Legends returns to festival

WELLSVILLE – Started eight years ago as a way “say thanks to the people who made Wellsville a great place to grow up,” the Legends feature has returned this year in new venue, as part of the annual Italian Festival, which will conclude its three-day run tonight.

Founder Eric “Hootch” Shepherd started the Riverside Reunion in 2006 as a member of the local Elks organization and wanted to add a Legends feature that year, but it never got off the ground.

The next year, even though four of the 10 people he had planned to honor the previous year had died, Shepherd said he was not going to be denied and held the Legends presentation, honoring the deceased ones as well as new people.

He began keeping track of anyone from the village who died between reunions and made a video with their names, but Shepherd admitted, “I was scared to death the first time I did it.”

That first year, the names of several young residents were on the video when it showed.

“Talk about stopping a party in its tracks. As the tribute was playing, you could hear people crying. I hid in the bushes and was mortified,” Shepherd recollected. “The thing went on for about 12 minutes. When it was over, there was dead silence.”

Someone handed him a microphone and said, “You better say something,” so Shepherd explained his idea behind the tribute and said if people thought it was improper, to let him know.

“They all applauded, and the ones most affected by it thanked me,” So that became a big part of the Riverside Reunion,” Shepherd said, admitting, however, that it became depressing for him to sit down each day and look through the obituaries for Wellsville names.

The Legends was included in the 2010 Alumni Reunion, but after that, Shepherd found it took time from his family and children, so he quit everything.

Last year, members of the SOI asked him to make the Legends part of the Italian Festival this year, and he agreed, adding a dinner feature for the families of those who have been honored.

“It’s a good thing. It brings families together. And it makes people realize that what they contributed to the town was not forgotten. And that’s that reason I started it anyway: Just to say thanks to the people who made Wellsville a great place to grow up.”