By Mary Spicer
The cutthroat competition for the transcendent honor of wearing the coveted Grand Leprechaun hat in the 26th Annual Jack Curtin St. Patrick’s Day and Celebration starts today. In fact, green ballot boxes and official green-and-white ballot envelopes will begin appearing in select locations throughout the greater Meadville area shortly after noon. Voting will continue through March 14.
This is a victory that can be bought. In fact, that’s the point. The price of each vote is $1, which makes it breathtakingly impressive that the two most recent Grand Leprechauns, Christian Maher and Victoria Soff, each garnered more than 15,000 (yes, one-five-comma-zero-zero-zero) votes.
At least 90 percent of the proceeds raised will be passed on to the charity of each candidate’s choice; the balance will be used to help defray parade expenses as well as support events in various downtown venues on parade day.
This is not a race for the weak at heart. While each campaign is different — some more different than others — each victor seems to have shared a somewhat similar philosophy: More can be accomplished with a kind word and a shillelagh than can be accomplished with just a kind word.
The coveted hat will be worn in the parade, which kicks off promptly at noon on March 16 from Meadville’s Diamond Park and proceeds along Chestnut Street to the Downtown Mall, where the festivities really begin. Participating in the parade is remarkably simple. If you’ve gotten a whole group together — or a band (hint, hint) — or plan to build a float or drive large pieces of equipment, getting in touch with John Kerr at Jaron’s Jewelers on Chestnut Street in advance is a really good idea. Otherwise, just show up at the park a bit before noon. The wearing of green is strongly encouraged and Meadville’s mayor, Christopher Soff, has promised to be especially pleasant to anyone strapping on a kilt.
At this point in the race for the coveted hat, some campaigns are fairly well thought-out while others are in, well, formative stages. However, as the Irish are known to say, “It’s not a delay to stop and sharpen the scythe.”
For those who prefer to not be caught up in the magic of the race, no problem. Committee members are more than happy to share a cherished proverb from the ould sod to which they turn for comfort in times of toil and strife:
May those that love us, love us.
And those that don’t love us,
May God turn their hearts.
And if he doesn’t turn their hearts,
May he turn their ankles,
So we’ll know them by their limping.
Meet the contestants
In alphabetical order, candidates in the race to wear the coveted Grand Leprechaun hat on March 16 in the 26th Annual Jack Curtin St. Patrick’s Day and Celebration are:
-Larry Dickson, director of counseling at Mind-Body Wellness Center of Meadville Medical Center in Vernon Township, will be collecting votes on behalf of CASA — Crawford County’s Court Appointed Special Advocates. With both Irish and Scottish blood circulating through his veins, Dickson has recently traced the Darby line of his heritance back to 1659 in Ireland — although he hasn’t visited the Emerald Isle yet.
Describing his mission as “to do whatever I can do to raise money to support the young children in the court system who need advocates to protect them,” Dickson includes wearing a kilt on parade day as just one of the many things he’s willing to do. More details will be announced at a later date.
Dickson, who grew up in Sharon, has been a Meadville resident since 1980.
-Jamie Longo, director of advancement at Seton Catholic School in Meadville, will be collecting votes on behalf of the school’s Technology Fund.
Willing to give the whole tartan thing a run, Longo is now considering the possibility of wearing a Seton plaid skirt.
Her campaign is starting to take shape with school-based activities, including a green dress-down day. “We’re hoping our parents will come through,” she said.
Cautionary note for those parents: Four of the candidates are either employed by or have children attending Seton. We’re just saying...
-Jack Lynch, a Crawford County Commissioner, will be collecting Grand Leprechaun votes on behalf of Big Brothers and Sisters of Crawford County.
After innocently describing his campaign plans as being in the formative stages, Lynch cut direct to the chase. “The plans will be so potent that we don’t want other people to just give up and withdraw,” he said, going on to note that the formidable plans that will be unleashed are being craftily designed to lull the competition into a false sense of complacency.
While Lynch, who has three children attending Seton, describes the Grand Leprechaun race as being good for the whole county, he’s especially excited about raising funds on behalf of Big Brothers and Sisters, an organization whose executive director, Paula Jo Lynch, just happens to be his wife.
“Particularly today, they do a lot of good when they match a role-model adult to a minor child,” the candidate said. “If you do this thing right, it has a lot to do with values — and trying to reach out to kids who might not have role models in their lives.”
Regardless of the outcome of the race, Lynch, whose Irish grandmothers and grandfathers make him the only 100 percent Irish candidate in the race, plans to march in the parade.
A veteran of a legendary Kilted Mile race, in which he ran on behalf of Clan Murray as a ringer for a real Murray and won, he’s delighted to don a kilt.
