Pierogi Festival Fight Tops Year’s Weirdest Stories

January 1, 2018 GMT

WILKES-BARRE — From food-fight litigation to animal encounters to a seriously overdue library book, 2017 saw some decidedly weird and wacky news in the Wyoming Valley.

Over the summer, a high-stakes food fight broke out between the Edwardsville Pierogi Festival and the Whiting Pierogi Fest in Whiting, Indiana, after lawyers for the event in suburban Chicago sent a letter threatening a trademark infringement lawsuit.

In response, several local lawyers filed a pre-emptive federal lawsuit claiming the Edwardsville festival, which is held 700 miles away from the other event, isn’t a competitor and the general name is not a trademark infringement.

Officials in Whiting in turn filed a counterclaim alleging the use of the phrase “Pierogi Festival” amounts to trademark infringement and unfair competition. The lawsuit is still pending.

Strange food-related happenings didn’t stop with that court case. In October, Plains Twp. resident Richard Lussi was buried with two Philadelphia cheesesteaks from his favorite place, Pat’s King of Steaks.

Lussi, the co-owner of Plains Electric and Furniture, died Oct. 10 of heart complications at the age of 76, leaving his family to decide if his request for “something to eat in the afterlife” was in earnest.

They decided he was serious and placed in the casket two sandwiches just the way Lussi liked them — “Wiz, without,” short for Cheez Whiz without onions.

In February, the Osterhout Free Library had some weird news of its own when it received an overdue book that had been checked out on Dec. 2, 1941. Robert Lockman Sr. had been 9 years old when he borrowed “Val Rides the Oregon Trail” and for some reason failed to return it.

Lockman died in 2013 and his son took possession of the book. After discovering the volume in the basement of his Shavertown home, Robert Lockman Jr. turned it in on behalf of his father — 75 years, two months and 13 days late.

This was also the year when the valedictorian and president of Wyoming Area High School’s Class of 2017 made it on national TV after going off script during his graduation speech.

After Peter Butera began discussing how the “authoritative nature” of some administrators was stifling student development, Wyoming Area Secondary School Principal Jon Pollard ordered the audio cut — explaining later that he “was obligated to act to ensure the remainder of Peter’s speech was not demeaning or derogatory.”

Butera’s story made national news, with the West Pittston teen doing interviews with The Washington Post and CNN and appearing via Skype for ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”

Over in Wilkes-Barre Twp., police also made the news over the summer after posting some risque material with the department’s social media account. In response to a post about beachgoers appearing topless in Ocean City, Maryland, the department put up a photo of a woman covering her breasts with her hands and a man attempting to give her a high five.

Some of the department’s followers questioned whether it was appropriate for police to engage in such behavior, but the department defended its actions.

“If anyone anywhere does anything, somewhere someone is going to get offended,” Patrolman Matthew Godlewski said at the time. “As long as our supporters outnumber our naysayers I don’t necessarily see any reason for us to change.”

In other police news, Plymouth Borough police took an unusual approach to raising money for equipment upgrades — auctioning off a Colt Thompson Model 1921 AC .45 Navy Overstamp Submachine Gun.

Local banks bought the gangster-era “Tommy gun” for the department in the late 1920s or early 1930s to give them firepower to fight off bank robbers. But nearly 100 years later, the department had other equipment needs and decided to auction the weapon off to a federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives-approved buyer.

The auction’s opening price was $20,000.

Over in Plains Twp., a Wilkes-Barre man tried raising money a different way — by pimping out his ex-girlfriend at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Police say Jorge Alberto Ventura, 40, arranged for the woman to prostitute herself to people at the hospital because she owed him money.

The scheme was broken up in early December after the woman tried to solicit sex from an undercover Veterans Affairs police officer. Ventura’s explanation?

“Well, I wanted me $200,” police quoted him as saying.

In other criminal-justice news, a civil hearing in progress in January was interrupted when a bat fell from above and landed on the floor behind Luzerne County Judge Tina Polachek Gartley.

“The judge said, ‘Oh my God, it’s a bat’ and left the bench,” said Assistant District Attorney Jill Matthews, who witnessed the intrusion.

A sheriff’s deputy scooped the animal up in a water cup and released it out a window, allowing the proceeding to continue.

Contact the writer:

jhalpin@citizensvoice.com; 570-821-2058