basically brand new, with more things to do, nicer facilities and a group ramada area that included large grills, sinks and picnic tables and you could reserve one or more ramadas. The reunion/NFPAZ was held there in 2007 and it was a huge success. Everyone liked the shade that the ramadas provided and the ability to reserve tables made it easier for the organizers. No longer would the guys have to get up at 7am to claim tables and clean up the place. We could all just show up at the designated time and our area would be reserved for us. So since 2007, the picnic has been held at Rio Vista Community Park in the Group Ramada area. The convenience of reserving an area does come with a price though. The ramadas can be reserved but they must be rented for 4 hour time slots, 9am-1pm, 1pm-5pm & 5pm-9pm. Beer/alcohol permits must also be purchased when you reserve the ramadas. To help offset the cost of the alcohol permit and the reserving of the ramadas, we started asking for a $5 donation. So far we have had no problem coming up with the money to cover the costs and it’s so much more fair that everyone chip in a little bit so that nobody has to pay for the whole thing.
While that first picnic at RVCP in April of 2007 was a glorious day, several of the picnics since then have seen temps in the 90’s and many of the people attending were complaining it was too warm. So to try and keep everyone happy and comfortable we moved the date of the picnic back to late March. So far we have been lucky and haven’t had to postpone the picnic yet due to weather. We are trying to keep it on the 3rd Sunday in March again, but we are taking each year as it comes. Things like Easter, St. Patrick’s Day and ramada availability will cause the date to shift by a week here and there but for the most part you can count on the NFPAZ to be held on the 3rd Sunday in March at Rio Vista Community Park.
What is really nice is now in 2014 and for the past several years, the internet, cell phones and texting have made communication of information about the Niagara Falls Picnic much easier. I created the website www.niagarafallspicnic.com almost 10 years ago and it has proven to be very helpful. Each year when the “official date” has been reserved, I post it at the website. Also, posted at the website is info about what to bring and what you should NOT bring. No glass bottles or containers are allowed! Plastic and aluminum only! Also, if the picnic ever has to be postponed due to weather, that info can be sent in an email blast from the website or by text messages from the orgainizers. If you go to the website and sign up as a member, (it’s free!) you will be added to the email list and automatically get emails when there are changes at the site and reminders of when the picnic will be held each year. Rest assured you will not receive any spam by joining and I really only send out about 3 or 4 emails a year from the site. Mostly, right before the picnic to remind everyone that the NFPAZ is in 2 weeks or the next week.
We also use facebook as a way to promote the picnic. There is a fb page devoted to the NFPAZ as well as a fb event created so people can get let everyone know if they are planning to attend or not.
So spread the word to all your friends and family that you think might be interested in coming out to the annual Niagara Falls Picnic in Arizona!
There were plenty of new faces this year as well as the "faithful 40" that seem to show up EVERY year.
There were some noticeable absences but hopefully they will be back next year and the crowd will be a little bigger next year.
The weather was terrific, in the mid to high 80’s with a nice, slight breeze.
We had several people travel to
Joanne King-Simon and Karen Buffone were here from
Bill Jugle and Jim Phillips came in from San Diego. Luis Flores, Tom Lewis and Bill Seiwell came
This was one of the best turnouts we’ve had in awhile!
Noticably absent was the Abdullah family who all happened to be sick and couldn’t make it.
This was the first time Vini ever missed a NF picnic and actually he came by in the morning to help set things up but then had to leave.
We didn’t have any horseshoes, bocce ball or hillbilly golf games this year but we did have a couple exciting rounds of Left, Center, Right that were really fun!
As usual there was lots of food that everyone brings and shares. The grills were going most of the day with sausage, hamburgers, chicken, fajitas and even some Sahlens hot dogs.
We rented 2 ramadas this year and that gave us 16 tables for families to set up their food and drinks on. This year’s crowd made the 2nd ramada very necessary to have and we will probably just continue to reserve both ramadas for future picnics.
The only way we can do that will be if EVERYONE chips in.
The basic donation will have to be $5.00/person or $10.00/couple/family (which will include your children).
These are the basic or minimum donations. If anyone would like to donate a little more we will certainly be able to use it.
If there is any extra money collected at the end of the day, we will put it towards the ramada rental and beer permit for the next picnic (and so on and so on), hopefully for many years to come.
All in all, I think a pleasant time was had by all and I bet everyone is already looking forward to next spring when the annual Niagara Falls Picnic takes place again.
Spread the word to your friends from the Falls and encourage them to come out next year.
Thanks to everyone for showing up and for chipping in to help make this picnic the success it was.
Hope to see you all next year and maybe even some new faces as well!