History, fireworks and fun entertainment at bicentennial celebration

Christopher Hook

VIEW the photo gallery from Portage County’s 200th anniversary celebration.

READ a timeline of events over the last 200 years.

The city of Ravenna was in full swing Monday night celebrating a special birthday bash.

All year, the people of Portage County have been celebrating the county’s 200th birthday, and Route 59 in front of the Ravenna courthouse was closed Monday to celebrate the biggest bicentennial event of the year.

Water balloon tosses, a parade float contest and fireworks kept people entertained throughout the night.

People turned out in droves, covering the street and the square in front of the courthouse.

Vendors lined Meridian and Chestnut streets, selling chili dogs, snow cones and funnel cakes to kids and adults who gobbled down the sweets.

There were several booths set up celebrating Portage County, one of which was represented by Aurora residents dressed in traditional 19th-century garb.

The residents described the time-honored process of churning honey to passerbys.

People sat on the walk in front of Guido’s Pizza, sipping gallon-sized cups of lemonade and watching kids play games in the middle of the street.

A magic show on the grass in front of the courthouse delighted a crowd of children.

Megan Kerns, senior geography major and POWERcorps employee, brought several mentally retarded adults from area agencies to enjoy the day.

“They are trying to avoid the heat,” she said in the shade of a vendor’s tent nearby.

Elsewhere, Karen Youngblood, 68, a resident of Shalersville enjoyed herself by dancing in street puddles to music blasting from huge speakers on the event stage.

Youngblood was joined by kids who splashed up and down in the water in an effort to beat the heat.

The 55-unit parade was one of the main attractions of the night.

Florence McGovern, 102, was the grand marshal.

Fire trucks, many of which were relics from the 1800s, drove down the street blaring their horns and flashing their lights as firefighters tossed handfuls of candy to delighted children who scrambled to get every last piece.

A group from Standing Rock Cultural Center in Kent depicted the “Lost Animals of Portage County.”

To highlight this, members dressed in homemade animal costumes and danced on the street.

Floats representing various Portage County institutions were also in the parade.

A float from the Portage County Historical Society featured an authentic Conestoga covered wagon and men and women dressed in 19th-century clothing.

One of the women, Judy Wilson from Hiram, was also the parade organizer.

Wilson said she was glad the parade had gone so well.

“I worked with wonderful people, a tremendous committee,” she said.

The bicentennial event was a group effort.

Political subdivisions of Portage County made contributions such as commemorative posters, seats on the planning committee and parade floats.

Charlene Badger, Bicentennial Committee vice chairperson, said this collective effort made the experience rewarding.

“I hope people get a sense of community, a feeling of the future, pride in our history and a hope for continued progress,” Badger said.

Kelly Meszaros, bicentennial representative from Windham, said celebrating the bicentennial was important to understanding the past, present and future.

“If we forget about our history, we’re doomed to repeat the bad things and not learn from the good things,” she said. “Just being part of this history is great.”

Portage County, founded June 8, 1808, started as a conglomerate of independent area townships, including Ravenna and Franklin.

Ohio had only attained its statehood five years earlier.

This was a big step, said Portage County commissioner Chuck Keiper.

“(The founding) was the beginning of government, of civilization in place of wilderness,” he said in a speech addressing the festival crowd.

Dawn Carpenter, Kent Historical Society vice president and a 1957 graduate of Theodore Roosevelt High School in Kent, said she sees something unique in the area.

“It’s a rural area, which is attractive to people who want to get away from the big cities,” she said. “But (it) still offers amenities, including three universities and a continued promotion of the arts.”

Carpenter, a lifelong resident of Portage County, said the diversity of the people, many of whom have different socioeconomic backgrounds, makes the county unique.

Geno Ford, newly installed Kent State basketball coach and honorary parade judge, enjoyed the “birthday bash.”

“The community is obviously a big part of what we do,” he said. “It was good for me to get out and see people who are friendly.”

Because of the threat of rain, the fireworks program had to be moved up in the evening.

The thunderous program was launched simultaneously from three different sites and choreographed to the national anthem.

Those in attendance cheered and danced in the streets and in the lawn as fireworks lit up the night sky.

The event did not end the bicentennial committee’s celebration of Portage County’s birthday.

Badger said there would be several more events later in the year, including a discounted Indians game July 25 with a parade on the field, and an old-fashioned black-stockings baseball game in Streetsboro in August that will follow the rules and procedures of the 1800s.

For more information, visit www.portageco.com.

Contact general assignment reporter Christopher Hook at [email protected].