It’s taken a while, but Crystal Ainardi has finally tracked them down. Or many of them. Late last year the 28-year-old former Renton resident started searching for the 20-some Italian families in a photo taken at a 1935 picnic at McDonald’s Grove — now thought to be Cedar Grove — on Maple Valley Highway.
She has since found more than 150 of the picnic’s attendees, many who will attend a reunion picnic from 1-5 p.m. today (Saturday) at Philip Arnold Park in Renton.
“I’ve probably talked to over 150, all who are bringing their families — it’s going to be huge,” Ainardi says.
Saturday’s potluck will feature Italian food, music (Ainardi’s dad is bringing his accordion) and pictures. Ainardi will probably bring her parmesan eggplant rolls.
The point of today’s picnic is to reunite the many Italian families who came to Renton in the early 1900s. Like Ainardi’s great grandparents. They came to Renton in 1906 from Mattie, north Italy. Her great-grandfather was a miner. He and his wife settled on Earlington Hill, in the south end of the Italian area called Garlic Gulch.
Growing up on Earlington Hill, Ainardi was once close with her extended Italian family. But gatherings decreased after her grandfather’s death in 1999.
She suspects many of Renton’s Italian families have similar tales.
“They all live in the same town, they just haven’t seen each other in 20 to 30 years,” she says.
Like her Aunt Till. Ainardi found some of her aunt’s cousins that Till hadn’t seen in 30 years.
“And they live in the same town with her,” Ainardi says.
Most of today’s picnic attendees still live in the Renton and Seattle area. Italian families pictured in the 1935 photo include familiar names like the two Cugini families, one who owned Barbee Mill on Renton’s waterfront and the other of Cugini Florists and Fine Gifts. Also the two DeLaurenti families, one of the gourmet Pike Place Market shop and the other who owned Renton’s Rollerland. And the Favros, who dotted Renton Hill.
Ainardi received a copy of the 1935 photo from Silvo Tonda, an Italian man she met through a search on a genealogy Web site. Tonda has family in Renton. He gave Smith Ainardi some names and phone numbers of people in the photo. Also helpful in the search were a Bellingham man, Sons of Italy, City Council member Randy Corman and the online White Pages Directory.
Ainardi wasn’t expecting a big turnout when she began her search those several months ago. She’s thrilled with the response.
“I just thought it was going to end up being just my immediate family,” she says. “It’s gotten pretty huge. So I’m really excited.”
Ainardi’s search has sparked a deep interest in Italian. She writes for an Italian Web site, and hopes to go into immigration or something to do with Italian ancestry after graduating from Washington State University.
Italian families from Renton are welcome to attend today’s picnic, from 1-5 p.m. today (Saturday) at Philip Arnold Park, 720 Jones Ave. S.