Event raises more money to refurbish New Kensington's Memorial Park
An Elvis impersonator gyrated across a concrete substage as he performed at an annual social event on Sunday in New Kensington's Memorial Park.
His feet slid to the rhythm of “Blue Suede Shoes” across the platform that juts out from the park's main stage, where nearly a dozen bands performed for the hundreds who attended the 2014 Social in the Park.
Two years ago, he would have been dancing on grass and dirt in front of the band stage, which had begun to deteriorate after years of neglect. But that was before the New Ken/Arnold Social in the Park Committee raised thousands of dollars through the annual event to completely refurbish the interior of the stage and build the concrete substage beneath it.
Now, the committee is looking to put the funds raised through Sunday's social into refurbishing the pavilions adjacent to the park's tennis courts.
“We're hoping to raise about $4,000 for that,” committee member Lou Downard said. “With the weather, we think we'll get as many as 700 or 800 people. When we first started this, we got 150.”
The New Ken/Arnold Social Committee began in 2011 when New Kensington native Rob Greb made an effort to reconnect with people from his past. At first, that entailed semi-monthly meetings between a half dozen or so Valley High School alums.
Then Greb, noticing a great deal of other New Kensington natives using social media to stay in touch, decided to put together a committee to organize an event that would bring everyone together.
That September, the group held its first social. The event attracted a couple dozen attendees and raised a few hundred dollars, which was put toward renovating the park's bathrooms. They had been vandalized earlier in the year.
Greb, who had been battling cancer, died shortly thereafter. He was 51.
The people that Greb reunited decided to dedicate all of their events in his memory, and they've only grown since, committee member Mario Tempest said.
“We all miss Rob,” Tempest said. “He was a great guy. What a great legacy to leave behind, though, with everyone getting together. We always say something about him each year.”
The 2012 New Kensington Social in the Park raised $3,000, which was used to refurbish the bandstand. New Kensington officials and the social committee recruited the Northern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center students to complete the work.
After raising a comparable amount of money the following year, they again reached out to the students to lay down the concrete substage, this time with some assistance from the city's public works department, Mayor Tom Guzzo said.
“It's a win-win,” Guzzo said. “It saves the city money, and the kids get real-world applicable experience.”
During the past two years, the committee held an annual social in Arnold's Roosevelt Park. Each raised about $4,000, which was enough to keep the park open throughout the year.
Sunday's event in New Ken-sington attracted two dozen vendors and several hundred attendees, each with a $5 admission charge, said Guzzo.
“Exactly 50 years ago from (Sunday), The Beatles played their only show in Pittsburgh at the Civic Arena. The tickets went for $5.90. You could see The Beatles for $5.90, but that's just one band. Here, you get a dozen for almost a dollar less,” Guzzo quipped.
Jason Fularz, a New Ken-sington native who performed with his band Six Pack Social Club, said he makes an effort to play at the event each year. Aside from providing exposure to area club and restaurant owners, he said, it affords him an opportunity to stay connected with old friends.
His wife, Dana, said the couple enjoys time spent at the park.
“I think it's always important to support anything that's striving to bring up the community,” Dana Fularz said. “The park is such a great part of New Kensington, and it's always great to see people you grew up around. It's a great thing, and it's a great day.”
Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 .