This week, Patch had the opportunity to sit down with three members of the Willow Grove 300 Steering Committee to talk about how the celebration went.
The steering committee members featured in this article are:
- Dick Sayer, chairman of the steering committee
- Richard Booth, assistant treasurer
- John Connell, treasurer
These steering committee members were holding one of the final Willow Grove 300 meetings inside a small room, located on the second floor of the township building.
A little over a year ago, that room was filled with 21 Upper Moreland community members and their hopes and ideas on how the celebration would turn out, which they wrote down on sticky notes, plastering the walls of this room, like a mosaic of neon paper.
Sayer added that nearing the first of the events, meetings became bi-weekly.
“I think everyone in the committee has a sense of satisfaction,” Sayer said, calling each one of the steering committee members a “community leader,” for their participation in the organizing of the 50-plus events.
The Willow Grove 300 celebration took place from the end of April and wrapped up with the June Fete Village Fair on June 12.
How the 300 Celebration Went
Although there has yet to be a formal survey on how participants of the events received the celebration as a whole, all three of the steering committee members interviewed for this story agreed that the events’ large attendances speak for itself.
“I sat on a bench for a while, and watched people,” Sayer said, during the Davisville Block Party event, which took place May 21. “We had 3,500 people talking to each other, some for the very first time.”
According to Sayer, the Davisville Block Party was the best-attended event with an estimated 3,500 participants. At this event, participants were able to walk in the middle of a normally busy street, and greet several local businesses and organizations, as well as each other.
Booth said that businesses and organizations at the events, like the ones at the Block Party, were helpful in building community relations, as public services such as the Pennypack Ecological Restoration Trust and the Upper Moreland Free Library became better known.
“I think they had the opportunity to shine,” Booth said.
Booth added that the events were successful in bringing people together.
“Upper Moreland has a little more township pride,” he said.
“Everyone did just a great job,” Connell said of the committee, and added how his neighbors would constantly tell him how excited they were about attending the events.
Most of the events were either filled to capacity, such as with the 600-plus audience members for the Abington Choral Club and Old York Road Symphony Orchestra, which took place May 21 at the Upper Moreland High School Auditorium.
For Connell, the events that featured music, especially the ones that featured the Upper Moreland High School Jazz band, were a point of pride, as Willow Grove was once known as the "Music Captial of America.”
“Our music program is one of the best in the country,” Connell said, acknowledging the lasting legacy of John Philip Sousa.
The UMHS Jazz band performed as the opening act at another well-attended event. Over 2,600 people, from near and far, came to see the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps, Silent Drill Team and official Marine Color Guard perform at the UMHS stadium on May 10.
Connell pointed out that this was a very special event for Willow Grove, as the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps perform for dignitaries all over the world.
“Just the week before, they were playing for President Obama,” he said.
Sayer added that it was the first time in over 30 years that the Marine unit had performed in the area.
“It filled me with emotion and gave me a sense of pride and patriotism,” Booth said.
Within the steering committee, several subcommittees were established, based on the themes of the celebration.
One such theme based events off of their historical and educational nature, which Booth chaired.
As the idea for the Willow Grove 300 Celebration traces its origins to the Upper Moreland Historical Commission, which Sayer is its current president, many of the events focused on educating people on the history of Willow Grove.
“I think people came away to appreciate and take an interest in their heritage,” Sayer said.
Of the 17 historical and educational events, five of the events were lectures hosted by the Upper Moreland Historical Association. According to Booth, these lectures have been recorded to a DVD and will be distributed to the library and the Upper Moreland School District, as well as made for purchase in the coming weeks.
It Takes a Village to Raise a Tri-centennial Celebration
In making the celebration possible, the committee has many people to thank from individual volunteers to the support from state polaticians.
According to Sayer, over $130,000 were raised from big corporate sponsors, starting with Fox Chase Bank’s donation of $15,000 to the $25,000 donation from Goodman properties. He said that approximately $10,000 was raised through individual or smaller donations from local businesses.
As reported by Patch, Sayer made a promise to the Township, stating that all the events would be held at no cost to the township. In other words, Upper Moreland residents wouldn’t have to pay for it.
With donations and support pouring in, the committee utilized a nonprofit entity called the Upper Moreland Foundation. Funds raised were placed within this foundation and used to pay for the events, including the costly insurance for each of the events, which the township first flitted, but the foundation immediately reimbursed.
Sayer also told the township, should there be anything left over in the foundation, the money would be donated to a local charity.
According to Connell, $135,000 were made in revenue from all the events (Willow Grove 300 mementos and small gifts and concessions were sold), and approximately $130,000 totaled the expenses.
“So, we’re $5,000 in the good,” Sayer said.
What's in Store for the Next 300 Years?
With the success and popularity of the events, the three steering committee members would like to see a few of them repeated as a lasting legacy from the Willwo Grove 300 celebration.
“I think the block party format is worth repeating,” Sayer said, suggesting that the outside event be rotated to four or five different areas of the Willow Grove Community.
“And, let the different parts of the community host it.”
One of the last efforts of the committee will oversee the creation of a plaque commemorating the fact that Willow Grove had a tercentennial celebration.
According to Sayer, the plaque may contain all of the steering committee members’ names.
“We’ll never be disbanded,” Sayer said. “We just won’t have anymore meetings.”
From the Upper Moreland - Willow Grove Patch perspective on the 300 celebration, it was a joy to cover.
Getting to better know our Patch readers through these special events, gave myself and our reporters the opportunity to witness how important the celebration was to the residents of Upper Moreland and surrounding communities.
With every event we covered, it was apparent the joy felt as neighbors took the time to collectively honor their heritage and come closer together toward building a stronger community in the hopes that their descendants will also want to celebrate what they did 300 more years down the road.
In case you missed any of our Patch coverage of the Willow Grove 300, here's a complete list in chronological order on the date the event took place:
For more information about the Willow Grove 300 celebration, visit www.willowgrove300.org.
Editor's note: The Willow Grove 300 Committee did not set up the Upper Moreland Township Foundation, as suggested in the previous edition of this article.