Friday, February 27, 2015

Events for the Week

March comes in this week, hopefully like a lamb. Not too many new events this week. To see the ongoing ones at the Zoo and library, click on the calendar links in the right column. A little word of warning, if you use the Municipal Calendar, nearly all of the events listed on it say "Fee: free". This isn't true in most cases. I don't know if that's the default or what, but make sure you check any online links or call the contact number to double-check.

Saturday from 10-11:30 am at the Elmwood Park Bandshell, Little League registration. Ages 4-12. For further info call 610-270-0467. Or register online at this link.

Saturday from 11 am-12:30 pm at Norristown Public Library, Spring Garden Workshop: Hands-on Food Landscaping Series, presented by Feed the Burbs. This first workshop is "Introduction to Permaculture & Seed Starting." They'll cover the basics of permaculture design, then hand out seeds to get you started with great tasting veggies. $5 per workshop, $15 for all 4 in the series. Call 610-278-5100 to register.

Saturday, 11 am - 3pm, Read Across America at Elmwood Park Zoo. Book fair, readings, concessions, and the Berenstain Bears Financial Literacy Program. Sponsored by Franklin Mint Federal Credit Union. Free to attend with Zoo admission. More info at

Sunday, noon to 4 pm at Jus' Java (317 Swede), Sunday Live Music Series. This week features Nick Filone & Joyceanna, Gabbie Donnelly, Tom Wagner, John B. Hudome, Dave the Roadman, Tommy Davis, John Costello, and Daniel Brouse. Jus' Java does this every Sunday afternoon.

Tuesday from 10 am to 2 pm at the Norristown Library. Remember, every Tuesday until April 14, the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide service is available FREE to taxpayers with low to moderate income, with special attention to those 60 and up. Registration is not required.

Tuesday at 7:30 pm, Council Meeting at Municipal Hall. No agenda yet.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Norristown's Immigrant Tradition

As some of you know, on Friday night WHYY aired a documentary titled "Adelante," about Norristown's St. Patrick Church and our Mexican immigrant community (this is actually an abridged version--the full film runs about 51 minutes). I watched it, and also viewed another documentary on one of WHYY's sister stations that night--titled "The Italian-Americans." Interesting to watch 2 shows about immigrants, one right after the other.

I know I've touched on Norristown's immigrant history before, but let me recap a little.  I don't think we have anyone in Norristown who can claim absolutely pure Native American ancestry, so if you live in N-town, you're either an immigrant or your ancestors were. The area was first settled mostly by English, German and Swedish immigrants back in the 17th and 18th centuries. Refugees from revolution-torn France came here in the 1790s. Welsh, Jewish, Dutch and other immigrants also settled here in the early years.

Do you think they all lived together as one big happy family? Of course not. They segregated themselves into separate neighborhoods, where they could speak whatever language, observe whatever customs, and go to whatever churches they wanted. What brought them together were the merchants. Any good merchant, on seeing a bunch of potential new customers move into town, will try to stock items that will bring in new trade.

Bagpipers at St. Pat's
The next big influx of immigrants were the Irish, who came to work on the railroads in the 1830s, then in greater numbers when the potato famine hit Ireland in the 1840s and 50s. They were thought by the existing residents to be inferior and were treated horribly. Near Malvern, 56 Irish workers and their families were murdered simply because the neighbors blamed them for the cholera epidemic. But Norristown let them settle here, though in a poor neighborhood down along the railroad tracks. The first St. Patrick's church was built at Washington and Cherry in 1839. The 2nd at Lafayette and Cherry in 1864. The coal smoke from the trains blackened the building, and the vibrations and new construction eventually threatened to bring down the church, but it was the late 1890s before St. Pat's moved to its present location.

