By PETER H. MILLIKEN
and VERONICA GORLEY
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITERS
YOUNGSTOWN -- As a troubled year came to an end, thousands flocked to nonalcoholic, family-oriented arts-based New Year's Eve celebrations.
"All of us come here tonight with bittersweet thoughts of the year 2001, especially in light of the fact that we are all so blessed to be here and so many are not blessed in that way," Mayor George McKelvey said during opening ceremonies at Phar-Mor Centre downtown, alluding to the year's national tragedies and calling for a moment of silence for the victims.
After that ceremony, Youngstown's second annual First Night featured entertainment in numerous buildings in the downtown and Wick Avenue areas.
"We basically just wanted to spend the evening together with our children and come down and enjoy Youngstown," said Patty Reardon of Poland, who attended the Youngstown event with her husband, John, the Mahoning County treasurer, and daughters, Sarah, 11, and Charlotte, 8.
Sarah's pencil drawing of a downtown Youngstown streetscape, the winning entry in a local contest, was on display in a downtown art gallery during the event. She said she wanted to see the laser show at the Youngstown State University Planetarium and hear music in the county courthouse, where folk, rock and blues were being featured.
"We feel it's extremely important that people come to downtown Youngstown to realize that it's a safe environment, that people can come down here and enjoy one another's company," said Atty. Robert Limmer of Poland, who has attended every downtown Youngstown New Year's Eve celebration for the past 10 years with his wife, Maryann, a ceramic artist.
A focal point was Powers Auditorium, where jazz and big-band entertainment and dancing was offered in the lobby, followed by an auditorium performance by The Great Pretenders, featuring 1950s and '60s music.
Ball drop: The event was organized so the entire crowd could leave Powers Auditorium moments before the midnight ball drop across the street at Home Savings & amp; Loan Co., followed by fireworks launched from the B & amp;O Station.
Choffin Career Center featured a Battle of the Bands all evening, and other locations offered a wide variety of music, dance and magic performances, artistic activities and displays and poetry readings.
Those willing to brave temperatures in the teens could embark on horse-drawn carriage rides at the Federal Plaza Christmas tree.
Security was provided by mounted Mahoning County deputy sheriffs, and the Western Reserve Transit Authority trolley shuttled participants between sites.
Wood-burning barrels were placed in Federal Plaza to help participants stay warm.
Canfield: In Canfield, the fourth annual First Night observance featured the Rick Blackson and Mary Jo Maluso music duo in two cabaret dinner shows at United Methodist Church Hall. Another highlight there was two "Rock-'n R'oldies" shows by Phil Dirt and the Dozers in Canfield High School auditorium.
Canfield's event also included performances by clowns, magicians, Irish step dancers, cloggers and a harpist. Food was offered for sale at each location and free school bus transportation was provided between event sites.
This was Rachel Simclair's first time at Canfield First Night.
"I came to see the clowns," the energetic 4-year-old said.
Her father Bill, 37, said he brought his family to First Night because he heard good things about last year's celebration from his neighbors.
"It's for the family, and that's important," the Canfield resident said. "The kids can't stay up to midnight, so it's nice they have a celebration at nine for them."
Canfield residents Carole and Rick Gray also attended First Night for the first time.
"We always go out, but this time we decided to stay close to home," said Carole, 52.
"We wanted to share it with our friends," added Rick, 52.
Sitting at a table with four other couples, the Grays enjoyed the dinner cabaret show.
"We heard so many good things about it last year," Carole said. "We decided to support the Canfield community and First Night. We sent our reservations in early so we could all be together."
Canfield's mayor, Lee Frey, expected 2,500 and 3,000 attendees.
"It's a perfect night," he said. "The weather is cooperating. It's cold, but the roads are clear."
Warren: Warren's Opening Night event was billed as Ohio's longest-running nonalcoholic New Year's Eve celebration of the arts, dating to the 1980s.
It featured almost 100 musical and other performances in buildings within a four-block area around Courthouse Square.
Acts included puppet, mime and magic shows, juggling, ballet, clog and tap dancing, and storytelling, followed by a midnight ball drop from the Bank One building on Courthouse Square and fireworks choreographed to music.