The annual "Night for the Mishler" was held a week ago and sold out Altoona's grand old theater.
Entertainment for the evening was provided by Steve Lippia and his band. Lippia is a traveling musician who has made a career out of performing songs recorded by Frank Sinatra, and he drew two standing ovations.
The response was a tribute not only to Lippia but to how Sinatra's popularity has endured.
While it was Lippia's first trip to Altoona, Sinatra, according to a couple of sage accounts, had been here before.
Sinatra's sidekick in New York was a legend by the name of Jilly Rizzo, whose bar was a legendary hangout among the stars.
Over the years, Rizzo had become friendly with Herman Lardieri, who ran the local UVA and before it the "Red Shoe" in downtown Altoona.
Twice in the early 1960s, Dick DiAndrea of WFBG Radio said, Sinatra joined Rizzo for a trip to the UVA at Lardieri's invitation. DiAndrea said he was there both times.
Sinatra didn't perform here. Instead, he would schmooze with a select group of Lardieri's friends.
"Herman would close the place, and then he would call people he wanted to be there," DiAndrea said Friday. "Herman kept it very, very quiet."
DiAndrea would attend with Dick Richards and Big John Riley. Each was on radio or TV at the time. Johnny Traficante, another Lardieri compadre, was often present.
"I would talk about it on the air, and so would Dick and Big John," DiAndrea said. "It was a big deal."
Though he became friendly with Rizzo, DiAndrea "never got a chance to shake hands or talk" to Sinatra.
"We sat at the bar and stared at him [Sinatra] the whole time," he said, adding Lardieri patterned his bar after the one at Jilly's.
Freddy Corbo, another friend of Lardieri's and a regular at the UVA, never saw Sinatra at the bar but said he ran into him at the airport in Martinsburg.
Corbo said Sinatra and Rizzo flew out for the day because they were interested in possibly acquiring property locally.
"They wanted a place to go and relax without people bothering him [Sinatra]," Corbo said. "But Herman told me they smoked a cigarette and [Sinatra] said, 'let's go home.' Herman was close to Jilly, and Jilly was Sinatra's best friend. I sat with Jilly numerous times at the UVA, but I don't remember Sinatra there."
While they were here, Lardieri introduced Rizzo to one of the area's favorite foods - corn grown by Baronner's Farm.
"Herman would bring bushels of Baronner's corn to New York, and everybody thought how fantastic it was," DiAndrea said.
"They were giving it away outside Jilly's," Corbo said. "Herman bought that much of it."
While he didn't meet Sinatra, DiAndrea was recognized by Rizzo.
"Jilly would say, 'we ought to go up to Altoona and see Herman,''' DiAndrea said. "They would drive up. One time they rented a train, and they'd come in late at night. Jilly was my buddy. He always remembered me. He taught me how to eat wedding soup."
Jilly and Sinatra had a half-dozen people in their entourage, including a 400-pound body guard named Lou, DiAndrea said.
So while his music debuted in Altoona a week ago, apparently Sinatra graced us with his presence nearly 50 years earlier.
Mirror Managing Editor Neil Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.