When they Italian immigrants came in the 1880s through early 1900s, they too were thought to be inferior and were treated horribly, especially by the next generations of Irish descendants. Most Italians were Catholic, and the only Catholic church in town at the time was St. Patrick's. Italian customs and Irish customs were completely at odds with each other. The Irish in the US didn't want the Italians celebrating what were seen to be almost heathen festivals in their churches. In most parts of the US, the Catholics had to worship and hold weddings and christenings in the basements of the Irish churches instead of the sanctuaries. I don't know if St. Pat's did this or not, but the Italian community felt the need to build its own church--Holy Saviour, on East Main--before the construction of the current St. Pat's was even completed.

Mariachi band at St. Pat's
We've had other waves of immigrants since--WWII refugees from Europe, Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees, Puerto Rican and other Caribbean immigrants, new African and Asian immigrants, and now Mexicans and Latin Americans. Maybe St. Pat's learned their lesson when they lost all their Italian parishioners to Holy Saviour--they're now the church known for welcoming new Catholic immigrants.

But I still hear a lot of people around town speak disparagingly about immigrants, with a "we're better than them" attitude-- the "them" especially being those immigrants from the Mexican community. New immigrants are still thought to be inferior. It breaks my heart when I hear descendants of Italians talk this way. I'm 3rd generation Italian-American and I still remember stories my family told about how badly my ancestors were treated. Yes, I love my Italian traditions, but I don't feel threatened by the traditions of new immigrants. If anything, I understand their desire to keep their own customs and pass them on to their kids. I think the majority of families in N-town feel this way, no matter if your customs include bagpipes and shamrocks, or African drums and storytelling, or shoefly pie or mariachi music or whatever

Still, the film "Adelante" gave me a better understanding of the immigrant experience. These are folks who miss the families they left behind, whose kids might never meet their grandparents. Yet they're forming other community connections. St. Patrick's probably would have closed if not for the influx on new Mexican parishioners, who now make up at least two-thirds of the flock. They're bringing a new life and youth back to Norristown, and helping to revitalize our economy by opening many new small businesses.

I now sing in the English choir at St. Pat's. On certain holidays, we combine with the Spanish choir and do a bilingual mass. The first time I walked into a combined choir rehearsal, 2 Mexican women gave me, a perfect stranger, big welcoming hugs. The same way I'd be welcomed at an Italian family reunion. So really, we're not very different under the skin.

Anyway, I highly recommend even the short version of  the film "Adelante." If I see that it's being aired again on TV, I'll post it here. You can buy a DVD of the full version at this link for about $15 plus shipping. If any organizations are interested, you can arrange to host a screening of the full movie at this link.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Coming In 2015

The last 2 days I was working on the Norristown Business Association's first meeting of the year, so no Diary entries. But today, since the NBA did a public presentation yesterday, I can tell you the events planned for 2015. These are only NBA events--they'll be lots of others, too, by other organizations. Norristown's going to be an active place this year.

Within the next 2 weeks, the NBA will open a Visitor Welcome Center downtown. Jus' Java has agreed to let us have a little space for a brochure rack, which will include attraction info (Elmwood Park Zoo, Five Saints Distilling, etc.), take-out menus from local restaurants, business brochures, self-guiding walking tours, and event information. In addition, a TV screen will display a slide show of ads from businesses and event planners, plus interest photos of Norristown's architecture, arts and other amenities. The suggestion was made at the meeting to put a similar TV screen in the jurors room at the courthouse. We're going to look into it. When pricing and guidelines for the ads are posted online somewhere, I'll pass on the link.

Starting in March, on the 3rd Wednesday from 5-7 pm, the NBA will offer business seminars at a reasonable cost. The first will be March 18th at Jus' Java and the topic is Your Business on Facebook: How to Use Facebook to Promote Your Business Effectively. Details to follow.

Starting in April will be NBA's Walking Taste Tours. Last year we did one tour, which was well attended, but seemed to be too many restaurants, too much walking, took too much time and was more food than people could handle. So this year, we're doing smaller, shorter tours, and combining them with walking tours of Norristown's architecture. The first tour is tentatively scheduled for April 11.

