Celebrate! 2018 marks major milestones for beloved CLE institutions

As anyone who attended the Cavs championship parade knows, the Land knows how to throw a party—and with multiple centennial celebrations over the past few years, there has certainly been a lot to celebrate. The party continues into 2018 as a number of Cleveland institutions, organizations, and businesses mark major milestones.

Among the local staples celebrating anniversaries are the Grog Shop (25th anniversary) and the Urban League of Greater Cleveland (100th anniversary). See who else is ringing in big things for 2018:

Cleveland Orchestra: 100th anniversary

From commemorative clothing by CLE Clothing Company to a special-edition Rising Star Coffee blend to Sweet Moses' “Second Century Chocolate Bar," Clevelanders will have no shortage of tangible reminders that the Cleveland Orchestra is celebrating its centennial season.

<span class="content-image-text">The Cleveland Orchestra</span>The Cleveland OrchestraThe Orchestra is also taking its annual “At Home” neighborhood residency a step further for its 2017-2018 anniversary season—instead going “Around the Region” for a series of performances in six Northeast Ohio counties.

“Our service to the community is so much broader than what we do in Severance Hall,” says Joan Katz, Senior Director of Education and Community Programs. “The idea was to take this opportunity to share classical music with citizens all around the region during our centennial season as a 'thank you' for 100 years of support.”

The effort kicked off in September with “Beethoven & Prometheus: A Hero’s Journey,” an education concert held at Severance Hall for more than 1,800 CMSD students. The performance took place again in November at Lakeland Community College for 1,000-plus students from around Lake County. In February, the Orchestra will conduct an in-school performance for Akron Public Schools honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Around the Region initiative also goes beyond just the Cleveland Orchestra—extending to its youth ensembles. In November, Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra (COYO) performed a free community concert in Lorain with works by Beethoven, Barber, and Prokofiev. In March, nearly 200 musicians from COYO and the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Chorus will perform for state legislators in the atrium of the Ohio Statehouse.

“March is 'Music in our Schools' month, and what better way to draw attention to the well-documented benefits of an arts education—especially at a time when many schools are unable to provide music programming—than to bring 200 students together who hail from about 50 different communities in Northeast Ohio and have them perform [for policymakers]?” says Katz.

The Orchestra will also take its annual Star-Spangled Spectacular up several notches, moving the celebration from Public Square to Mall B in order to accommodate more revelers for what Katz calls a “big, giant birthday party.”

Cake and ice cream (likely Mitchell’s) will be served, and there will also be special guests and other surprises. Though details won’t be announced until April, whispers abound of a special-edition Great Lakes Brewing Co. “Centenni-Ale.” Also, Franz Welser-Most will conduct the concert, which Katz says he “hasn’t done in a while.”

It’s all part of what Katz calls a “sendoff” to the Orchestra’s second century. “We believe strongly in the power of music to help bridge divides and bring our city together,” says Katz. “That’s an important role we can play in our community, and we look forward to doing more of that in our second century.”

Geiger’s: 85th anniversary

Achieving longevity in the age of Amazon can be challenging for any retailer, but Geiger’s has pulled it off. The family-run activewear store first incorporated in Lakewood in 1932, adding locations in Chagrin Falls and downtown in more recent years.

“Lakewood has always been our hub and mainstay—we moved to our present location in 1936, and we’ve been doing business in these four walls for over 80 years,” says president Chas Geiger.

The Geigers added their Chagrin Falls location when they purchased Ski and Sport Haus from Dick Bohr in 2005, and in early 2015, the family was approached by “real estate folks who were doing building conversions in downtown Cleveland,” says Geiger. “They thought we’d want to be part of the renaissance and rebirth of the commercial corridors in downtown Cleveland, following the family Heinen brothers’ business.”

Geiger believes the store’s longevity can be attributed to consumers’ desire to “return to a more customer experience-oriented type of shopping. Sure, there’s the fulfillment and ease of clicking [online], but there’s also something to a shopping experience of touching, feeling, and comparing to feel more confident about your purchase,” he says. “We’re able to help customers find the right gear for an Alaskan cruise or a hike through the Adirondacks with [in-person] communication you can’t experience in an online setting.”

