Fonthill woman objects to Welland Boys exclusion

Juliellen Sampara. VIA FACEBOOK

Organizers refuse to sell tickets to females; group votes to uphold ban for future dinners

BY VOICE STAFF

The Welland Boys Reunion, an annual evening of reminiscing held for current and former Welland residents, had its best-ever attendance last Monday evening, Oct. 2, drawing 190 people to the Croatian Hall. But the event was still four would-be attendees short of its potential.

Juliellen Sampara, a Fonthill resident whose father Julian grew up in Welland, and who attended the reunion for many years before his death, saw the event advertised in the Welland Tribune and called to buy tickets for herself, her husband, and her two sons.

Sampara says she was told that while her sons and husband were welcome, the event was for males only, and that she would not be able to attend.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “This is public event, advertised in the newspaper, with tickets sold to the public at Sobeys, among other places. It’s 2017.”

Sampara said that her teenage sons were surprised, too. “They said, ‘Mom, how can they do this?’”

Sampara expressed her concerns to one of the event’s organizers, Steve Talosi, who told her to provide him with a written document that he could take to the organizing committee. Sampara, who is a labour mediator, had doubts that this action would be effective, and so she contacted various media outlets, including the Voice. When the Voice called Talosi to inquire about the policy, he grew agitated.

“I’m not impressed with her,” he said, referring to Sampara. “You guys are going to take a very good event and make a mess of it if you’re going to start throwing dirt at us for the way this thing has been structured. If you’re going to go print something that paints a black picture of the Welland Boys Reunion, I’m going to make hell for you guys. And you can take that as a threat or whatever you want…. It’s not a sexist thing, there are whole bunch of other reasons for it.”

In a follow-up conversation Talosi modified his tone. He apologized for becoming emotional, and said that it was difficult to see the event portrayed in a negative light.

He later called Sampara and promised to raise the matter at a hastily arranged meeting of the organizing committee.

“The last vote was in 2012, and at that time seventy percent of the attendees voted to keep it a men-only event,” said Talosi.

Since then much of the demography has changed, with a great number of sons and grandsons making up the numbers. Talosi said that he thought the attendees would be more amenable to the idea.

“I personally have no problem with letting women into the event,” he said. “But it’s not up to me—or the committee—to decide. It’s their event, not ours.”

On Monday night, the attendees again voted to keep the event male-only.

Talosi and the rest of the committee presented a secret ballot with two motions. The first asked, “Women should be allowed to attend the Welland Boys Reunion, Yes or No,” while the second was, “If women are allowed, will I continue to attend the Welland Boys Reunion.”

Of the 176 votes on the first question, 98 voted “No,” and 78 “Yes.”

On the second, 102 attendees said that they would continue to attend if women were allowed, while 60 said that they would not.

“Five years ago, seventy percent voted to keep the event as it was, whereas this time it was only fifty-six percent,” Talosi said a few days later.

He added that he didn’t think that it was appropriate to address the matter annually, but that in a few years time the question would likely be raised again. While Talosi had said that he would have no problem with women attending the reunion, he added that he was only disappointed in the outcome insofar as how “it will be received by some people.”

Sampara, on the other hand, was genuinely upset by the results.

“It’s too bad,” she said. “I’m pissed off, though I’m not here to make a big fight about it. I just wanted to spend some time talking about my dad, and remembering him with his old friends.”

Sampara saw reason for positivity, observing that the vote was closer this time. She speculated—as Talosi did—that as younger generations feature more prominently in the event, majority support may swing to allowing females into the event.

Paradoxically, there were, in fact, a few women in attendance on Monday night.

One of the event’s original founders, Mike Blazetich, died earlier in the year and this year’s reunion was partially in honour of him. Blazetich’s family, including two granddaughters and his daughter Marilyn Sarkis, were invited to participate.

Sarkis said that she and the rest of her family had a great time, listening to stories of her father and looking at old pictures.

“The group there was very welcoming, and it was such a great opportunity to mourn our loss, and at the same time honour my dad’s memory,” she said.

Sarkis sympathized with Sampara. “I understand her point of view,” Sarkis said. She said that the Welland Boys Reunion was initially a small group of guys, and that her father has always wanted to keep it that way.

“I still think that it’s a private function. So I say: ‘Let them have their day.’ When you’re having a party, you get to choose who you invite,” she said, before conceding that the event occupied a grey area between private and public.

The dinner was certainly open to any area male, as it was advertised in the Welland Tribune and tickets for it were sold at retailers, in addition to the offices of Talosi’s business. According to accounts from those present, this year’s event was as enjoyable as ever, with second and third generations mixing with the remainders of the first. “It’s a wonderful event,” said Talosi.

As Sampara pointed out, however, such an evening is only wonderful if you’re allowed in to experience it.

October 11:  Updated to correct a dropped verb in a statement by Steve Talosi, and the number of Blazetich granddaughters attending the dinner.

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