Adults, children celebrate at ‘Noon Year’s Eve’

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Photo by Anthony Caciopo

Peter Carroll, a former Palos Heights resident whose grandmother still lives in town, dances with his daughter, Brooke, 3. Carroll’s other daughters, Julie and Alexis, were also present for Noon Year’s Day at the Recreation Center.

The new year arrived 12 hours early at the Palos Heights Recreation Center Sunday—at least ceremonially—as hundreds of adults and children jammed the gym floor to dance, play games, socialize and get rained on by 2,000 balloons at the stroke of high noon.

Except only half the total number of balloons was in a party mood, at least at first.

The second batch of balloons, released several minutes later due to an equipment malfunction, floated down on the crowd that had been gazing toward the ceiling with perhaps even more anticipation than they had for the first release.

“We can’t practice this,” said a smiling Recreation Manager Lauren Marino as she talked about the sometimes-tricky nature of the netting that held the huge number of balloons aloft.

But with DJ music pumping, a confetti machine blasting and children running to-and-fro, it hardly seemed to matter that the releases were staggered. There was just too much fun to be had at “Noon Year’s Eve.”

“This is our first time here and it’s very nice to see how people come together,” said Palos Heights resident Gonzalo Morales who attended the event with his wife, Joanna and their children, Nathan, 8 and Zachary, 2. “It’s something special for the kids.”

Mike Leonard, director of Parks & Recreation, paused to talk with a visitor and take in all the activity, a scene he has witnessed before but with not as large a turnout.

“I’d say we easily have 600 (attendees),” he said. “This has exploded in popularity with the community. I see families from our pre-school, families that I see at our Fourth of July (celebration).”

Leonard was quick to give credit to his team for planning and executing the event—and for preparing all those balloons that had to be inflated with nan air compressor.

“The staff did it all in one day,” he said.

“It’s been two years in this gym,” said Marino, the program director, “and he gave me the idea,” referring to Leonard. The event is in its fifth year and was originally held in the Orchard Room before the new Rec Center was constructed, which provided a larger open space in the building.

“I said ‘let’s do a New Year’s event for the kids’ and Lauren took it to the next level,” he said.

Delaney Harty, the department’s new recreation supervisor, was the leader of Noon Year’s Eve and described the activities that were available.

“We have a hallway full of craft-making,” she said, “with food in the Orchard Room and a ‘selfie station.’”

In the gym was an inflatable enclosure for jumping and a popular “gaga balls” game, in addition to the DJ and other games.

“We run it like an open house,” Harty said. “People can stroll through, take their time, do want they want to do first or just come for the balloon-drop.”

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Balloons begin to drop on revelers at the Palos Heights Rec Center as part of Noon Year’s Eve, a celebration of the new year exactly 12 hours in advance of the actual date change.

Palos Heights residents Tonya Gierut and her family stopped amid the bustle to answer a question about New Year’s resolutions.

“So much pressure!” she said of the request, holding her five-month-old daughter, Briana. After brief consideration, she said her pledge for 2018 is “To be happier and healthier.”

Her husband, Matthew, who was taking care of their son, Connor, 3, a few feet away, said his resolution is “To have more fun. It could be anything, something different, anything new, even stuff I already like to do.”

He counted among his favorite activities snowboarding, concerts, sports, movies and “fun with the kids.”

Dan McCarthy, attended Noon Year’s Eve with his wife, Nicole and their children William, 2; Danny, 4; Lia, 9 and Brittany, 12.

As he bundled the kids for the cold weather, he looked ahead to 2018 and said he intends to work out and exercise more.

His wish for the community for the new year reflected a major, home-grown news story that took place in 2017.

“I’d like to see another Palos resident win the lottery,” he said, referring to the $393 million dollar winner, a local woman who played the Mega Millions game and scored the largest payout in Illinois Lottery history.

McCarthy happened to be out of town when the big lottery prize news erupted last August.

“A friend of mine who plays the lottery, who actually one half a million dollars at one point, said ‘I hope you won the lottery’ but told him it wasn’t me.”

His wish for a dream lottery-win scenario, for himself or someone else, would be to spend some of the money in Palos Heights and invest in the community, and he has a plan for such a big windfall.

“I’d take the money and purchase the vacant building that was formerly the Dominick’s (at 127th Street and Ridgeland Avenue) and donate it to the City of Palos Heights,” he said. McCarthy said he envisions it becoming an addition to the Park & Recreation Department, an expansion facility that could house an indoor hockey rink, and indoor soccer field and more, similar to some other communities including Darien.

With that lofty goal in mind, McCarthy smiled and headed out the Rec Center door into the sunny New Year’s Eve afternoon.

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