Locals Make Sunday A Fun Day

Now that was my kind of “Sunday Fun Day.”

But this one was different from what many may imagine.  No beach, no boat, no ballpark, and no pool were there, but instead just the people of the Upper Ohio Valley.

It all began in a downtown alley, one that has been made famous ever since a guy in a nice suit walked a dog to take a leak nearly two years ago. Bennett McKinley noticed something, and to date more than 1,000 individuals have met him there for the unique portrait. McKinley, who is planning a second “gallery show,” wished to fill the lane with as many folks as possible for the final photo, and a plethora of people, including his parents, my son and wife (and our pup, Einstein) were there for the ensuing click.

Nearly 100 local residents attended Bennett McKinley's final "Meet Me in the Alley" photo shoot in downtown Wheeling.
Nearly 100 local residents attended Bennett McKinley’s final “Meet Me in the Alley” photo shoot in downtown Wheeling.

Then it was off to Generations Restaurant and Pub, a locally owned (Michael Duplaga) eatery for my parents’ 63rd wedding anniversary. Both of my parents were born and raised in the Pittsburgh area but moved to Wheeling soon after exchanging their vows.

I asked my mother, “Why did you two decide to stay in Wheeling?”

She replied, “Why would we want to leave?”

Ed and Marilyn Novotney circa 1952.
Ed and Marilyn Novotney circa 1952.

After two cold, rainy, muddy days, the sun finally appeared brightly for the final day of Oglebayfest, a “thank you” event staged by Oglebay Park each October. Park officials started the event in 1978 to celebrate the facility’s 50th anniversary and the food, the fireworks, the children’s parade, the Ohio County Fair, and the Artisan Market supply something for anyone who ventures there.

“The summer was traditionally our busiest season of the year because of the swimming pool, the tennis courts, and the golf courses,” explained Randy Worls, the park’s former general manager who now works with the Oglebay Foundation. “When we started ‘Oglebayfest’ I think the people of the Valley realized that the park didn’t close after the temperatures turned cooler. Of course, a few years later (in 1985) we started the ‘Festival of Lights,’ and now the fall and winter months have become the busy time of year.

Wheeling attorney - and performer - Bob Gaudio.
Wheeling attorney – and performer – Bob Gaudio.

“I remember the discussion about how to celebrate the park’s anniversary, and it just made sense to thank the people in the Valley with this festival because without them there would be no park,” he continued. “It’s become a tradition the past 37 years, and it’s hard to believe that we’ll be celebrating ‘Oglebayfest’s’ 40th anniversary in just a few years.”

Vendors and local entertainers from along the East Coast converged on Oglebay during the three-day festival, including several from the Wheeling area. Wheeling attorney Bob Gaudio was the featured performer when we arrived at the Artisan Market, and Thomas Gilson had a very long line of people awaiting one of his melted masterpieces from his “Cheese Melt” trailer.

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Thomas Gilson worked his "Cheese Melt" trailer near the Artisan Market during this year's "Oglebayfest."
Thomas Gilson worked his “Cheese Melt” trailer near the Artisan Market during this year’s “Oglebayfest.”

Local artist Bob Villamagna and his wife, Chris, operated a booth where visitors could purchase one of the many pieces of art Bob has produced.

Amber Skvarka, an East Ohio resident, has become a fixture at arts and crafts shows in the Upper Ohio Valley the past few years, and she too was there representing her, “Name Frames” business. The concept is unique in the Valley region, and she offers customized pieces, as well.

Bob and Chris Villamagna
Bob and Chris Villamagna
Amber Skvarka
Amber Skvarka

How Andrew and Patricia Croft ended up in the Friendly City, and why they have chosen to remain as permanent residents is a tale I’ve told before, but their success as local artists is a story all in itself. Patricia uses her paint brushes to create everything from stunning paintings to in-elevator murals, and Andrew performs his magic with his digital camera equipment.

Tammy Clark, owner of TLC Crafts, was a vendor, too, and the Sherrard-area resident placed on display her Halloween- and harvest-themed pieces.

Andrew and Patricia Croft (and Eli, too)
Andrew and Patricia Croft (and Eli, too)
Tammy Clark
Tammy Clark

And then it was off to the Hess Shelter, an area near Schenk Lake that annually offers attractions for the young and the old. From crafted candies and authentic German foods and brews to the live music and German dancing exhibitions, the Ratskeller has always been a very popular place to visit during Oglebayfest.

It wasn’t until later while I was editing the photos I had taken that I realized something about this fun day. It was made possible by local people doing something whether I was in that alley, with my parents, or surrounded by the Oglebayfest crowd and the park’s employees, and it proved to me that gumption has been present in Wheeling throughout my life. Although many people have been working diligently for decades to improve their quality of life, it seems to me only now the people in today’s Wheeling are beginning to appreciate those efforts instead of simply complaining that there’s never anything to do.

Hundreds of people enjoyed the live music at the "Ratskeller" area during the 37th annual "Oglebayfest."
Hundreds of people enjoyed the live music at the “Ratskeller” area during the 37th annual Oglebayfest.

Thanks Bennett.

Thanks Mom and Dad.

Thanks Mike Duplaga.

Thanks Bob, Thomas, Bob, Chris, Amber, Andrew, Patricia, and Tammy.

Thanks Randy Worls, Doug Dalby, John Hargleroad, and the hundreds of Oglebay Park employees.

There’s plenty to do because of people like you and many, many others, and that’s because we are doing something about it.

(Photos by Steve Novotney)