New Ken-Arnold 'family' socializes in the park

| Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, 1:41 a.m.

Dana Jones sat in New Kensington's Memorial Park on Sunday, basking in the upbeat atmosphere.

A gorgeous fall day and the scene around him included people enjoying vendors, music and camaraderie provided by the third NewKen/Arnold Social in the Park.

“Life is supposed to be like this,” said Jones, 54, of Arnold. “These are the kinds of things that make life the way it is supposed to be.

“As I got older, nothing became more important than friends and family,” he said. “I love my community.”

“A lot of the people here are people we graduated with,” said Veronica Higgs of Arnold, who sat with Jones.

The Social in the Park began as an idea of the late Rob Greb in August 2011. Greb thought that if people enjoyed coming together on Facebook, they would enjoy meeting face to face.

The first event in 2011, organized in just four weeks, raised $425, which a committee donated to new rest rooms at the park. Last year, the committee raised a little more than $3,000, part of which was used to renovate the park's bandstand. This year, the committee raised money through a benefit concert to keep Roosevelt Park in Arnold staffed and open throughout the summer for children to use.

Lou and Cindy Downard of New Kensington, who head the committee, said a raffle ticket is handed out with each $1 admission, and based on those tickets, attendance was about 250, up slightly from the 225 who attended last year. The attractions included eight booths providing everything from barbecued food to snow cones to flu shots.

“I'm pleased with the crowd, but we'll never hit that number we had at Arnold (600) with just this,” Lou Downard said.

He and his wife said they are looking at boosting the turnout next year by adding bands to the mix.

“We have to figure out how we can do this,” Cindy Downard said.

Those who were at the park on Sunday seemed to enjoy themselves as much as Jones and Higgs.

As the sounds of “See You In September” by Jay and the Americans filtered through the park, Dorothy Checkeye sat and clapped to the music.

“I'm having a great time; everybody is wonderful,” she said. “I think it's the greatest thing ever.”

Shauna Volmrich of New Kensington watched artist Lauren Toohey of Pittsburgh's Lawrence-ville section at work. Toohey's subjects were Volmrich's sons, Micah, 4, and Jonas, 2, whose faces she painted to resemble cats.

She said it was their first time at the social and it was better than having to stand in long lines at Pittsburgh events such as the Children's Festival.

“I hope it keeps expanding,” Volmrich said. “It's fun to go somewhere small, and then the playground's right there.”

Some elected officials from New Kensington, Arnold and Lower Burrell got into the fundraising act at the expense of one of their own.

It began when New Kensington resident Joseph Salvati donated $100 to hear Joe Grillo, a Lower Burrell councilman who serves on the social committee and is known to be proud of his voice, sing.

“Somebody's come up with the idea of having a collection for Joe not to sing,” Cindy Downard said.

That happened to be New Kensington Mayor Tom Guzzo, with the backing of Arnold Mayor Larry Milito. They had committee member John Secrist of Arnold walk around with a plastic jug to solicit contributions. In the end, the anti-Grillo movement prevailed, collecting $127 to the pro-Grillo movement's $124, all of which Guzzo said would go to the park.

“I feel I'm being railroaded,” Grillo said, feigning outrage. He stretched the truth slightly by adding, “They've been going around for three days, collecting against me.”

“Three days? It took us like 11 minutes to do this,” Guzzo retorted, stretching the truth even further. “In four years, it's the best idea I've had as mayor.”

He was quick to give Grillo a pat on the back when he announced the results. “Joe was a really good sport with this,” Guzzo said.

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.


Show commenting policy