Greenridge Drive Carnival celebrates 50 years in Whitehall

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Fifty years ago, it was the idyllic childhood that dreams are made of: climbing trees; playing hide-and-seek, kickball, hopscotch and more for about 120 youngsters from mostly large families on Greenridge Drive in Whitehall.

In the summer of 1962, the children staged a variety show that was followed the next two years by a "Greenridge Carnival."

On July 27, about 100 former Greenridge Drive residents and their families gathered to mark the anniversary of the first of the neighborhood's three signature events.

Mayor James Nowalk, a Greenridge Drive child in the '60s, proclaimed the day Greenridge Carnival Day, "to celebrate a time when neighborhoods were strong and children lived innocent, uncomplicated, unstructured lives in which their fun and enjoyment of life was limited only by their collective imaginations."

The gathering included picnic food, old photographs and memorabilia. It was held on the Nowalk family's former front lawn, which today belongs to John and Kathy Krchmar.

Surveys were distributed in which the former neighbors were invited to contribute memories of the era, including opinions on the differences between childhood then and now.

The responses declared the 1960s a better time to grow up for reasons that included spontaneous games controlled by the children, more freedom and innocence, outdoor exploration and street playing, openness and friendly families, and more socializing and conversations among neighbors..

The original Greenridge Drive gang sang songs firmly etched in youthful memories, such as "Hey, Look Me Over" and "Mississippi Mud," and the parade chant of their own creation, "Come One, Come All to the Greenridge Carnival!"

Getting the word out about the celebration was largely a mix of old-fashioned legwork and new-fangled science -- organizers reached some participants by knocking on the doors of homes where the parents of former childhood friends still resided. Others were invited by social media.

Contributing to the ambiance, an old-fashioned ice cream truck, heralding its arrival with ringing bell jingles, stopped by.

"It's a magical sort of get-together," said Bob Nowalk, 59, who traveled from Culver, Ind.

"It was one of those neighborhoods where no matter where you went you knew you were being watched," he said. "If you ever needed a bathroom or were in trouble you could knock on a door."

Mr. Nowalk said he was 8 years old when he, Marlene Petrone and Betsy Young began dreaming aloud about staging a carnival.

Among the adults who agreed to help were current residents Theresa Petrone and Barb Furedy.

"There were kids everywhere," Mrs. Petrone, 84, said of the rehearsals in her family backyard, where the show was held.

Mothers made costumes and tickets. The tickets were made using a typewriter and sold three for a quarter.

"I think we had more fun than the kids," said Mrs. Furedy, 78.

The show was held July 18, 1962. It consisted of children dancing, singing, playing music, doing magic acts, performing as clowns and selling refreshments.

Incredibly, about $600 was raised, which funded a three-bus trip to Horseshoe Curve in Altoona, Blair County.

The next two summers, the variety show evolved into carnivals, with entire families manning single booths.

The first "Greenridge Carnival" was held in the adjacent Janus and Kirchmeyer backyards on Aug. 20, 1963.

Rosemary Janus Futrovsky, 56, who traveled with her family from North Potomac, Md., danced in the first variety show in a vintage, Roaring-'20s costume.

"It's exciting to come back and reconnect," Ms. Futrovsky said.

Her sister, Trish Janus, 60, of Columbiana, Md., co-lead the parade in a majorette outfit.

"I wouldn't miss this. The bond is always there," she said.

Their mother Helen Janus, 89, who still resides on Greenridge, recalled the music and dancing in the street following the carnivals. Mrs. Janus checked out of a physical rehabilitation facility for the day to attend the celebration.

"I was bound and determined to be here," she said.

The two carnivals funded trips to the Ice Capades and the circus.

Following the three events, interest in staging another waned. The children were getting older, with adolescence looming for many.

Mrs. Petrone said that besides fewer children, today's Greenridge Drive has fewer trees.

"They got old, like us," she said.


Margaret Smykla, freelance writer:


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