He also believes the “shop local” phenomenon has benefited the Geiger’s brand. “We have never been attracted to malls,” shares Geiger. “We like being in urban population centers and embedded into communities. That’s been a hallmark of all of our locations over the years.”

To celebrate the 85-year milestone, the retailer offered a special “Comeback Card” last fall that provided cash back for purchases, and Geiger’s recently introduced a loyalty program in which customers earn three percent on purchases to use as reward dollars. The company also partnered with FrontLine Service this holiday season to provide toys and coats for homeless families.

As the third generation of Geigers to run the business, Geiger hopes to keep his grandfather’s vision alive and thriving: “We’re proud of what our grandfather began 85 years ago, and we hope to live up to his legacy.”

Dancing Wheels: 37th anniversary

While most might not consider “37” a remarkable number for anniversaries, Dancing Wheels has proven the exception. Currently in its 37th season, the professional dance company counts both disabled and non-disabled dancers among its ranks—making it the first physically integrated dance company in the country.

After mounting a highly acclaimed show last spring, Dancing Wheels was ready to build on that momentum for its 2017-2018 season—until the company received the devastating news in September that it would be losing its home of 20 years. Upon purchasing the Masonic Performing Arts Center on Euclid Avenue, Templelive Cleveland had decided to terminate Dancing Wheels’ long-term lease.

“I was in shock,” says founder and director Mary Verdi-Fletcher. “I couldn’t even speak—I was afraid it wouldn’t be possible to find another space that was right for us.”

Part of the challenge in finding a new space stemmed from the very specific needs of the company, from 100 percent ADA accessibility to proximity to public transportation to unobstructed rehearsal space with no pillars. Verdi-Fletcher also sought to stay in the Midtown area “due to the population we serve.”

<span class="content-image-text">The Dancing Wheels Company</span>The Dancing Wheels Company

After embarking on a “Lasting Legacy” fundraising campaign and a feverish word-of-mouth effort, the team behind Dancing Wheels secured another space just a few blocks away at 3030 Euclid Avenue, which the company plans to move into in April.

“To move is a major undertaking since we own our own floors and mirrors,” shares Verdi-Fletcher, adding that they are seeking volunteers to help with the move.

Though the new space will require a buildout to “knock down some walls, raise the drop ceiling, and build a bathroom,” Verdi-Fletcher is excited about the possibilities. “I think [the new location] will create more physical visibility for us because it’s on the ground floor,” she says. “It has windows and faces Euclid Avenue, providing a better platform for people to see us.”

Now that a new home has been secured, Verdi-Fletcher and Dancing Wheels can once again focus on their anniversary season. In October, Dancing Wheels was one of six grant recipients selected by Dance/NYC to appear in New York during its “Disability.Dance.Artistry” series. In April, the company will showcase a revamped version of its “Pinocchio” ballet, and in May, a gala performance will fete the grand opening of the new space. Verdi-Fletcher is also being honored with several awards this year, including a Lifetime Achievement award from YWCA of Cleveland and a Trustees Award from Dance/USA.

Verdi-Fletcher says that they are over halfway to the $500,000 campaign goal, and she’s hoping the contributions can help further the company’s impact. “We want to support greater programming, after-school programs, and arts and education programs,” says Verdi-Fletcher, adding that the company serves about 6,500 children yearly with its outreach programming.

YWCA: 150th anniversary

It’s hard to picture what life for women in Cleveland might have been like in the 1860s, but if the local YWCA’s founders are any indication, local women found ways to make a profound impact.

“When you think about the [national] YWCA being founded just after the formal end of slavery in our country, it’s mind-blowing,” says Margaret Mitchell, President and CEO. “At the time, there were many large men’s organizations working to better boys, but women and girls had very little value. Cleveland was an early adapter and forerunner—a city that had many powerful women who wanted to use their voice for good.”

That spirit continues into the present day as YWCA of Cleveland celebrates its sesquicentennial year in 2018—and that desire to make an impact is still just as necessary.

“[Societal] issues at our founding were housing discrimination, limited access to employment, and poor landlord-tenant relations, which are still relevant today,” says Mitchell.

The YWCA of Cleveland works to address many of those issues through its services—which include a preschool for children going through homelessness or other adverse experiences, programs for youth transitioning out of foster care, and a community shelter for women. They also offer a Women’s Leadership Institute that is highly unique, according to Mitchell.

