by Jonathan Weaver
Nearly four hours of Christmas cheer descended onto Market Street in Downtown Kittanning Friday during the annual Light-Up event.
Thousands of local, regional and out-of-state people waited for Santa Claus’ arrival during the holiday parade – led by the Kittanning Senior High marching band performing “Jingle Bell Jam” – before scarfing up free gifts, cookies and bargains in heated businesses.
Robyn Lasher of Kittanning was one of the first in line outside NexTier Bank to see Santa Claus with her two children, 11-year-old Colista and nine-year-old Terry, and nieces, seven-year-old Jaylee and five-year-old Bobbi, from East Brady.
Each of the kids called out either wanting an iPhone or iPod for Christmas, with one addition of wanting “a nice warm blanket” because of the below-freezing temperatures Friday evening.
Lasher said the group waiting in line for an hour, even before the parade started.
“(We) want to get it done so we can go and enjoy the rest of the festivities,” Lasher said “We’ve tried to make it a tradition for them to come down and see Santa every year”
Lieutenant Jason Imhoff was preparing to serve hot chocolate, coffee and cookies with children from the Friday night teen group at the Salvation Army emergency trailer as Lasher and the group waited. The teens and more church families were also part of the non-profit’s parade float.
In a word, he expected “a lot” of cold event-goers, or at least as many as during the 2013 event. This is his third holiday season stationed in Kittanning with wife – and fellow lieutenant – Amber.
“Looking forward to a good turn out,” Lieutenant Jason said.
A few blocks further down the street in NexTier Plaza, the Armstrong County Tourist Bureau thermometer noted temperatures in the mid-20’s and counted down until the annual pumpkin pie eating contest-coordinated by Lisa and Darren Stolitza, with support from local business owners.
Nearly two dozen contestants had a minute to eat as much pie as they could, without use of their hands, for a possible $100 prize. Pies did not weigh the same and varied at slightly more than two pounds each.
Fourth-grade West Hills Intermediate Teachers Veronica Szybka and Susan Close weighed the pies in the Armstrong County Tourist Bureau office before checking out the other activities, sales and giveaways. Good friends of the Stolitzas, the teachers agreed last year to weigh and record results.
They said their students may be future pie-eaters – or even judges since the students learn measurement
Lance Black, a lifelong resident of Kittanning, won the contest for the fourth time in five years. He missed the event last year because of working in Blawnox.
“You just got to try to keep eating while trying to breathe in between – it’s tough,” Black said.
Usually Black donates the winnings back to Downtown Kittanning, Inc., but since organizers didn’t allow him to Friday, he was going to put it into food at the event to “wash that pumpkin down.”
“I don’t even like pumpkin,” Black said.
Judges said Black ate about a pound of pie within the time limit.
The contestants included Kittanning Borough Council President Randy Cloak and his 10-year-old daughter, Emma
Randy, however, said the pair did “horrible,” with Emma estimating she ate an ounce-worth of pie.
“It’s all through my hair,” Emma said.
Emma convinced her father to be part of it and both enjoyed the experience.
Ford City Junior High 8th Grader Alaina Brice of Ford City also convinced Butch Cravener involved to enter.
“My face was covered in pie!” Brice said.
Lisa’s father, Jack Norton of Kittanning, competed in his third pie-eating contest and also enjoyed it, despite not being pleased with his result.
“It was still good eatin`,” Norton said. Wife, Mitzi, joked that judges should allow contestants to eat the rest of their pie.
Local families might now Norton since for eight years, he has been throwing out golf balls he and his friends found at Cabin Greens Golf Course in Freeport to children at the Worthington-West Franklin Firemen’s Carnival parade, in the Ford City SummerFest parade and during the Kittanning Halloween parade. He “chickened out” of the Light-Up parade because of the cold.
The contest was even attempted by an out-of-state visitor – who also was not a fan of the festive dessert.
Renee Marquart, a school teacher in Maryland – who is a family friend of the Stolitzas that flew in for the weekend – said her town of Mechanicsville has a tree-lighting celebration each year, but nothing near Light-Up Kittanning Night.
“It was delicious – delicious with a capitol ‘D’! I never even cooked a pumpkin pie, let alone eaten one – but it was wonderful. Very, very fun,”
Marquart also ate pie as a child, but decided at an early age she didn’t like the dessert. The contest made her change her mind going forward.
Kittanning Junior High and Senior High Chorus Director Monica Stango had about 45 seventh-12th grade students on the main stage singing Christmas carols. The group didn’t have much time to prepare because of the Armstrong County Chorus festival earlier in the week, but she was happy with students’ efforts.
“They were excited to do this and I thought they did a nice job,” Stango said. “It was cold, but we did our best with the conditions.
Stango has directed at Kittanning for three years, after transferring after Elderton High closed in 2011.
Market Street’s “Alter Ink” was named the 2014 window decorating contest winner.
Owner Gretchen Snyder of Kittanning – also a Northwood Realty agent – said the laser tattoo removal shop on Market Street of two years said a group of about a half-dozen children helped with the ideas behind their winning window.
“It was a group effort over a couple days,” Snyder said. “We love downtown – being here to promote local business like it used to be (is what it’s all about).”
Friend and Neighbor Matt Heymers lent Snyder the use of his train set and his grandmother’s rocking chair. Snyder also found old toy blocks in the shop walls
The evening ended with a 15-minute fireworks show, set off over the Allegheny River and John P. Murtha Amphitheatre by Glory on High Fireworks.
Those still downtown for the fireworks also heard Christmas songs outside the 700 Shop – being played by Kittanning 9th Grader Tiffany McElroy flutist. She was one of about four musicians who played
“We got to pick all the music we played tonight,” McElroy said. “We needed something traditional Christmas, but I wanted to add something fun Christmas so that’s why I did “Frozen” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks.”
“I always wanted to be in Light-Up Night – since I was really, really little. I hope we do this again next year with the new school – I really loved this.”
Local State Farm Agent Andrew Laddusaw is a member of the Downtown Kittanning, Inc. board of directors, and was already getting ready for next year’s event by selling raffle tickets.
There are now almost four full weeks until the Christmas holiday.
“We do the 50/50’s as a fundraiser just to put money in the pot for next year’s Light-Up,” Laddusaw said. “It costs a lot of money to bring in all the different things we bring in – the dog sleds, sleigh rides, etc. Not all of it’s free. All the local businesses do free stuff, but the rest, we have to pay for.”
“There seems to be more (donors) than last year, so that’s positive. When the year before was cancelled, I think that effected (2013), but it seems we might be back to normal.”