Huge downtown celebration Friday

By on July 13, 2011

By: MICHELLE REIFF Review Staff, Staff Writer

The Ephrata Merchants Association and Blue Ridge Communications are hosting what has become an annual celebration in downtown Ephrata this Friday.

"Hometown Heroes," an event supported by many local organizations complete with activities, food and music for the public to enjoy, will kick off at 5 p.m.

For the past 20 years or so the Ephrata Merchants Association has done a Family Fun Night on the third Friday in July with a different theme each year. Last year’s chair of the event, Cindy Mellinger, who is also the association’s co-president and marketing and community relations coordinator for Blue Ridge, had decided that it would be nice to do something a little different with the event and pay tribute and thank our "heroes" — anyone who has demonstrated, both in grand and subtle ways, that there is a beauty in honor and strength in service. Thinking it would be a small event, Mellinger was both surprised and elated to see that over 30 groups responded.

"Before I knew it more organizations were calling and wanting to be a part of it," said Mellinger. "It has become some way that people can pay tribute that don’t know how to."

Last year veterans were brought in from all recent wars. Their appreciation and the success of the event led to organizations returning, along with several more adding to the mix for this year.

As the theme is repeated, a map (also on A-1 in this edition) showing the location of the various activities will be available at the hospitality tent in the train station parking lot.

New for this year is a downtown motorcycle ride at 6:30. Dedicated motorcycle organizations and riders will receive a state police escort through town with the focus of the ride being remembering heroes, volunteers and victims. The Patriot Guard and some members of the 911 Foundation (an organization with a rider representing each person who lost their life that day) will be attending.

Other entertainment will include the second annual Hero Eating Contest featuring competitors chowing down on subs. Kids ages eight to 13 will compete at 6 p.m. and adults at 6:15 p.m. Ephrata Mayor Ralph Mowen will vie for this year’s title, opposing reigning champ Akron Mayor John McBeth.

Brigadier General Walter T. Lord, assistant division commander-manuever, 28th Infantry Division, Pennsylvania Army, will give the keynote address and The Red Rose Veterans Honor Guard will offer a ceremonial tribute at 7 p.m.

The Amvets will be retiring worn flags anytime throughout the evening at their table.

This is the first year that South State Street will be closed off from Main to Fulton streets in order to make room for the rescue and military equipment that will be on exhibit. Visitors will get the opportunity to see a Navy PT Boat, a World War II Jeep and fire, police and ambulance apparatus. McGruff the Crime Dog and the Ephrata Elks Lodge #1933 Drug Awareness Trailer will also be present.

In planning the event, Mellinger made sure to include two groups of "heroes" often not thought of. The first of those is The Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank, who will be on hand in The Ephrata Review lobby to take blood donations.

"Some people are afraid to give blood or maybe thought about it but never got around to it," said Mellinger, who as a two-time cancer (leukemia) survivor has been the recipient of blood transfusions. "They can be heroes to people they may not even ever know."

The second group is the Boy Scouts, the young heroes and citizens of the future. They will have The Review parking lot buzzing with activity as they set up a mock campsite — complete with tent, cooking demo, mock campfire and demos showcasing the art of knot tying and other Scout skills.

All types of food will be available during the festivities, including hot dogs, hamburgers and other grilled favorites offered by the Pioneer Fire Company Auxiliary; grilled items and soft pretzels provided by the Amvets Post 136 and Sons of the Legion; and a new item, frothy root beer floats courtesy of the Ephrata Merchants Association.

Games, coloring station, an inflatable slide face painting, temporary tattoos and goodie bags for children will all be offered in the proximity of the train station this year, instead of being spread out, making it easier and more enjoyable for families.

A book signing by Larry Alexander, a lifelong resident of Ephrata, will also be held during the event. Alexander is a reporter and columnist for Lancaster Newspapers and the author of the national best-seller, "Biggest Brother: The Life of Major Dick Winters, The Man Who Led the Band of Brothers."

For the Hometown Heroes event, PCN will donate two special giveaways filled with programming and items from the network that pays tribute to the men and women who served. Blue Ridge Communications will raffle off chances to win one of the two containers filled with programming or publications.

Downtown businesses and organizations will be saluting heroes with specials throughout the evening, and Downtown Ephrata Inc. and the Ephrata Chamber of Commerce will be present to support the event.

Mellinger admitted that a lot has gone into the planning of the monumental evening in order to give these "heroes" the recognition they deserve, including several organizational meetings with merchants and officials in the community.

"This event brings people together and makes them feel united with no politics involved," said Mellinger. "I had a great group. The merchants and Lt. Chris McKim of the Ephrata police have just been phenomenal."

For more information on the evening’s activities and schedule, visit More CELEBRATION, page A6

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