Fort Steuben honors three for contributions


Herald-Star community editor

STEUBENVILLE – Three area residents were presented awards Wednesday evening for their contributions in making Historic Fort Steuben an educational and entertaining place for visitors to enjoy.

Rick and Deb Witkowski of Weirton and Frank Gutierrez of Chester were singled out for honors during the fort’s membership meeting and dinner held at the Steubenville Country Club.

Jerry Barilla, president of the Old Fort Steuben Project, said Gutierrez is “a major player” in the fort’s annual Ohio Valley Frontier Days, with this year’s installment set for June 8-9.

“He is the fellow who actually gets the Native Americans to come to the fort and present their wares and others who make the fort festival interesting,” Barilla said. “He goes to pow-wows and re-enactments handing out our fort leaflets and whatnot. I have to say that without Frank and his contribution, our fort festivals would not be what they are,” Barilla said in acknowledging Gutierrez.

The Witkowskis are the owners of Studio L , a recording studio in Weirton, who help make the fort’s Berkman Memorial Summer Concerts something that area residents enjoy on Thursday evenings at the Louis Berkman Amphitheater.

Described as “the heartbeat” of the concert series, the couple constitute “the people we rely on” for suggestions, encouragement, contacts and contract agreements in lining up acts.

“They play a major, major role in our success,” Barilla said, noting Deb Witkowski serves as mistress of ceremonies at the concerts.

The 2013 concert series kicks off May 23 with Oldies Night and a classic car cruise-in. There will be performances by One-A-Chord and the Original Fantasy’s. All concerts begin at 6:30 p.m.

In her annual report, Judy Bratten, fort executive director, said, “With the free summer concerts, hundreds of people each week enjoy a variety of music, and we couldn’t have done it without the efforts of Rick and Deb Witkowski.”

A third award – a state award for tourism excellence – was presented by Steubenville Mayor Domenick Mucci to Barilla on behalf of the 28-county East Ohio Development Alliance of which Jefferson County is a part. The alliance deals with economic opportunities and typically honors businesses or corporations for their economic impact, but Mucci said tourism plays an important role as well.

The vision to develop the fort in 1986 transformed a city block into an asset, “a jewel for downtown Steubenville,” Mucci said in presenting the award to the fort in recognition of efforts to improve the economy and quality of life for people of Eastern Ohio by enhancing tourism activities in the region.

Mucci said the fort will host the alliance’s annual meeting, attracting as many as 300 people.

Bratten’s annual report was set to the theme of “Now More Than Ever,” including the need for “positive and uplifting educational and cultural activities” at the fort.

The organization, in the past year, has offered black history, Civil War and Constitution programs; provided tours for schools and church groups; sponsored concerts and events such as a quilt show; local history day and Ohio Valley Frontier Days; provided meeting space; and worked with other organizations on beautification and development projects.

At the visitors center, meanwhile, the fort has assumed the responsibilities of promoting local attractions, maintaining the Murals of Steubenville and enhancing the Dean Martin festival and the Steubenville Christmas Parade.

Bratten reminded audience members that becoming a member of the fort is a simple way to show support of activities. So are legacy contributions.

The guest speaker was Thomas Besch, University of Akron professor, whose talk in the program was listed as “Measuring Ohio.” He said there was no way he could talk about the full aspects of that in the time slot allotted. He instead held up a surveyor’s chain, the unit that measured not only Ohio but the rest of the United States and gave a historical perspective on the evolution of surveying.

“Surveying is more than just measurement. It’s also an interpreting of what was done, how it was done, the intent for what it was done, and that’s the hard part of surveying. The science is measurement,” he said.

For information on Historic Fort Steuben, 120 S. Third St., call (740) 283-1787 or visit the website at