Fun, family and flags in Martins Ferry

Elroy the Elk meets Spencer Lang of Martins Ferry on Saturday during Community Day in the Park. The mascot for the Ohio River Valley Elks gave children in attendance the message to stay drug-free. Joette Bullock, wife of an Elks member, introduces them.

MARTINS FERRY — Local residents enjoyed a day of family fun and patriotism Saturday during the sixth annual Community Day in the Park.

The sky early in the day threatened to sprinkle some rain on the celebrants, but by the time noon came around the sky was clear and people began to show up and enjoy the attractions, including sketches by Vince Ornato of Pittsburgh and horse and pony rides courtesy of Julie Larish, who owns a farm in Jacobsburg. Attendees also swam for free at the City Park pool.

Ohio River Valley Elks sponsored the sixth annual event, which was available to the public for free.

“We’re just getting started and it’s going great,” Elks Worshipful Master Frank Papini of St. Clairsville said as he helped pass out free hot dogs and drinks to the children. “We’re getting a lot of participation. It seems to me they’re coming out as the weather breaks, so we’re having a good time. We were a little bit slow when we first started, but it’s picking up now and we’re going to have a great, successful day today.”

Papini said another draw to the event was the 3:30 p.m. concert by the Brothers in Song. Papini is a member of the group and always looks forward to performing. He said the concert had a patriotic theme, and it was no accident that the Community Day was scheduled directly after Flag Day on Friday.

“We plan this event as a patriotic event to coincide with Flag Day,” he said, adding that the main feature of the event is the Elks’ Flag Day ceremony. He noted the holiday holds special significance to the Elks.

“The Elks started the Flag Day,” Papini said. “What our ceremony involves, we explain the definition of the flag. We have all the various flags from the start, from colonial when we were England’s, all the way up to the present-day flags.”

According to information provided by the Elks, the group had been requesting a Flag Day event since the early 1900s. President Harry S Truman, himself a member of the Elks, proclaimed the day in 1949.

Papini said there would be six flags at the ceremony.

“I’ll give a little speech about what each one, what it represented and when it was brought in. They’ll parade in front of the grandstands,” he said.

“Every lodge is asked to do a Flag Day ceremony,” Mary Carolyn Nichelson, who serves as chairwoman of the Community Day event, said.

She said the group receives participation and community grants from the Elks National Foundation for the Community Day.

“Everything’s free for the kids. They play games, get tickets and win prizes. The idea is to provide a safe, drug-free environment for kids, and they also get to swim,” Nichelson said. “We have lots of Elks volunteers. They’ve been hard at work last night and today, loading trucks and bringing stuff down. It’s as fun for us as the kids.”

She added that any leftover money will be put toward a book fair for after-school programs for kindergarteners through fourth-graders at Bellaire Elementary School this fall.

“We let the teachers pick the books that are ordered through Scholastic. We let every child pick one or two books, have a really nice time and encourage literacy,” she said. “Some of the kids don’t have books, and some can’t get to the library.”

“They have 600 hot dogs, and they’ll be gone” by the end of the day, Jim Nichelson, a past national president of the Elks and staff member at the community day, said. “That’s how we know how big our crowd is.”

“It’s awesome. The Elks came together and put this on for everybody in the community,” Elks member and Martins Ferry Mayor Robert Krajnyak said, adding that the community anticipated the event. “It’s a good time for everybody.”

“It’s really nice to get all the kids out here to do stuff,” Lacey Parr of Martins Ferry said, adding that her young daughter, Kaydence, was having fun. “She got to ride the pony. She loved it.”