Money collected for Portage County bicentennial

Erica Weisburn

Portage County officially began celebrating its 200th birthday on Saturday with the Opening Gala. The event, organized by the Portage County Bicentennial Committee, was a formal dinner and auction to raise money for the year’s many festivities.

Bicentennial party and parade

Date: June 9

Time: 6 p.m.-10 p.m.

Where: Portage County Courthouse lawn, Ravenna, Ohio

What: “Modes of Transportation” themed parade, birthday cake, children’s activities and fireworks display

Other Bicentennial Events

Feb. 15-16: Historical plays at Hiram College

April 12: County coloring contest at Kent State

May 17: Memorial recognition at community cemeteries

July 14: Bicentennial golf outing at Windmill Lakes

August-October: Road show at community events and festivals throughout Portage County

Aug. 2: Old-fashioned baseball game at Windham Town Hall Park

Aug. 9: Antique machinery show at Portage County

Regional Airport

Oct. 19: Religious celebration at Dix Stadium

Dec. 13: Time capsule burial at the Portage County Historical Society

Organizers are planning a parade, an old-fashioned baseball game and historical plays.

The gala’s silent auction was the only fundraiser for the year-long bicentennial celebrations, besides the sponsorships and donations already contributed.

More than 200 people attended the gala at NEOUCOM, including President Lester Lefton and David Creamer, senior vice president for administration. The Board of Commissioners hosted the gala and donated $20,000, the maximum allowed by law, to get the celebration started.

Formed in 2005 by the Board of Commissioners, the Portage County Bicentennial Committee planned all the events for the bicentennial year. Even though the official birthday party is on June 9, the committee designed events that will carry throughout the entire year.

In order to achieve its goals, the Bicentennial Committee hopes to raise $190,000, committee coordinator Kerry Macomber said.

“We have asked businesses, universities, community organizations and individuals to help out,” Macomber said. “So far we have raised $100,000.”

Kent State donated $5,000 to be used toward the advancement of the committee’s Web site, said Deb Mazanec, clerk of commissioners and service chairman for the Bicentennial Committee.

Several other area businesses have also made significant contributions so far. Robinson Memorial Hospital donated $15,000 to be used for the legacy project and birthday party on June 9. JP Morgan Chase Foundation donated $10,000 for a historical play that will be presented at elementary schools around the county.

Bicentennial Committee Chairman Mark Cheplowitz isn’t concerned about the finances. The gala was “already a success” before it began, he said.

Regardless of the auction’s final profit, Cheplowitz reassured that none of the year’s events would be cut out, though the totals haven’t been counted yet. But he said by the smiles on everyone’s faces, it looked to be a huge success.

“Our expectations for the auction items were that they stood-out and were one-of-a-kind,” Cheplowitz said. “We wanted things you couldn’t find anywhere else.”

Some of the items donated for auction included a Goodyear blimp ride, two Continental Airlines tickets to almost anywhere in the country and 16 tickets for a suite at a Cleveland Indians game.

Kent State donated three sports baskets for the auction.

The silent auction wasn’t the only attraction at the Opening Gala. As part of the night’s celebration, two Civil War letters were read. The letters were from soldiers addressed to loved ones living in Portage County. One of the letters was opened for the first time at the gala.

“People were really touched by the letters,” Cheplowitz said. “Since one of the letters was opened for the first time (on Saturday), at least one of them never got hers.”

Portage 100, the unofficial guide to everything, also made its debut. The guide highlights many area attractions including the Kent State Fashion Museum and Kent State’s Liquid Crystal Institute.

Originally designed as a parting gift for gala attendees, the booklet gained interest from the Board of Commissioners, Bicentennial Committee member Charlene Badger said.

“The booklet was very last minute,” Badger said. “But, (the Board of Commissioners) liked the idea so much that it decided to sponsor 5,000 of them to be printed and distributed.”

Contact public affairs reporter Erica Weisburn at [email protected].