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Wet and chilly fall festival doesn't dampen the community spirit

bed race
Despite the deteriorating weather conditions, the Century 21 American Heritage Realty team was ready to take on all comers at the third annual Bed Race.
10/7/2011 —


There's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing. ~Alfred Wainwright

The rain dampened campus grounds, but not the community spirit as the third annual Penn State New Kensington Fall Festival went on as scheduled on Oct 1. Even with a stable of Penn State meteorologists from around the nation (Penn State alumni make up 25 percent of the country's meteorologists), the campus could not ameliorate the forecast of showers and 40 degrees throughout the day.

"Despite the rain, the families, children and rock fans who braved the weather had a great time," said Theresa Bonk, chair of the festival committee. "The Fall Festival is our way of saying thanks to the Alle-Kiski community and our fall festival sponsors and business partners."

Among the myriad of activities, the bed race, a staple of the festival, was the only casualty of the weather. Despite a quorum of five "mudders"--three campus students groups; a Leechburg High School coterie; and a squad put together by race sponsor Don Ryan of Century 21 American Heritage Realty--the 20-team challenge was cancelled due to safety concerns regarding drenched competitors navigating a nonamphibious mobile sleeping apparatus through slick turns on a moistened tarmac.

The highlight of the festival was a free concert by the Clarks. After moving the main stage indoors, more than 400 fans were treated to two hours of music by the iconic Pittsburgh band. Their American rock sound reverberated throughout the Athletics Center which is on its way to becoming the Fillmore East of western Pa. Discussions are underway to make the Athletics Center the permanent home for the annual concert.

"Although the rain did keep some folks away, the center was packed, and the people enjoyed the Clarks and the opening band Bishop Clay," said Bonk, director of student affairs.  "This was the first rock concert in the Athletics Center, and we hope that this is the start of a longstanding tradition during the Fall Festival."

The festival opened at 10 a.m. with the dedication of a new campus landmark, a three-tier water fountain that honors the legacy of Larry Pollock who served the campus for 35 years as chancellor and director of student affairs. More than 70 students, alumni, friends and former faculty and staff attended the ceremony.  Guest speaker Joe Defilippi, a member of the campus Advisory Board, addressed students in the audience and told them that the fountain was for them. He said it symbolizes the journey that students must take to make their dreams come true.  

"On close inspection, the streams at the top level are smooth and tranquil while those at the lower level are rough and turbulent," said Defilippi, retired director of product technology research for U.S. Steel.  "Together they are reminders that the journey through life will be a combination of smooth times and rough times."

The fountain was made possible by the financial support of Defilippi, Raymond Mastre, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the campus.

 The bulk of the community activities started at 11 a.m. with a car cruise, food vendors, craft vendors and the kids' zone. Only the children were sheltered from the weather.

Eleven cars and a motorcycle took part in the car cruise. Owners swapped stories about their prized possessions, and casual observers as well as classic enthusiasts were given first-hand, under-the-hood tours. Many of the vehicles came from the garages of alumni, faculty and staff.  Nick Chevrolet, one of the cruise sponsors, unveiled thee 2012 models: Chevy Volt, Chevy Cruze and Chevy Silverado. Commemorative dash plaques were given to the participants, and People's Choice citations were awarded in six categories:

?Best Truck: Garry Arcurio, 1926 Chevy One Ton
?Best Restored, Bud Gibbons, 1946 Chevy Truck
?Cruise Favorite, Darwin Stivenson, 1982 Yamaha 650 Maxim Motorcycle
?Best Sports Car: Stephen Miharik, 1998 Chevy Corvette
?Best Custom: Ronald Patz, 1947 Chevy Sedan
?Best Original: Kevin Churik, 2010 Ford Mustang GT

The car cruise was sponsored by Gatto Cycle Shop, Glenn Bush Ford, Highland Tire and Nick Chevrolet.

Twelve craft booths and five food vendors set up shop in the upper parking lot. Crafters included purveyors of jewelry, t-shirts, kitchen tools, Steelers gear, bikes, wooden furniture, glass pendants, information on credit union accounts, and Penn State merchandise. The food booths featured peanuts and cotton candy, haluski, hot sausage and funnel cakes, ice cream, and beef brisket and pulled pork sandwiches. While the size of the crowd waxed and waned with the severity of the weather, sales were brisk for Jerry's Custard, Fat Daddy's Roadside BBQ, St. Margaret Mary Roman Catholic Church funnel cakes, Barb and Dave Peanuts, and Polished By Time jewelry.

More than 90 children had their fair share of the fun as the Kids' Zone activities featured an inflatable jungle bounce house, balloon artist, circus train, face painting and crafts. The featured attraction was a special exhibit by Tom Kessenich called "Snakes Alive," an interactive live reptile and amphibian show. The most popular activity was painting mini-pumpkins. Some of the kids even participated in a performance by the Ibeji African Drum Ensemble.

"The Ibeji performance was the special treat of the day," Bonk said. "Parents, toddlers, teens and our students learned a special African dance led by Beatrice Mitchell of the band."

While food connoisseurs patrolled outside, Penn State football fans cheered the Nittany Lions inside. Coach Joe Paterno's squad defeated Indiana on a big screen TV inside the alumni tent on the lawn of the Engineering Building. Sponsored by the Alle-Kiski Society of the Penn State Alumni Association, the tent, dubbed "Alumni Central," brought together alumni and friends to watch some gridiron action, do some Monday-morning quarterbacking, and enjoy the camaraderie as well as the refreshments.

"It was an excellent opportunity for all Penn Staters to reconnect with the campus," said Ashley Traini, co-chair of the alumni event and a 2005 graduate.

Planning for the next fall festival is underway. Chancellor Kevin Snider sees the festival as a conduit to the Alle-Kiski valley. According to Snider, the event is "an opportunity for the campus to re-establish itself as the community’s University." Since Snider assumed the chancellorship, other activities and programs have been geared to the public. The campus has engaged residents by hosting job fairs, community-service organizations, and a regional economic development program that brought together local businesses and government officials to achieve economic growth through public-private partnerships.

"I think the festival has started the ball rolling, and we expect to grow each year," Snider said. "It is the kind of event that will build steam and become a major regional event that helps recruitment, fundraising, and support from the community."

For photos from the festival, visit



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