February 19, 2007

Families flock to Groton Winter Fest

Fifth annual festival draws hundreds to elementary school

Winter Fest

Photos by Bob Ellis/staff photographer      
Hunter VanAlstine, 6, of Groton, checks the softness of his marshmallow peeps as his sister Hailey, 2, eats hers. The brother and sister were roasting their marshmallows over hot coals in a shovel at the Winter Fest Saturday.

Staff Reporter

GROTON — Michelle Rankin and her family were first-time participants Saturday at the fifth annual Groton Winter Fest.
“We just wanted to keep cabin fever to a minimum,” Rankin said. “It is very family friendly.”
Rankin and her two daughters, Paige, 11, and Jordan, 6, each had their faces painted. The lone holdout was Dale, Rankin’s husband.
Rankin had a series of music notes painted on her left cheek and Jordan had the sun painted on both cheeks.
“I like the sun,” Jordan said.
The family was among hundreds who came to the festival held in and around the Groton Elementary School.
Including face painting, patrons were treated to a magician; massages from Essential Unwinding; a visit from the Tompkins County SPCA, which brought along four cats; a bonfire; and sledding at the back of the school.
Viola Fitzgerald, recreation coordinator for the village and town of Groton, said the event is a hit.
“It’s a fun day for the family to come out and enjoy themselves,” Fitzgerald said. “I think it’s pretty well received by parents and kids.”
Last year, Fitzgerald said 350 people attended the festival in “frigid” temperatures. This year she was expecting more because of warmer temperatures.
Approximately 16 Groton high school and middle school students volunteered for the event, Fitzgerald said.
Eva Mizer, 17, Sandra Quintas, 15, and Sarah Jacobs, 16, manned the face-painting table.
“We really enjoy doing this,” Mizer said. “I like to see the smiling children, they seem to have a lot of fun.”
The face painters had all volunteered at past festivals.
Colleen Dittman and her daughters Grace, 7, and Morgan, 4, have made the festival a tradition.
“We’ve been coming since Grace started school,” Dittman said, which is approximately three years ago.
Both Grace and Morgan had butterflies painted on their cheeks. Morgan got a yellow butterfly because it is her favorite color.
Grace said her favorite aspect of the day was the Home Depot kits. Employees of the home improvement store brought craft kits and helped the children put them together. Dittman said in previous years Home Depot brought kits to make birdhouses and toy trains.
“I like doing the Home Depot kits because you get to build new things,” Grace said. “Last year I built a truck and I use it to drive around little people.”
“We are just having fun,” said Dale Rankin. “I am just spending time with the kids and wife.”



Weekly war protest honors longtime local activist

Staff Reporter

Bill Griffen’s family and friends lined up Saturday in front of the Cortland Post Office bearing placards protesting the Iraq war and memories of a lifetime of activism and protest.
“We are here to honor Bill Griffen,” said Rae Kramer of the Syracuse Peace Council. “In my mind, I see him smiling, seeking out young people.”
Local anti-war activists have been holding weekly protests in front of the Cortland Post Office and decided to dedicate Saturday’s to the memory of Griffen.
Ed Kinane had known the SUNY Cortland professor since the 1970s, when the country was in political upheaval.
“Bill and I were arrested at Roland Airbase together in the ’70s,” Kinane said, recalling the peace vigils and protests they had marched in over the years.
“He opposed oppression, struggled for justice and promoted nonviolence,” Kinane said. “He believed in being a citizen.”
Griffen died Friday after an 11-year battle with prostate cancer.
Aside from being a father, husband, teacher and friend, Griffen was also a baseball fan and a jazz drummer. He made bids to the U.S. Congress in 1968 and 1990. He was arrested more than 40 times for acts of civil disobedience
“It’s just so important that everyone continues the fight for peace,” his daughter, Amy Griffen, said. “His whole life he was trying to make the world a better place.”
Although Aram deKoven, Griffen’s colleague of three and a half years had only known him for a short time, Griffen made a lasting impression. Griffen graduated from SUNY Cortland and taught at the school for 51 years.
“He was the first one to make me feel welcomed in the department,” said deKoven an assistant visiting professor in the Foundations and Social Advocacy Department, which Griffen helped establish.
Griffen taught thousands of SUNY Cortland students to question government and authority, deKoven said.
“He built brilliant and safe relationships with his students,” he said. “He attempted to transcend the classroom. He taught them to don placards, write letters, express their displeasure and pleasure.”
Two former students of Griffen, Jo Locasio and Betty Ann Biermann, attended Saturday’s protest. They donned signs to honor their friend, neighbor and teacher.
Griffen’s wife of 41 years, Judy, said her husband was an activist to the end.
She said he advocated against a proposed Flying J travel plaza in Preble and a proposed nuclear waste dump in Taylor.
“Towards the end of his life his main concern was the environment,” Judy Griffen said.
A memorial service will be held to honor Griffen in the coming weeks. A date and a venue for the service have yet to be determined, Judy Griffen said.
“I have his spirit with me all the time,” Griffen’s wife said. “I don’t need a stone or a plaque.”