Also starting in April and running at least through September, we plan to have Fourth Fridays Downtown. This will include a new jazz venue--Jazz on Cherry Street by Vance Community Partners at 214 Cherry--plus as the weather warms up, NBA hopes to encourage restaurants to stay open later and offer outdoor dining, music or other activities that will bring people to Norristown the 4th Friday of each month. These nights will also mark a return of NBA's Game Night--some of you remember how much fun last year's Family Feud nights were. Stay tuned.

May 2nd is the Arts Hill Festival and NBA will be there, hosting "A Taste of Norristown at the Top of The Hill." Participating restaurants will offer samples of the foods they do best, for only a dollar or 2, so festival goers can try out many different places. This will be a prelude to Restaurant Week in Norristown, which will take place the week after, May 4-10. During Restaurant Week, participating eateries will offer discounts or free menu items.

Sometime in midsummer, we hope to have a barbecue/festival at Logan Square. This would be late afternoon/evening and feature our North End restaurants.

The 3rd annual Riverfest will be September 19 at Riverfront Park. It's a joint venture of the NBA and Dragon Boat Club. Riverfest was nominated this year for Best Of Montco Family Event and when I last checked, we were winning by a lot (you can add your vote at this link.) If you haven't been to Riverfest, come for the food, music, games, and free boat rides.

The NBA hopes to make Small Business Saturday (November 28th) more of an event this year, and as always, to encourage everyone to support our small businesses all year around.

And we'll wind up the year with another Light Up The Dark Contest, encouraging our businesses to go all out with holiday light displays all around town.

The Business Association will need volunteers for these events, even if you can only spare a half hour. If you're interested, email and tell us which event(s) you want to help out with. Also, drop us a line if you want to be a participating restaurant/vendor for any of the events, or want to place an ad on the Welcome Center TV. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

All Kinds Of Events This Week

The following list of events is pretty long, but it could have been longer. I didn't include a lot of events where not enough info was provided on the online calendars or Facebook pages. Please folks, if you want people to come to your events, give us the date, time, place, price if applicable, and either a phone # or email address. If no one shows up, don't shoot the messenger.

Tonight, 7-9 pm at Greater Norristown PAL, Community Kidz night. Fun, music, food, and games. FREE. RSVP to Allen McBee, 484-941-3122.

Tonight at 8 pm and tomorrow at 2 pm and 8 pm, Norristown High School present the Senior Class play, "If We Offend..." - a parody of works by Shakespeare. No info about ticket prices or a contact was provided.

Tonight from 10:30-11 pm on TV (you don't even have to go out inthe cold), a broadcast of the documentary "Adelante"--about Norristown's St. Patrick's Church and our immigrant community. WHYY (channel 12 for most of us). You can watch the trailer at this link.

Saturday at 11 am at Norristown Library, Millicent Sparks, an accomplished actor/writer/producer, will bring to life the most famous conductor of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, who helped thousands of enslaved Africans escape to freedom. More info at this link.

Sunday, noon to 2 pm, Elmwood Park Zoo is celebrating the Chinese New Year with a special program in their Canopy Gardens Hall. Activities, crafts and a chance to meet the "Animals of the Zodiac." Free with zoo admission. For info contact or 610-277-3825.

Sunday, 2:30 pm at the Historical Society of Montgomery County (1654 Dekalb St), Donah Zack Beale presents "18th Century Medicine: Facts & Fiction." FREE program on the myths and methods of sanitation, apothecary, dentistry, and surgery during the 18th century. For more info, contact Karen Wolfe, 610-272-0297 or .

