Belle Vernon Bicentennial plans show good progress
Preparations for Belle Vernon Borough's Bicentennial celebration are moving into high gear.
But the committee coordinating plans for the ambitious event in June is far from finished with its efforts.
“We're making good progress,” says Marybeth Secleter, a borough council member and chairwoman of the bicentennial committee. “Our goal is to make this celebration a memorable event for everyone in the community.”
The committee is seeking and encouraging input from “anyone and everyone” in Belle Vernon Borough.
“There's so much history in Belle Vernon, especially when you consider we're looking at 200 years of being a viable part of the mid-Monongahela Valley,” Secleter says. “Our committee is learning so much about the legacy of our town and the people who preceded us here. We feel it's important for all generations to share that knowledge and understand the pride that has existed here throughout the years. We want to hear from those who have been in Belle Vernon far longer than us and also from the younger people who also share in this heritage.”
While the official and traditional bicentennial festivities will not take place until June, the committee has set a series of fundraising events that will be launched with a Chili Cook-off on Jan. 26.
The cook-off will be in the social hall of the Belle Vernon Municipal Building and is open to the public. Doors will open at 4 p.m., and judging of the chili will begin at 5. The popular Evans Brown Band, which is donating its services for the event, will perform at 7 p.m. Admission is $5.
Kimberly Ringstad Gray, fundraising chairwoman for the bicentennial committee, says the chili competition is open to all individuals as well as area restaurants. There is a $25 entry fee.
“We are inviting anyone and everyone with those special recipes for chili to join the cook-off and the fun that will take place that day and evening,” says Gray, a member of the Belle Vernon Area School Board.
Additional information about entering or attending the Chili Cook-off is available by contacting Gray at 724-366-0702 or by mail at 319 Water St., Belle Vernon, PA 15012.
Other fundraisers — all at the Municipal Building social hall and open to the public — include:
Feb. 16: Valentine's Dance, 6 p.m. disc jockey, $5 admission.
March 17: St. Patrick's Day Dinner, noon to 6 p.m., potato soup, corned beef and cabbage, $5 admission.
Also in March, the committee will sponsor a “Meat Ticket” that will feature prizes such as cash, a Blu-Ray home theater system, a 50-inch HDTV, a 9.2-cubic-foot freezer, and an assortment of 48 meats and groceries. Tickets will be available from all committee members.
Secleter says tentative plans call for the Bicentennial celebration to begin June 12 with Family Night festivities at the large parking area behind the Municipal Building. A carnival will be in operation there and will run for four days.
Other events will include:
June 13: A Battle of the Bands at the Municipal Building and a nostalgic musical program for residents of the Belle Vernon Apartments.
June 14: A parade in downtown Belle Vernon. A boat parade on the Monongahela River also is scheduled.
June 15: A motorcycle run to benefit the K-9 force of the Southwest Regional Police Department, which is headquartered in Belle Vernon, will be held early in the day. A fireworks display and a band will be featured.
June 16: A classic car show in the parking area behind the Municipal Building. A disc jockey will provide music.
Council President Joe Minniti, a bicentennial committee member, is chairman of the motorcycle run and the car show.
“Both events are open to all who want to enter,” Minniti says. “We know there are clubs and individual enthusiasts involved with motorcycles and classic cars throughout the area. All are welcome to participate in these events. People of all ages enjoy seeing these types of vehicles and I'm sure that will be the case here. It's not too early to register.”
There is an entry fee for the bike run and the car show. Additional information is available by contacting Minniti at 724-797-2911.
The committee will schedule other events and provide food and refreshments. To assist with those efforts, the group is seeking monetary contributions, gift certificates, “anything that will help,” Gray says.
The committee established a Facebook page, 200 Years of Belle Vernon History, and an official logo labeling Belle Vernon as “Beautiful Green” has been created.
According to a history of the community compiled by Thurman Reeves and edited by Steve Secleter, Belle Vernon, which means “Beautiful Green,” was incorporated as a borough by an Act of Assembly on April 15, 1863, but the name was used as far back as 1776. The first settlers voted July 8, 1776, at Sparks Fort near the Youghiogheny River.
Noah Speers, a Mon Valley-region pioneer, owned the entire plot of ground on which Belle Vernon is located and laid out lots as early as 1812. The first actual sale of lots took place April 18, 1812, at a public auction.
A prize of $10 was offered to anyone who would build the first house in town and it was won by Thomas Ward, who built a home at what is now the corner of Main and Second streets.
“So much has transpired since then, so many positive aspects of our community” says Sherry Shondelmyer, history chairwoman of the Bicentennial Committee. “This is what we want to emphasize and why we definitely want input from the residents of Belle Vernon.”
Shondelmyer says one of the primary goals of the committee is to talk with the oldest resident of Belle Vernon who was born, raised and is still living in the community.
“Can you imagine what that person, and others like him or her, can tell us?” she says. “We can read about our history, but there's so much more in learning first-hand from those who have lived it.”
Secleter, Shondelmyer and their committee colleagues are looking for information about such topics as the first police chief and police department, the first fire chief, burgesses and mayors, the oldest home in town and historical landmarks.
They are directing their research on such topics as business, sports, entertainment and amusement, education and schools, churches, civic and service organizations, transportation, local government and politics, “the entire gamut of community life,” Shondelmyer says.
Belle Vernon Fire Chief Rich Saxberg has been “very helpful” in compiling history of the volunteer fire department, Shondelmyer says.
The committee is also seeking pictures and memorabilia depicting Belle Vernon's history.
“We have an abundance of old photos, newspapers and similar artifacts,” Shondelmyer says. “But we can never have enough. I'm sure the people would enjoy viewing those items at the displays we want to present at the celebration.”
Anyone willing to submit pictures or memorabilia or be interviewed by the committee is asked to contact Shondelmyer at 724-929-9418.
Anyone interested in helping the bicentennial committee prepare for the celebration or seeking information about the event should contact the borough secretary at 724-929-8080.
Ron Paglia is a freelance writer.
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