He’ll also be able to tell some great tales, having visited the entire country — including an ancestral home in Galway.
-Debbie Pavlek, president of Family to Family Home Health Care in Meadville, will be campaigning on behalf of the second annual Judith’s Jig Memorial 5K Race, which is run on parade day in honor of Judith P. Gilbert, a past president of Meadville Business and Professional Women and a community leader who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and passed away in April 2010 after a brave fight.
“If anybody knows Judith Gilbert, she was an amazing woman,” Pavlek said. “The sisters in BPW put the Jig together to honor her and support her causes — causes she chose on her deathbed. This year, it’s the John Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation and CASA — we will be splitting our proceeds from the day of the race.”
With Irish blood of her own, thanks to her grandfather and his family, Pavlek plans to influence voters through the distribution of green necklaces and beads — and other plans still in the works, she hinted.
Originally from Butler, Pavlek moved to Meadville when her husband transferred here 26 years ago with Armstrong. “My daughters were all raised here,” she said. “Meadville has become our home.”
-Josh Sherretts, director of The Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum and librarian and teacher at Seton, will be collecting votes on behalf of the museum, where funds raised will be used to expand programming and help fund major restoration work.
“It’s our 50th anniversary and we have been working our backsides off to reinvigorate the place,” he said. “It’s a Supreme Court justice’s house. It’s a nationally-important building, and it’s right under our noses.”
Brought up on a family dairy farm between Saegertown and Conneautville, Sherretts is a graduate of Saegertown High School and Edinboro University.
Although his blood isn’t Irish, his family tree includes membership in the Douglas clan in Scotland, a heritage he says he will be proud to honor by wearing a kilt in the parade.
This candidate is already working the campaign trail, having assembled a campaign committee consisting of Mari Mullen and her children, James and Franki, and Gus, one of Sherretts’ cats.
In a prepared statement, Sherretts included a thinly-veiled threat: “My wife and I have three cats — and I promise we won’t drop them off on your doorstep if you vote for me!”
Countering the threat with a bribe, Sherretts promises that Mayor Christopher Soff will proclaim “a day in honor” of his top donor. Although there is no reason to doubt the veracity of the claim, the mayor said he was not available for comment.
In true Grand Leprechaun style, Sherretts has also started circulating his own rumors: “A slight whisper has been heard about giving the ice house behind the museum away to the highest donor, but no confirmation of this story has been found,” he revealed conspiratorially. “It is not known, if rumors prove to be true,” he added, “how one would move a two-story stone building from the side of a hill.”
-Amy Murphy Woods, executive director of United Way of Western Crawford County, is campaigning to support (brace yourself) her organization.
“How could you not support the United Way?” she asked. “By doing so, you’re supporting 16 human services agencies all over western Crawford County.” By supporting her, she suggested craftily, voters are also automatically supporting both CASA and Big Brothers and Sisters. (ed. Any way you look at it, CASA is making out like a bandit this year.)
Not only does Woods have lots of Irish blood — she has a shamrock tattoo on her ankle. And three kids who go to Seton.
Under the direction of Campaign Manager Lon Wilson, her race is already picking up steam.
The endorsement of Mickey’s, whose write-in candidates ruled the early years of the race, has already been secured, she says.
In addition to a ballot box at Montana’s Rib & Chop House in Vernon Township, a raffle ($10 per ticket/three for $20) is being organized on her behalf with a prize of dinner for six prepared by the Montana’s chef at either the home of the winner or the restaurant; all the money raised will buy Grand Leprechaun votes.
Her top donor will also be chauffeured in the parade — and for a night out — in the new LIVE UNITED Smart Car. And if that isn’t enough cuteness, her miniature Labradoodle, her boxer, AND her fiancé have all agreed to play active roles in the campaign.
At this point, Woods is the only candidate with a campaign slogan; “I Want That Hat,” will probably be seen on bumpers around town at any moment.
Where to vote
Grand Leprechaun 2013 Ballots are available at selected locations including:
Confections of a Cake Lover
896 Market St., Meadville
Crawford County Visitors and Convention Bureau
16709 Conneaut Lake Road, Vernon Township
285 Chestnut St., Meadville
307 Chestnut St., Meadville
The Meadville Tribune
947 Federal Court, Meadville
875 Park Ave., Meadville
Mind-Body Wellness Center of Meadville Medical Center
18209 Conneaut Lake Road, Vernon Township
Montana’s Rib & Chop House
11142 Highline Drive, Vernon Township
Northwest Savings Bank
999 S. Main St., Meadville
Seton Catholic School
385 Pine St., Meadville
The Whole Darn Thing
899 Market St., Meadville