Tuesday from 8:30-10 am, the Norristown Business Association will hold its monthly breakfast meeting at Stony Creek Office Center, Bldg 2, 2nd floor (enter by the side door). Since last month's meeting was snowed out, this one will be a bit longer than usual, with both an overview of events and program planned for 2015, and a brainstorming session about parking in the business districts and what can be done to put those districts on a more equal footing with other communities. All interested parties are welcome but please RSVP to

Monday and Wednesday, 6:30 to 8 pm in the Eisenhower School Gym, Norristown Little League Registration. Also next Saturday the 28th from 10-11:30 am at the Bandshell. For further info call 610-270-0467. Coaches , Sponsors , Umpires, Snack Bar, Field Maintenance and Board members needed. You can also register your kids online at this link. Questions, 610-270-0467 or

Tuesday at 6 pm, Police Chief Mark Talbot will be the special guest for the 5th Annual Black History Program at the PAL Center. For details, contact 610-278-8040 or

Tuesday at 7 pm, Zoning Board Hearing at Municipal Hall. No agenda yet.

Wednesday at 1:30 pm or Thursday at 7:30 pm are the only nights not sold out for Theatre Horizon's Into The Woods. Go to this link for tickets.

Thursday from 6:30pm-7:30pm to the Norristown Area High School Auditorium, 1900 Eagle Drive, Reggie Dabbs will present Living the Dream. All parents, students, and community members are invited.

Next Friday morning from 10-11 am, if you're on Facebook, you can join in a Live Chat with Norristown Administrator Crandall Jones. Click here for the event page

Next Saturday, February 28, 11 am-12:30 pm at the Norristown Library. Introduction to Permaculture & Seed Starting. Registration is required. Call 610-278-5100 ext. 0. This workshop will cover the basics of permaculture design, then hand out seeds to get you started with great tasting veggies. This program is part of the Hands-on Food Landscaping Series, sponsored by Feed the Burbs. Cost is $5 per workshop or $15 for all 4 workshops.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Regional College Fair Tonight

I just found out about this so I wanted to get the word out.

Regional College Fair tonight from 6 pm - 7:30 pm at Greater Norristown PAL, 340 Harding Blvd.

It's open to the public.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Agenda for Tonight's Council Workshop

Council Workshop tonight at 6:30 pm in the 1st floor conference room of Municipal Hall. There are 6 items on the agenda, which you can read at this link. Here's a summary:

1. Council is to decide whether Norristown should join the Pennsylvania Municipal League. This is an organization of cities and communities in PA, large and small, that lobbies state government for its members, and provides education, training, and other benefits. Probably not a bad idea.

2. The Waste System Authority of Montco--our old sewage authority--was dissolved at the end of 2014. If I understand it right, municipalities now have to manage how sewage treatment is done individually. But when an entity is dissolved, its excess funds have to be redistributed, so this is an official action to accept the disbursement of funds from WSA.

3. My favorite. The Police Department is requesting an ordinance requiring the licensing of pawnbrokers and dealers in precious metals, antiques and secondhand goods, "establishing registration and enforcement procedures and reporting requirements; providing for penalties for violations to assist in the crime reduction and investigation efforts of the police department." I'm all for this. Frankly, I assumed we already had something like this in place. Council, PLEASE APPROVE THIS. And make the ordinance strict enough that it discourages the slimier elements of those trades from doing business here at all. Wouldn't it be nice to have legit antiques and secondhand dealers in town, to attract the kind of visitors we want, and no pawnbrokers or guys standing on the corners with big "Cash For Gold" signs?

4. Another item regarding the destruction of obsolete municipal records. "Request Municipal Council to approve or disapprove Resolution 15 -110 so that the files listed and verified by the department supervisor/director may be destroyed." Doesn't say what department or what records.

5. This deals with the creation of a full-time position of Recreation Specialist in the Recreation Department.

6. Under "Items For Discussion": a verbal update on the Codes department given by Crandall Jones.

So there you have it. If the snow or cold keeps you at home, at least drop an email to any or all the council reps if you have opinions about the issues. You can find their addresses at .

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Donut / Pancake Day in N-town

Most calendars have today marked as Mardi Gras, but for a lot of Norristown's residents who are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants from Italy, Mexico and parts of the Caribbean, today is Carnival or Bacchanal. So it's a great day to talk about food.

