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150 Reasons to Celebrate
A look back at Westerville's milestone year By Katie Heitker, City Scene Magazine
After 10,000 hours and nearly 200 volunteers, the City of Westervilleís year-long 150th birthday bash has come to a close.
Celebrate Westerville was a triathlon of community events celebrating the sesquicentennial anniversary of the cityís incorporation. It began three years ago as the brainchild of Bill Merriman, president of the Westerville Historical Society. Motivated to celebrate 150 years of Westerville history, the cityís Community Affairs office and Beth Weinhardt, the local history coordinator for the Westerville Public Library, jumped on board. This led to a citizen-based volunteer committee chaired by Vinny Herwig and supported by many other residents. The committee organized a trio of major events unlike any birthday celebration Westerville had seen before.
ìAll three events brought the community together for a special celebration,î says Scott McAfee, community affairs coordinator for the City of Westerville.
New Years Eve Celebrate Westerville kicked off with a New Yearís Eve event dubbed ìCelebrate on State.î The event featured live music, carriage rides, arts and crafts, and plenty of food. The evening was highlighted by a $50,000 light show, according to Westerville Mayor Anne Gonzales, and the raising of the ball, which lit up the streets at midnight.
ìOne of the most memorable moments was that ball rise,î says Weinhardt, who was also an events co-chairwoman for Celebrate Westerville. ìThat was a moment of awe for me.î
The lights and rising ball added to the atmosphere of Historic Uptown that night, where the streets remained busy later than a typical Westerville evening.
ì(The event) had so much energy, so many people having a great time, of all ages. It would be hard to capture it again.î McAfee says.
4th of July
In addition to the cityís traditional 4th of July favorites, such as the Rotary Clubís fun run, the Independence Day parade and evening fireworks, Celebrate Westerville also featured several community events.
Ohio Chautauqua made its only visit to Central Ohio in Westerville as part of the weeklong Independence Day celebration. Presented by the Ohio Humanities Council, Ohio Chautauqua features scholar actors portraying famous Americans, with this yearís event featuring inventors and innovators. Westerville residents came out in force to watch as Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Mary McLeod Bethune, George Washington Carver and Andrew Carnegie ìcame to life.î
Westerville residents also won some bragging rights on the 4th. The celebration featured an ìantiqueî baseball game which followed rules from the 1860s (including no baseball gloves). A team of Westerville residents coached by McAfee beat The Ohio Village Muffins of the Ohio Historical Society, a historic club team that tours the country to play.
Labor Day Sesqui Sunday
Celebrate Westerville culminated over Labor Day weekend, almost 150 years to the day Westerville was formed. The event included a pancake breakfast, a display of historic automobiles at the Sertoma Car Show, a quilt show by the Westerville Quilt Guild and military reenactments with drills and cannon fire.
No birthday celebration would be complete without plenty of food. Lunchtime featured a community picnic at Alum Creek Park and a table-decorating contest. Dinner was highlighted by the ìTaste of Westerville,î with residents sampling local restaurantsí fare.
The dayís most emotional moment came as 100 couples renewed their wedding vows at Alum Creek Park. Gonzales presided over the ceremony, and the Rev. Jim Meacham, chaplain for the Westerville Police Department, wrote the vows.
ìThat was a special, unique moment,î says Gonzales. ìThere was lots of love in the air.î
According to Gonzales, many couples really embraced the moment, some even carrying bouquets and wearing dresses or tuxes. Two couples were applauded as they made their way to the stage for celebrating 65 years of marriage.
And now that itís all over, was it worth it?
ìI think everyone on the committee achieved what we set out for,î Weinhardt says, ìto bring people together for interesting events and make people feel good about the community we live in. The citizens made the events special because of their support and attendance. It proves what a special place Westerville is to live.î
Attendance numbers seem to be proof of the eventsí success. McAfee estimates a total of 20,000 people attended the three events.
Local businesses had a positive response to the events, as well. Many Uptown businesses reported the New Years Eve celebration was one of their best sales days ever. During the 4th of July celebration, the Old Bag of Nails pub had a slightly different demographic filling their tables.
ìIt was like family day in here. Almost every table was a family,î says Andy Powell, Old Bag of Nails general manager. ìWe had a really good turn out.î Other business owners simply appreciated the increased interest in the Uptown area.
ìI was fortunate to offer the sale of T-shirts and posters (for Celebrate Westerville),î says Renee Kropat, who owns Gallery 202. ìI did see more interest in our community and lots of positive comments about all of the events.î
So what about next year? Or Westervilleís 175th? According to McAfee, the volunteer effort and funding involved (Mount Carmel St. Annís Hospital sponsored the events) made this a one-time deal. It was a huge undertaking for the volunteers involved.
ìIf we follow the past, the next one will be in 50 years,î McAfee says. The Celebrate Westerville volunteers will need a break anyway: after such a milestone event, it may take 50 years to top it.
ìAll of the events are something that anyone can look back at and feel excited that we have the community that we have,î says Kropat.
Katie Heitker is a contributing writer for Westerville Magazine.
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