After the April 28 heavy rains dissipated, many regarded a rainbow that appeared over the Huntingdon Valley Country Club as a sure sign.
“It’s a sign that the celebration will go well,” Renee Bates said with a smile. “And, there will be no rain during any of the Willow Grove 300 events.”
Bates, who is the captain of operations at Second Alarmers Rescue Squad, is also a member of a 21-person committee tasked by Upper Moreland Township to organize the Willow Grove Tri-Centennial Celebration.
She, along with members of the steering committee, politicians and local business leaders, gathered at the country club in an evening social event to recognize and thank the many supporters of the tri-centennial celebration.
The celebration, which is also referred to as the “Willow Grove 300,” honors the very first settlers to the Willow Grove area, and features over 50 events taking place through the third week in June.
Bates said this focus on the future is the reason why it was so important to work with a diverse representation of the Willow Grove community.
“I learned a lot, and met an extraordinary number of people from different backgrounds, working together for one cause,” Bates said of her experience with the steering committee.
The planning begins
The planning began with the current president of the Upper Moreland Historical Commission (UMHC), Dick Sayer, who addressed its board about celebrating the 300th anniversary of Willow Grove.
Speaking in an interview with Patch prior to the April 28 event, Sayer spoke about the 250th anniversary of Willow Grove with the UMHC board.
“Since we’re bigger now, and it’s 50 years later, we should do at least a month [of events],” he said.
After receiving support from township commissioners, Sayer, an architect, was appointed the steering committee chairman. He handpicked the majority of the committee’s members, who came together as a group for the first time in February of last year.
Sayer said that he wanted the steering committee to be a community effort, with each member providing his or her own unique perspective of the community.
A true cross-section of the community was represented, as private residents worked next to township officials; local businesses collaborated with nonprofits; and the church community, police and school district were involved.
“It’s been a great experience working with such a high-energy group,” Sayer said. “They tend to go off like shooting stars.”
At the first meetings, Sayer recalled asking committee members to submit event ideas, which resulted in hundreds of fantastic ideas, including a skydiving event.
By June 2010, the events were funneled down to around 50 (minus the skydiving), with a few more events added along the way.
Weeks' and weeks’ worth of events
All the events featured in the Willow Grove 300 revolved around the theme “A Celebration of Our Past … A Giant Step Into Our future.“
According to steering committee member Tom Winterberg, who penned the celebration’s theme, the overall idea behind the Willow Grove 300 is to showcase the existing unity and pride for incoming businesses and families.
“I think the community is going to enjoy it,” Winterberg said, speaking at the April 28 event. “We’ve got something for everyone.”
The events are further divided into themes of interest, including:
- Historic: e.g. Tours and lectures led by the Upper Moreland Historical Association (The next event takes place May 4 at the township building in a lecture titled “From Manor of Moreland to 1887.)
- Civic and Volunteer: e.g. Willow Grove Community Day (May 14 at Upper Moreland Intermediate School) and the Davisville Block Party (May 21)
- Retail and Commercial: e.g. Tri-Centennial Day at the Willow Grove Park Mall (May 19)
- Special Events: e.g. U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps and Silent Drill Team (May 10 at 7 p.m. at the Upper Moreland High School Football Stadium)
Rising to the occasion
Winterberg described his experience with the steering committee as like being in a whirlwind, expressing much gratitude to the participating community members and sponsors.
Last February, Sayer made a promise to the township that any events planned would be held in the township at no cost. It seems that Sayer will make good on that promise, as he has reported over $120,000 in contributions so far, with more expected in the coming weeks.
“Think about that; all the volunteers’ efforts and no tax support to stage [the events],” Tom Petro, president and CEO of Fox Chase Bank, said, “I think that’s a remarkable accomplishment, and it tells you all you need to know about Dick Sayer.”
According to Petro, Fox Chase Bank was the first to sponsor the celebration, offering $15,000 to get started.
Among the guests at the April 28 event, were several Upper Moreland Township commissioners, two of who are on the steering committee, while the others came out to support.
“The people in the community did a fantastic job,” Joseph Lavalle, Ward 4 commissioner, said.
“I’m hoping that we see what a wonderful community we are, and that people reconnect,” Donna Parsell, Ward 3 commissioner, said. “There are so many events, it’s kind of wonderful. I’m very impressed how they put it together.”
Nick Scull, president of the Friends of Boileau Farmstead Board of Directors and steering committee member, also sees the events as a way to publicize the community’s resources, such as the Boileau Farm Festival May 14.
For a complete list of upcoming events, visit www.willowgrove300.com.
Check back soon for more Patch coverage of Willow Grove 300 events.