If you can get yourself dug out of the snow today, you might go looking for donuts, or as some of our earliest German settlers called them, fasnachts. Polish immigrants brought another version called paczki. Mexicans--a long ridged version called churros that just beg to be dipped in gooey chocolate.

Sure, you could just go to Dunkin' Donuts and get the generic version--there are 3 locations in N-town--but consider some of our local eateries who get their pastries from local bakeries or do the baking themselves. Here are some suggestions:

Jus' Java, 317 Swede St.(donuts at left)
Eli's Bakery Cafe, 324 W Marshall St.
Lou's (who posted the photo of the heart-shaped donuts above), 414 E Main St.

You can also find churros at Mexico Lindo, 500 W Main, and Los Potrillos, 354 W Elm.

Today is also known by some of our residents as Pancake Day and here in N-Town, we have lots of breakfast places that serve pancakes. Here are just a few:

Alfredo's, 1132 W Main (Yelp reviews give their pancakes 5 stars)
Main Street Cafe, 215 E Main (a friend of mine raves about their pancakes)
Pauline's Deli, 36 E Main
Trejo American & Mexican, 505 Swede
Norristown Diner, 234 W Johnson Hwy (I've had breakfast there a few times. I can't order the pancakes because I'm gluten intolerant, but my companions who ordered them have all liked them)
And again, Jus' Java (the pancakes in the photo).

So there are some suggestions for celebrating the day in style. Hungry yet?

Buon Carnivale!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Norristown, Ya Done Good

Today I have a guest blogger. Jim Gagliardi of King of Prussia posted this on Facebook Thursday night. He gave me permission to reproduce it here.

The next person who says anything bad about Norristown, doesn't know what they are talking about. My niece's car broke down on Main Street in Norristown tonight. She couldn't reach her mom because she was at choir practice where you can't get a cell signal so she called [my wife] Linda and I. Linda called AAA to start the process while I hopped in my car to go to my niece....

By the time I got into Norristown, a two guys driving a pickup and another guy in a car had stopped to help her. They tried to get it started by jumping it....I finished the call with AAA who dispatched a tow truck, so I thanked the gents for their effort and said it was okay for them to leave. They offered to push the car to the side of the road, but I decided against it because it would be in a place where it would be very hard to hook up the car.

I had my niece wait in my car to stay warm and I remained with her car in the middle of the street to wait for the tow truck. It took about 30 minutes for the truck to arrive. During that time four (4) guys stopped their cars and asked if I needed help such as a jump start. Two (2) other guys, one just walking by, asked if I wanted help to push the car to the side of the road. A woman stopped and told me where to find an auto shop. Seven (7) different people offered me some kind help in just 30 minutes! And that doesn't include the three guys who were there when I first arrived.

10 people, a mix of Caucasian, Afro American and Hispanic, young and not-so-young stopped on a freezing cold night to offer a perfect stranger a helping hand.

So the next time I hear someone putting down Norristown, I'll have a little story to tell.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Valentines, Presidential Pets and More Events

Sorry the Diary's been AWOL this week. I had a lot of other work I had to catch up on. Loads of Valentine's, President's Day and Black History events this week.

Today from 11 am to 12:30 pm at the Human Resources Center Community Room (Fornance & Dekalb), Black History Lunch and Learn, with Tony Davis. Topic: Race Awareness. Free event. Bring your own lunch.

