By Matt Youngfrau
BETHEL August 7, 2001 Sunday was a day of firsts.
The First Annual Awards Picnic for Sullivan Renaissance.
The showcase of the first Renaissance projects.
And the first time local media members banded together to fight area government officials and lost.
It was all in good fun on Sunday, set in the scenic, historic Woodstock festival field in Bethel.
The buzz about Sullivan Renaissance began in January at the Sullivan First Winter Forum, where Sandra Gerrys idea was initially announced. Sullivan Renaissance, said Gerry, would focus on collaborative efforts involving youth and community groups. To kickstart the program, 30 $1,000 grants were handed out in March for projects all over the county.
For the last four months, those groups have been working very hard to win the top four prizes of $1,000, $3,000, $10,000 and $20,000 and to beautify and improve their communities. The picnic was the culmination of the program, when the grand prize winners would be announced.
Eight judges were chosen from outside the county. They spent Saturday and Sunday inspecting the sites.
All of the groups received plaques in honor of their projects, but organizers let the suspense build before they announced the grand prize winners.
Aren't you proud to be a Sullivan County resident today? Sandra Gerry asked the enthusiastic crowd. There has been a renewed sense of community spirit.
There is a great sense of pride in Sullivan County, agreed Congressman Maurice Hinchey. I have enjoyed watching the renewal and rebirth of Sullivan County. This is just the start.
Fourth Place was given to John Theadore for his project at the North Branch Firehouse, which also helped him earn his Eagle Scout badge.
Third Place went to Jeffersonville for their Main Street Beautification project, the members of whom thanked Liberty for helping them fix the project after it was vandalized last week.
Second Place and $10,000 was awarded to Liberty for their LaPolt Park Beautification project. Committee Chair Frank DeMayo was very appreciative and thanked all that worked on the project. Besides cleaning and restoring the park, they also restored the stream behind the facility.
The $20,000 Grand Prize went to Neversink for their work on the Grahamsville/Route 55 corridor. Phil Coombe, Jr. accepted the prize and said the money will go for an addition at the Daniel Pierce Library.
However, the picnic was about more than just the awards. Thousands of people showed up to celebrate their communities and all the work that went into it. There were models of some of the projects and pictures to show off the hard work.
While people looked over the projects, Jon Zanger, the Swing Shift Orchestra, Dallas Fisher, and New Frontier performed throughout the day. Vendors had such items as crafts, shirts, hats, and food for sale, and there were picnics, volleyball games, and a spirited softball game between government officials and the local media.
Representatives of the Sullivan County Democrat, the Times-Herald Record, the River Reporter, the Towne Crier, WSUL, and WVOS played together to take on a team of government employees from such county departments as Public Works, Transportation, Personnel, and Probation. While all had fun in the two-hour game, the government managed to squeeze a 12-8 victory out of the media, despite a dramatic, albeit shortlived, comeback.
Defeat notwithstanding, the media apparently enjoyed the day as much as the 1,200 Sullivan Renaissance workers who attended all of whom had, as the program stated, Something to Crow About.
We had 2,000 volunteers working on these projects. In a county of 75,000 people, that is amazing, remarked Gerry Foundation Executive Director Jonathan Drapkin, who helped spearhead the Sullivan First movement.
Over the last eight months, weve seen a rebirth in Sullivan County, agreed Renaissance Committee member Jerry Skoda. It is all because of Alan and Sandra Gerry.
Organizers stated next year will feature more projects and even more volunteers, but they agreed that the ultimate winners will be those who visit and live in Sullivan County.