Area New Year's festivities become family affair

Samantha Eller, 11, left, and her sister, Shelby, 9, play horns at the downtown New Year's celebration on Wednesday.

LARA NEEL/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, January 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 31, 2003 at 11:25 p.m.
A night normally reserved for those over 21 became a family affair for hundreds of Gainesville area residents Wednesday as the city opened its downtown plaza to live music, ice skating and rock climbing.
Sara Verleni and Michelle Daniels, with their children and husbands in tow, lugged canvas folding chairs into the street in front of a monstrous stage set up for the New Year's Eve celebration sponsored by the city of Gainesville's Department of Cultural Affairs. It's an annual event for the two families, save for last year when the celebration was rained out.
"We kind of think we better do this now with the kids because there will be a lot of years when they won't want to be with us," said Verleni, the mother of two boys, Nick, 12, and P.J., 11.
Nick and P.J. joined Daniels' 14-year-old daughter Chelsea for a spin around the skating rink before the bands cranked up at 8 p.m.
Long before the bands started, families milled around the Downtown Community Plaza munching on cotton candy, buying flashing New Year's Eve trinkets and listening to records being blasted from the loudspeakers.
Denise Copeland spent the entire afternoon on a park bench in front of the Alachua County Courthouse watching her 11-year-old son, Jonathan, and his friend, Clemens Wenger, also 11, ice skate at the city's rink.
"We thought we would let them skate until they got tired," said Sherry Wenger, who arrived in the early evening with her other son, Julian, 10.
The moms said the activities allowed them to enjoy a relaxing New Year's Eve, although they experienced a few unpleasantries.
"We've already had a few drunks stumble by," Copeland said.
Nolan Shores, 5, stuffed sticky green cotton candy into his mouth following his first spin on the ice. Then he asked his father's girlfriend if there were fish under the ice like at a lake.
Soleil Yongue, 7, took her turn climbing the rock wall set up in the street between the plaza and the Alachua County Administration Building.
She scaled the easier sections with ease, but began to struggle when the distance between the foot-holds were farther apart than she was tall.
"We came a little early," doting dad Steve Yongue said. "We're going to end up going home and watching (the New Year's Eve festivities) on TV."
Across town, guests shelled out $75 each to benefit Gainesville's professional ballet company, Dance Alive! in an evening-long event highlighting "Lovers Through the Ages" for New Year's.
The masked ball drew some 180 people, many of whom donned creative costumes.
Cox Communications Public Relations Director Rick Mulligan, who emceed the event, draped a black cape over his black tuxedo and a white mask on his face as in the "Phantom of the Opera."
Capt. Brooks Jones, with his wife Dianne Murphey-Jones on his left arm, covered his face with a golden mask. The slick-headed man said he was disguised as Telly Savalas, the star of the 1970s television series "Kojak."
"But I've lost my lollipops," Jones said.
Janine Young Sikes can be reached at 337-0327 or sikesj@

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