Also today, a Valentine Party at the Norristown Public Library from 2-3 pm for kids K-6. Valentine crafts and activities. Call 610-278-5100 x205 for more information, or visit

Saturday from 6-9 pm, ACPPA is hosting a Valentine's Dance Party for ages 5-12. $7 per child ($6 members). Register online at

Saturday from 5:30 to 11 pm is Valentines Kids Night at the Zoo. Dinner, a Valentine's-themed live animal show, games, crafts, a Zoo tour, and a movie screening. For children ages 6 to 10. Members - $30.95/child and $20.95/additional sibling; Non-Members - $50.95/child and $40.95/additional sibling. More info and registration at

Saturday, 7 pm at Coffee Talk Artists Co-op, 507 W Marshall, "An Evening of Love Poems and Songs."
Saturday, 8-11 pm at August Moon, Crying Sam Entertainment presents Miss Justine and Friends for an evening of "Songs of Romance" and dinner with loved ones in the Jazz Room. Sets every hour on the hour. Entertainment Fee: $10, 2 Drink Minimum.

Monday, at 1 pm, Elmwood Park Zoo is holding a special animal show for President's Day. Learn about the "Presidential Pets" who have lived in the White House over the years! Show will take place in the Canopy Gardens Hall. Free with zoo admission. Contact Jessica Carter, 610-277-3825,

Monday at 7 pm, the Greater Norristown Pal, 340 Harding Blvd, will host an open house/meet and greet with light refreshments for the GNPAL Track Teams. Kids ages 5-18 are all welcomed to join. Registration ends March 19. They're looking for volunteer coaches also. Practices will begin on March 16 at the Norristown Area High School, 1900 Eagle Drive.

Tuesday at GNPAL, "How Does a Ballot Effect 2015?" with Michael Coard, esq. Defense Attorney. Doors open at 6 pm. Program begins at 6:30.

Wednesday at 6:30 pm, Council workshop at Municipal Hall. No agenda yet.

For Theatre Horizon's run of "Into the Woods", only 4 performances left that aren't sold out, which include Wednesday and Thursday this coming week, both at 7:30 pm.Tickets and info at

Thursday from 6-8 pm at Municipal Hall. The Montco Advisory Council will present info on what to do if you're discriminated against because of your age, race, religion, ethnic background, physical challenges, gender, or sexual orientation. Light refreshments will be served.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Famous Norristown Artist - Who Knew?

Ask around town and most people will tell you this whole concept of Norristown as arts community is a relatively new one. So today we'll do a short art history lesson.

My best friend works at an auction house. Last week she sent me this photo of a biscuit jar they received. It's going up for auction on February 17th. The reason she thought I'd like to see it was the signature on the bottom.
I did a little research and found that Mary Blanche Lenzi had been a very well-known artist who hand-painted French Limoges china around the year 1900, and was much in demand for her paintings of Victorian roses. She lived and worked in Norristown.

It was very common then for rich folks to purchase blank dishes, jars, teapots, etc. and have an artist handpaint and fire them. Or the artists would purchase the blanks, paint them and sell them in stores or out of their own homes.

I wasn't able to find out more about Mary Blanche Lenzi's life, but I did find dozens of photos of her works, which are absolutely stunning. She sometimes signed them with her initials, but very often as she signed the jar above, adding "Norristown, PA" with her distinctive capital T (she certainly wasn't ashamed to be from N-Town). Her works these days go for about $300-$500 each.

So here are some of her flowers to cheer you all on this dismal day and remind you that spring isn't far away. And to remind you also that some beautiful artwork came out of Norristown in the past and will again.

Friday, February 6, 2015

This Week: Black History Celebrations and NORRISTOWN NIGHT at Theatre Horizon

If you're standing in front of your closet pondering your fashion choices for the day, remember it's National Wear Red Day, to raise awareness in the fight against heart disease in women. (Might be good to also ponder how much cholesterol you're going to take in for breakfast.)

Today's Black History Month Lunch & Learn session will be at One Montgomery Plaza in the Commissioners Board Room, from 11 am to noon. Please bring your own lunch. The topic is race awareness.

Into the Woods continues at 8 pm tonight at Theatre Horizon (402 Dekalb). Tomorrow and Sunday's shows are already sold out (as are all Saturdays and Sundays through Feb 22), but there are still seats available for Norristown Night--Wednesday the 11th at 6:30 pm. RESIDENTS GET IN FREE. Call 610-283-2230 to reserve. Go to this link to see other show times. The show runs through March 1.