“Many of Cleveland’s top companies and organizations entrust their high talent to our Women’s Leadership Institute,” says Mitchell. “We’re extremely proud of our Institute in that it is unique—it doesn’t exist anywhere else in the state or even in the YWCA footprint the way you see it here in Cleveland: a continuous, ongoing cohort focused on talent development for high-potential women.”

To celebrate the 150th anniversary, YWCA of Cleveland will host an awards luncheon in April honoring four women with Lifetime Achievement Awards: Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge; Dancing Wheels director Mary Verdi-Fletcher; KeyCorp Chairman and CEO Beth Mooney; and Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland President and CEO Sandra Pianalto.

Though more than 200 women have received the Woman of Achievement Award over the 42-year history of the award, this elevated honor is somewhat rare. “Only seven other women have received lifetime distinctions, so it’s pretty special in this special year to honor four women,” says Mitchell. “They’re outstanding beacons and torch-bearers for women.”

Along with the luncheon, the YWCA of Cleveland has other plans for marking the milestone. The building will feature a large banner reading: “Celebrating 150 Years: Eliminating Racism, Empowering Women,” and the organization will undertake a fundraising campaign with the goal of raising $1.5 million dollars. The YWCA will also host its annual Circle event in February and a 150th birthday party in November.

Throughout the year, YWCA will also partner with initiatives like FRONT Triennial to help promote women artists and Circle the City with Love to “remind people that social justice is a powerful and much-needed movement,” according to Mitchell.

Overall, Mitchell says that YWCA wants to embrace and engage its core audience. “The first two letters in our name stand for ‘young women,'” she explains. “This year, we want to give voice to young women [ages] 25-40. Young women tend not to know what our programs are about—but we are rooted in helping young women to advance. Since the community doesn’t know that, we are really working to elevate that so that this organization is around for another 150 years.”

Ohio City Singers: 10th anniversary

<span class="content-image-text">Ohio City Singers</span>Ohio City SingersThe holidays may be over, but the Ohio City Singers continue rocking around the proverbial Christmas tree all year long. This most recent holiday season marked 10 years for the seasonal band ensemble, which they celebrated with an all-ages show at the House of Blues Cleveland.

“Our very first show 10 years ago had been in the smaller Cambridge room at House of Blues, so it was like coming full circle,” says founder Chris Allen. “We’ve done a lot of shows, but this was our best performance yet. It’s been fun to watch this thing grow.”

A supergroup of sorts, the band brings together 10 “all-star” musicians from various backgrounds and bands (such as The Boys from the County Hell and Rosavelt). The group started out somewhat organically after Allen and his sister threw a house party as a way to record a live Christmas CD as a gift for their parents. “We did that for several years, and the people who returned every year ended up being the band,” Allen laughs.

The Ohio City Singers recorded their first CD “Love and Hope” 10 years ago and have recorded three albums since—forming a 60-song catalogue of original holiday music. The group has recorded everywhere from the Happy Dog to Suma Studio to Allen’s own house; they typically start rehearsals in November for their slew of holiday shows, keeping it festive by “playing guitar and drinking Christmas ale,” says Allen.

Allen describes their sound as a “rock-and-roll Christmas party” with folk, rock, soul, and alt-country influences. “Some people think we’re more choral, but it’s fun and loud,” says Allen. “Every year, it’s become more of a tradition. It’s really fun when we do our holiday shows to see teens that were four or five years old when we started—it’s crazy to think kids have grown up with this being their family Christmas music and that it’s now a tradition for people. We couldn’t get a bigger compliment."

Jen Jones Donatelli
Jen Jones Donatelli

About the Author: Jen Jones Donatelli

As an enthusiastic CLE-vangelist, Jen Jones Donatelli enjoys diving headfirst into her work with FreshWater Cleveland. Upon moving back to Cleveland after 16 years in Los Angeles, Jen served as FreshWater's managing editor for two years (2017-2019) and continues her work with the publication as a contributing editor and host of the FreshFaces podcast.

When not typing the day away at her laptop, she teaches writing and creativity classes through her small business Creative Groove, as well as Literary Cleveland, Cleveland State University, and more. Jen is a proud graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.