The city of Jeannette turns 125 years old this year. But, because of the city's financial problems and a reported lack of community interest, it appears the quasquicentennial celebration won't be as elaborate as deserved by a city with such a rich history.
"We just can't get any interest," admitted Bob Tanyer, co-chairman of the city's 125th anniversary committee.
Mr. Tanyer, along with a small contingency of volunteers from the city's historical society and annual community days committee, said they have been working to coordinate events to mark the milestone.
Since its first meeting in March 2012, coordinators have been working on a shoestring budget because no request for funds has been made to city officials who are working to avoid being declared financially distressed under Act 47, the Pennsylvania Municipal Recovery Act. The city is hundreds of thousands of dollars in the red.
"We just decided to keep things separate," said Margie Hudson, historical society member and another anniversary volunteer.
Until a recent $10,000 contribution from the Elliott Company, the committee's budget was $1,000, representing proceeds from fundraisers such as bingos and a dinner/dance featuring a performance by local entertainers Bo Wagner and the Rat Pack.
But, money isn't the only factor hampering the party. Mr. Tanyer said there is little response from the community to a mass mailing, published notices and a Facebook site. He also said that attempts to involve students from the Jeannette School District went nowhere.
The committee had proposed a student essay contest, a fashion show in which students would dress in period clothing and a "Miss Jeannette" pageant, reminiscent of popular contests from previous city celebrations.
But, "we were told there was no time available in the curriculum and that students were just not interested," Mr. Tanyer said.
"It's a shame, but we're not giving up," Ms. Hudson said. "There's a rich history and sense of community pride that needs to be celebrated."
At this point, the 125th anniversary will be celebrated in conjunction with the city's Community Days, an annual three-day festival featuring games, a parade, entertainment and fireworks. An extra day has been added to this year's event -- set for July 24 to July 28 -- to mark the 125th birthday.
Events planned include the digging up of a time capsule that was buried in 1989 near the municipal building during the city's centennial and a walking tour that will focus in on many of the city's historically significant sites.
Mr. Hudson noted that the tour will rely heavily on a historical narration as many of the sites no longer exist, such as the city's old train station that was torn down decades ago. Tour sites will be featured in a commemorative book to be sold for $12.
A commemorative car cruise is scheduled for 1 to 5 p.m. May 25 on Clay Avenue. And the committee is considering holding another birthday event in October. "But that is very tentative right now," Mr. Hudson noted.
Despite the seemingly uphill battle, committee members have been unwavering because of their love for their hometown.
"There are still a lot of us who love Jeannette ... others who haven't lived here their entire lives don't understand our history or the town's importance," Ms. Hudson said. "They don't remember how beautiful this town was at Christmas or how exciting it once was to go downtown."
In the meantime, both Mr. Tanyer and Ms. Hudson emphasized that it's not too late for interested residents and former residents to step forward and help.
For details or to volunteer, contact: Bob Tanyer at 724-493-8128 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Contributions can be sent to: Jeannette Historical Society, 415 Clay Ave., Jeannette, PA 15644. Contributions should be marked 125th Celebration.neigh_east - neigh_westmoreland
Linda Metz, freelance writer: email@example.com.