By Josh Stipanovich
and William K. Alcorn
The Friends of Fellows Riverside Gardens celebrated its 25th anniversary Friday night as part of the organization’s annual Summer Garden Party at the gardens.
The event kicked off at 6:30 p.m. with a cocktail hour followed by dinner.
This year’s theme, said Keith Kaiser, Mill Creek MetroParks horticulture director, was “Reflections” to help celebrate the contributions made to the organization over the past 25 years.
“We wanted to pick a theme somewhat not easy to comprehend because we wanted to reflect with the gardens itself,” Kaiser said.
He added that it was a way for those in attendance to reflect upon their connection to the gardens.
More than 300 people attended the event, Kaiser said, as they walked through the gardens and enjoyed this year’s signature cocktail, Celeberry Sparkler, and ate food prepared by Saratoga Catering of Warren and Cater 2U of Youngstown.
Among the attendees was Betty Seifert of Canfield, a member of the Friends of Fellows Riverside Gardens’ first board, who reflected on the changes made in the gardens during the last quarter of a century.
Because she uses a wheelchair, she said she particularly was appreciative of the recently installed brick paths that make it easier for elderly people to enjoy the beauty.
“There were 12 of us on that first board. I was a greenhorn, and I had to find out how to get money,” said Seifert, who was accompanied by her friend Roxanne Morella, also of Canfield.
“We had a master plan, but all this was not even dreamed of,” Seifert said of today’s gardens. “This is one of the highlights of my life.”
A lot of attention was paid to the walkways to make the gardens accessible to everybody, said Janet Yaniglos of Liberty, the Friends’ 10th president.
Fellows Riverside Gardens is a place people can come for serenity, discovery, learning and solitude, said Yaniglos, who has been coming there since she was a kid. “It’s always been a place for me and my family,” she said.
“We’re proud of the park and the gardens,” said Bill and Eva Roesti of Boardman, who have brought out-of-town guests for a tour.
“It’s beautiful. It’s a one-of-a-kind urban park. The gardens and its plants are second to none. We’re considering joining the Friends organization,” Eva Roesti said.
A quartet from Cortland enjoyed the perfect weather and ambience enhanced by roving servers with drinks and snacks and a harpist stationed along one of the paths.
“It’s gorgeous. It reminds you that there is a beautiful place in the Mahoning Valley that you can visit for free,” said Kathy Prodonovich.
“I love the rose garden. I come every couple of weeks, and I take pictures to use as my computer screen saver,” said Mary Kachurik.
David and Phyllis Jenkins, formerly of Youngstown, said they used to bring their kids, who would roll down the hill. “This was my playground when I was a kid,” David said.
“It’s a wonderful gem in the city,” said Alan Setz, who attended the event with his wife, Lucy, a member of the Friends board.
“It has grown from the days it was a rose garden. It’s so much more,” said Lucy, who said even a tree canopy is in the works.
After dinner, guests danced to music by Rudy and the Professionals, a band based in Girard, Kaiser said.
The Friends of Fellows Riverside Gardens is a nonprofit fundraising group that collects money through various events and projects to help grow the gardens, Kaiser said.
“The Friends organization made [the gardens] become the place that it is. We wouldn’t have what we have today,” Kaiser said.
Kaiser said the money the organization raised Friday will go back to the organization to help pay for projects planned for the gardens.
The Friends of Fellows Riverside Gardens was established in January 1988, Kaiser said, because of the economic changes the city was going through after the steel mills closed, and has raised about $8 million. Then, Mill Creek MetroParks was the Youngstown Parks District, he said, and was funded solely through city property taxes. Today it is funded by property taxes throughout Mahoning County.
He said the group was needed to help grow the gardens.
“We’re not done yet, but we’ve done a lot,” Kaiser said.
Last year, the Friends of Fellows Riverside Gardens helped develop the Ohio Woodland Garden, Kaiser said. He added that more than 400,000 visitors come each year to the free public gardens or living museum.