Saturday at 4 pm, St. Patrick's Church (Dekalb and Chestnut) welcomes the New Vision Gospel Choir from Philadelphia. They'll perform at the afternoon mass to celebrate the contributions of the Black and African American members of the parish in honor of Black History month. Visitors welcome. Refreshments afterward in the Parish Hall downstairs.

Tuesday at 2 pm, The Great Books Club at Norristown Library (Swede and Powell). They meet every second Tuesday of the month in the library's board room. This month, they'll be discussing The Plague by Albert Camus. New members are welcome. Please call Shirley Miller before attending your first meeting at 610-272-4179.

Tuesday night at 7 pm, George Washington Carver Center Community Meeting. Board members and all will discuss the Carver Center pool and goals for the next 6 months, 249 E. Jacoby St.

Tuesday, Planning Commission, 7 pm at Municipal Hall. No agenda yet.

Wednesday, 1 pm at the Library, this month's Film Festival features "The Color Purple", based on the novel by Alice Walker.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

N-Town Rhythm - Coming Soon

I want everyone to look in their closets and attics and under your beds. What for? Marching band instruments that you or your kids don't play anymore.

A group of local marching band enthusiasts are organizing a Greater Norristown community marching band for middle school-aged kids. Sort of like the plot to "Music Man" without fast-talking scam artist or barbershop quartet.

The motive behind it is that our high school marching band is dwindling in numbers. Music's been cut so much from the lower schools that a band can't be sustained by the time the students reach high school age. In these days when everyone's saying that we need youth programs more than ever ("Oh, we got trouble right here in River City"), a community marching band is an idea whose time has come.

"Why?" you might ask. We have lots of youth sports activities. We have youth theater. We have STEM classes. We have dance and art classes in town. Those are all great, but we all know that not every kid gravitates towards sports or academics, and that some kids won't get up on a stage to perform. Marching band teaches kids the same kind of teamwork and positive social skills that they get in all these other activities, with the security of performing in a group, in a setting a bit less intimidating than under a spotlight on a stage. They get exercise and they get to make music. Not only that, but this kind of marching band experience can eventually lead to college scholarships.

Hey, I was in marching bands for 7 years and I more-or-less turned out okay, didn't I?

HBCU style
So here are the details. The new band will be called "N-Town Rhythm" and will teach both corps and HBCU styles of marching (I've done both and the latter is definitely more fun). Once up and running, they'll perform at local festivals, parades and sporting events. Recruiting of students will begin this spring.

In the meantime, the committee is seeking donations of marching band instruments, as well as dedicated volunteers from the community to form N-Town Rhythm's staff. At present, the committee meets the 1st Wednesday of each month. If you've got any marching band experience (preferably collegiate-level and HBCU-style) and you're interested, contact Ernie Hadrick at Ditto if you want to donate an instrument.

When I was in Norristown High, our band rocked. We had maybe a hundred students in the band and band front. We marched at every football game (parading down Astor Street from Eisenhower to Roosevelt and back afterwards). We went to competitions. We went on band exchange trips. Let's give our youth those kinds of experiences again, and give Norristown another youth organization we can brag about.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What Does Punxsutawney Have That We Don't?

This time of year, newscasters regularly mention the town of Punxsutawney, PA. No one I've met has a bad opinion of that small town, nor should they. It seems like a nice enough community out in the northwest corner of the state. The website leans more towards welcoming tourists than it does towards telling folks how to pay parking tickets, probably because once a year on February 2nd, thousands of visitors descend on their town just to watch a groundhog be roused from his sleep at daybreak and blearily blink his eyes in the bright TV lights.

Yesterday, I was surprised to hear ABC News say that the committee in charge of the Groundhog Day festivities admitted that they'd made the decision for Phil the night before. I figure they've probably been doing that for a while, given the fact that they don't actually wait until sunrise for their ceremony. Might also explain why, as the Washington Post reported yesterday, Phil's accuracy has dropped to 80%.

