Between the Lines: Do we have nothing to celebrate?

During a phone conversation with the mother of young children here in Vermillion, an interesting question was raised.

"Whatever happened to all of the activities that used to go on in the DakotaDome on New Year's Eve?" she asked.

It's a good question that deserves an answer.

Those activities were formally known as Celebrate Vermillion. The first event was held on New Year's Eve, Dec. 31, 1998, in the Coyote Student Center on the University of South Dakota campus.

No large lighted ball dropped from the highest building at the stroke of midnight that night to ring in 1999. But everyone who attended that first celebration, it seemed, could sense that something special had just occurred.

By the time the first Celebrate Vermillion ended at 12:30 a.m. on Jan. 1, 1999, hundreds of children and parents had welcomed the arrival of that new year by playing games, listening to stories, dancing and singing.

Planners at that time estimated that between 400 and 500 people attended the celebration.

The first Celebrate Vermillion was the brainchild of John Mueller, who, in 1998, was associate director for operations at the Coyote Student Center.

"I guess my motivation for doing this was to see if we could come up with something, a special experience, that would help in getting families — adults and children — together," Mueller told the Plain Talk at the conclusion of the first Celebrate Vermillion.

A planning committee worked for much of the year to put the final touches on the Dec. 31, 1998 event, designed to be a family-oriented, alcohol-free and tobacco-free celebration.

Shortly after the celebration's designated starting time, a steady stream of parents and children began arriving at the CSC.

They participated in a children's carnival with face painting, balloon animals, a fish pond, board games, bridge playing, bingo, miniature golf, karaoke, music and dancing with Randy Hammer, and a giant Twister game.

It was such a hit that the Vermillion community decided to do it again. And again. And again.

And it grew. And grew. And grew.

By Dec. 31, 1999, the New Year's Eve celebration could no longer be contained in just the Coyote Student Center. Activities were held in both the CSC and the DakotaDome.

Eventually, (and I would have to research my files to pinpoint the year) all of the Celebrate Vermillion activities were moved to the DakotaDome.

This event, designed to help Vermillionites of all ages celebrate while ringing in a new year, certainly seemed to have momentum.

But in late December 2009, a brief story published in the Plain Talk announced there would be no "Celebrate Vermillion" that New Year's Eve. The story noted that "Plans for Celebrate Vermillion include a bit of a face lift with new activities and a new location in December 2010 as well as hopes for growth in participation."

There was, however, no celebration in December 2010. The DakotaDome remained dark last weekend, too.

"We ended up going ice skating in Yankton," the woman on the phone told me, describing how she and her family found some way to celebrate the arrival of the new year. "It's too bad. It was such a huge treat to be able to hang out in the Dome. Just to be in that atmosphere, with all of these positive, fun things happening, meant a lot."

The last "Celebrate Vermillion" was held on Dec. 31, 2008 to ring in the community's sesquicentennial anniversary year, which began Jan. 1, 2009.

And, I know — a lot of things have happened since then. The economy went south. Community volunteers were pushed to the max in 2009 with a variety of events all year long to celebrate the city's special anniversary.

Maybe, after all of that, we just got preoccupied with other things. Or maybe the volunteers that helped make Celebrate Vermillion a success year after year simply burned out.

We do know that an event of such magnitude is not easy to plan. It takes financial resources and a lot of manpower.

We also know that Celebrate Vermillion left a positive impression on everyone who participated in the event year after year.

We hope Vermillion citizens will find the means and desire to resurrect Celebrate Vermillion on Dec. 31, 2012.

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