McDermott FS Feb2018

As the sun rose in Homewood on Friday, the WGN Block Party Extravaganza was already gearing up. Young musicians in the Melody Mart Band were tuning up. The streets were lined with offerings from local businesses and organizations. 

And the WGN staff had the cameras ready to roll at 6 a.m. to open the four-hour WGN Morning News show from its remote location in downtown Homewood.

The event was the third in the Chicago television station’s annual series of events designed to give staff a chance to get to know viewers, according to Aline Cox, morning news executive producer. The first block  party was held in Geneva. The second was in Park Ridge. 

As soon as Homewood public relations consultant Mary Jane Maharry heard about the first block party, she reached out to a contact with WGN and suggested Homewood as a site. She apparently wasn’t alone, and the seed she planted became a reality.

“We received several messages about why we should do the next Block Party in Homewood,” Cox said. “After hearing from our viewers, we agreed. We look for towns that are interested in showcasing a variety of businesses, events and activities.”

Homewood certainly was interested in being on TV.

Many downtown businesses opened early to greet the crowds of residents and visitors. 

Julie Lawton, president of the Homewood Business Association and co-owner of UpsaDaisy Boutique on Martin Avenue, said there were people waiting at the door before 6 a.m., the official start time of the festivities.

Attendance estimates varied from 2,000 to as many as 5,000 people. The intersection of Martin Avenue and Ridge Road was packed with people for most of the morning. People strolled along Ridge and Martin to enjoy food, music and activities for kids.

Kids flocked to inflatable play areas and a climbing structure provided by Climb On of Homewood. They were all smiles at the face painting area and mesmerized by the balloon animal creators. 

Live music performances kicked off with the Melody Mart rock band, followed by the Lowdown Brass Band and  KT Tunstall. Better than Ezra’s music concluded the party.

The Ridge/Martin intersection was filled with performances and live interviews for the TV audience, including an exercise session by Intense Conditioning of Homewood and an interview with members of the Homewood-Flossmoor High School cast of the summer show, “Big, the Musical,” being performed at H-F on Thursday and Friday, July 19 and 20.

There was also a fasion show featuring clothing and jewelry from Homewood boutiques and jewelry stores. The show was announced by Homewood Events Coordinator Allisa Opyd.

A number of Homewood businesses popped up during the broadcast, including taped segments at Aurelio’s Pizza with WGN reporter Ben Bradley reminding the TV audience  all the other Aurelio’s restaurants in the Chicago area are there because of the success of the original restaurant in Homewood.

Bradley and WSCR-AM 670 radio personality Laurence Holmes, both Homewood natives, also did a segment with Homewood Bat Company and included shots of Cubs and White Sox players using the bats. Homewood Bat founder Todd Pals said he was grateful for the chance to tell his story to a wider metro area audience. 

Several people stopped to talk with local comic book artist Marc Alan Fishman at his booth in front of Civilitea Gardens tea shop. They recognized Fishman’s work in the comic strip drawings featured in the recent “Think Homewood” marketing campaign. His work helped Homewood gain national media attention.

Local artists were featured in Homewood-themed paintings installed in windows of the Triumph Building, recently purchased by the village for redevelopment. The windows have been decorated in the past, but this time the art is on panels inside the building, so they will remain to enrich the downtown atmosphere until the building is sold, according to Homewood Marketing Director Jennifer Quirke.

The paintings were created by seven artists associated with Bottle & Bottega, a painting party establishment on Ridge Road in Homewood, according to co-owner Greg Loudon. 

Anthony Pratscher, retired long-time Homewood postal carrier, was enthusiastic about the event and the attention it was bringing to the village.

“It’s a fabulous thing,” he said. “Homewood is finally getting the exposure it deserves.”

“Huge thanks to WGN,” said Quirke, who called the event “a resounding success.”

She added thanks to Homewood Public Works, Fire and Police Department staffs who prepared for and worked the event. “I can’t thank them enough.”

Cox said planning for the event began in mid-May. She credited Tom Barnas, a segment/web producer, for taking the lead to organize the block party. Lauren Miholic, the 6 a.m. segment producer, planned the parade.

“They did this with tremendous support from the village,” Cox said. “In total, we had 50 staffers here today. Our staff is amazing. Most of us are from the Chicago-area, and we are passionate about making communities look their best.”

Reporters and anchors at the event included Larry Potash, Robin Baumgarten, Paul Konrad, Pat Tomasulo, Dean Richards, Ana Belaval, Marcus Leshock, Sarah Jindra and Mike Toomey, according to the station’s website.

Judging by the number of selfies broadcasters posed for, people were glad to have a chance to meet them. Baumgarten and Potash stayed after the party to pose for more photos with fans, and Baumgarten continued as the stage was being disassembled around her, leaving when there was not much stage left to stand on.

“It was a great party,” Baumgarten said. “Homewood’s beautiful. The people were lovely. It couldn’t have been better.”

Laura Dillman of Homewood appreciated the time the broadcasters spent showcasing the village and interacting with people at the party.

“This was icing on the cake for Homewood,” she said. “It shows (broadcasters) are down home people, that they care about what they do. They gave up their day and came here. It made my heart feel so good.”

Ross McAbee, 7 a.m. segment producer, working to get the parade entries lined up, agreed.

“I love your beautiful downtown,” he said. 

Cox said the station was very pleased with the party.

“The Homewood Police thanked us for coming. We thank them for their tremendous help and support,” she said.

The parade had 30 entries, 28 of which were local groups and two had local connections. They included:

  • Homewood-Flossmoor High School choir singing the national anthem.
  • Grand marshal Jason Benetti, a Chicago White Sox play-by-play announcer and Homewood native.
  • H-F High School drum line.
  • Theatre Arts Leadership Kouncil.
  • Local Girl Scouts.
  • Local Boy Scouts.
  • Homewood Public Library.
  • H-F cheerleaders.
  • H-F Viking mascot.
  • Zone Comics.
  • Dairy Queen.
  • Homewood Baseball and Softball players.
  • Good Speed Cycle riders.
  • American Dance Center.
  • H-F Chronicle.
  • HF Soccer Club players.
  • H-F football team.
  • Intense Conditioning.
  • St. Joseph Catholic Church.
  • H-F Junior Hockey players on rollerblades.
  • Karate Kids.
  • Cancer Support Center Chairs with a Purpose.
  • 23 Miles South Theater Group.
  • School of Rock musicians.
  • Foundation 153/Homewood School District 153.
  • Homewood Science Center.
  • League of Women Voters.
  • Chevy convertible with Ben Bradley and  Laurence Holmes.
  • H-F Theater staff of of “Big, the Musical.”
  • Historian Jim Wright with his vintage fire chief’s car.
  • CN Railway’s Lil’ Obie trackless train.

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