But I have to wonder what the admission will do for their tourism. I mean, they've taken away their rodent's magical claim to weather prediction. People can stay home and watch for the Official Tweet from Punxsutawney next year.

What else does Punxsutawney have to offer their visitors? Under "Attractions" on their website, they list their library, parks and playgrounds, even their town square. We have all of those, plus a 1st-class zoo. They have 27 restaurants. I've been working on compiling a restaurant listing for Norristown and I'm up to 45 as of yesterday. I think it might top out close to 60.

Punxsutawney has a "Festivals and Celebrations" category on their website but they list nothing under it. We have the Arts Hill Festival, Riverfest, the West End International Festival, the Car Show, History Fest at Selma, Family Unity Day, Mexican Independence Day, and several church festivals (Did I forget anything?). And this year, we might be adding a North End Festival and Fourth Friday celebrations downtown in the summer.

Our Elmwood Park Zoo hosts the live mascot for the Philadelphia Eagles (Noah the Eagle), and also Stella the Owl, who millions of TV viewers saw last Sunday on the Temple University ad that aired during the Super Bowl. And don't forget our own groundhog, Nora. Each year our zoo staff waits until they see if Nora actually casts a shadow before voicing her prediction. (Nora had no shadow yesterday, by the way--too overcast and rainy.)

So, maybe next year we should invite all the visitors who go to Punxsutawney for their admittedly staged Groundhog Day prediction, to come to Norristown and see Nora instead. Frankly, it's time to start inviting visitors to come to Norristown, period. We seem totally oblivious to the fact that we have so much to offer outsiders.

Meantime, will we have an early spring? Even if Nora's wrong, I'm glad I live in a town that's not afraid to be hopeful.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Council Agenda for February 3rd

Before I get into the agenda, let me remind you that this is the day Norristown's own Nora the Groundhog will make her long-range weather prediction about the rest of the winter. I'm betting (and hoping) she doesn't see her shadow.

This week's council meeting is Tuesday at 7:30 pm at Municipal Hall. Believe it or not, the agenda is up on the website today. You can read it at this link.

The meeting tomorrow night will include a presentation by Expressive Path, a non-profit in Montgomery County that helps adolescents, who may otherwise not have the opportunity, to participate in the arts. Their instructors provide lessons, workshops, art lectures, and career guidance at local recreation centers, schools, alternative programs, youth shelters, and churches.

There will also be a public hearing on the new zoning amendment for the OR District, the block taken up currently by Montgomery Hospital and the medical building and parking garage across from it. After the hearing, council will vote on the amendment, so if you have something to say, this is your chance. It would help if the Municipality had put the proposed code online somewhere so people could read it before the meeting.

The next item merely says "Grant Application – PLCB  Reducing Underage and Dangerous Drinking Program." PLCB is the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, and this is their grant program. The agenda doesn't say who exactly is applying for the grant--I assume the municipality--or what it would be used for.

Next item: "Motion to approve Resolution 15-108 – destruction of specific obsolete records." Without knowing exactly what or how many records are involved, I don't see how anyone is supposed to make an intelligent comment during the Public Comment period, which as always, comes BEFORE the business part of the meeting. Most of you know I'm a historian, so the destruction of records concerns me, even if they seem to be of no use to the current administration. I agree that we shouldn't be keeping mounds of old papers around, but in these days of easy scanning and digitalizing, there ought to be a way to keep at least a sampling of the records. I also think the public should know the nature of the records before the vote is taken.

Under Finance, there's a "Motion to approve Resolution 15-109 --consolidated fee resolution." No explanation. Again, no way to make an educated Public Comment beforehand.
The few other items on the agenda are for things like a trailer that Montgomery County wants to donate to the borough and HARB certificates.

Happy Groundhog's Day.