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Downtown really shines

Of the hundreds of people who gathered at Historic Fort Steuben Tuesday for Steubenville Lights up the Night, it’s likely Patrick McGlaughlin was the most nervous.

McGlaughlin, a longtime volunteer who has helped with numerous events at the fort during many years, had several jobs to do that evening, the most important of which was making sure the lights on the city’s official Christmas tree and the surrounding area came on when the countdown reached zero.

“If this doesn’t work …” McGlaughlin said shortly before the moment of truth.

Festive is the best way to describe the atmosphere during this year’s event, which didn’t surprise too many who were in attendance, especially because most of last year’s downtown activities had to be canceled because of concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a thrill having everyone here,” Jerry Barilla said during welcoming remarks. “It’s a blessing to have Christmas upon us, a time of peace and kindness. It’s a special time. We should all take advantage of it and enjoy our families and our friends.”

Residents from around the Tri-State Area had the chance to welcome the holiday season, stroll the lighted walkways at the fort, watch performances from the Brenda Casey dancers and shop the wide variety of vendors who are set up in the chalets.

The evening was the first chance to see the light show that’s synchronized to music and displayed on the side of the Jefferson County Courthouse, which sits on the other side of the intersection of Market and Third streets, across from the fort.

Noticeably missing, though, were the residents of the city’s Nutcracker Village that have stood guard in the park for the past several years. While there were a few placed in the area around the tree, most of the 180-or-so nutcrackers that make up the display now are spread along Fourth and Market streets. That makes the nutcrackers part of a walking tour through the downtown area.

The centerpiece of Tuesday’s activities was the 30-foot tree that is perched in the basin that holds the fountain during the warmer months. It’s sponsored this year by the Franciscan University of Steubenville. The school is just one of many major backers who have stepped up to keep the celebration fresh. It’s the sponsors, combined with staff and dedicated volunteers, who help to make the project a success, something not lost on Barilla, who, as always, was doing double duty, serving as the city’s mayor and as president of the fort.

“All of us out there, whether you participate in sports or any activities with other people, we need teamwork,” he explained. “Nothing can be successful unless you have teamwork.”

Those volunteers, Barilla pointed out, in the past included Charlie Bane, the Brilliant resident who portrayed Santa Claus for many years. Barilla said this year’s event was dedicated to the memory of Bane, who died Oct. 29 at the age of 79.

Among those who were taking in the spirit and magic of the holiday season was state Sen. Frank Hoagland. The sights, the smiles on the faces of those who were inside the park and all of the smells at the fort put everything into perspective for Hoagland.

“This is Christmas,” the Republican from Mingo Junction said.

Hoagland, who served as a Navy SEAL for 30 years with his last deployment coming in 2011, said the holidays could seem to be missing something while he was in the service. He said you would spend all day dressed in your uniform and wearing a complete set of body armor, getting a turkey dinner at meal time. That’s what made being able to come home at Christmas so special.

“I remember one year I was in the Middle East and a buddy and I were making our way home,” Hoagland explained. “We landed in one country and I could see Christmas — and it was a big Santa Claus. It was green, but it was Santa Claus. And then we went to another country and we had about a 10-hour layover, and I told my buddy, ‘Hey, I want to go and see Christmas.’ So, we took a fast train into town, and the first thing I got was eggnog, and it was so good, and I said there you go — we’re almost home.

“We finally made it back to the United States, and the weather was pretty nasty when we landed, so we couldn’t get any planes out and I had to get a rental car and drive it all the way back here so I could get Christmas,” Hoagland remembered.

“I got home the day before Christmas and drove up to the Fort Steuben Mall — I was going to buy (my wife) Darla something for Christmas. I got lost in the mall, because I was so infatuated with everything and all of the Christmas decorations that were there. Then I drove to Pittsburgh to drop off my car, and I drove home and went straight to Kroger and I walked around the store just so I could smell all of the food,” he said.

“That’s Christmas — but we don’t respect that anymore. We take it for granted, and it shouldn’t be that way.”

Sights, sounds and smells all combine to make the holidays special, as Monsignor Gerald Calovini, pastor of Holy Family Church, mentioned while blessing the tree.

“May the memories made in this year of celebration be filled with joy and happiness,” Calovini said. “Bless all of those who have worked together to make our celebration today special. Bless our entire community — may there by goodness in faith, sincerity in worship and loving concern for each other.”

As it turned out, McGlaughlin had nothing to worry about. The lights were activated right on cue, and the sky was lit by the annual fireworks display.

“It’s definitely a good night — anytime you can get families together to enjoy something and have fun, that’s what it’s all about,” Barilla said. “These people are enjoying themselves. That’s the most enjoyment I get, from seeing people having fun. That’s what Christmas is all about — family, love, togetherness, just a spirit of who we are, as a community and as a nation.

“I wish we could keep that spirit all through the year,” he said. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.”

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)

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