First Night will return to Foothills, Oneonta Festival of Lights to Neahwa Park

Nov. 17—First Night Oneonta has announced a name change, a partnership, the return of the Oneonta Festival of Lights and a First Night celebration at Foothills Performing Arts Center.

Committee members changed the name of the organization to Hill City Celebrations to better reflect the festivals it sponsors, Carol Mandigo, committee chair, said. In addition to First Night, the organization plans the Oneonta Festival of Lights celebration through Neahwa Park and the Hometown 4th of July celebration.

The mission of First Night "has always been to provide healthy, alcohol free activities and events for families and community partners include LEAF, Five Star Subaru and dozens of generous local foundations, individuals and businesses," a media release said. The organization works closely with the city of Oneonta, SUNY Oneonta, Hartwick College and Bassett Healthcare Network to produce the events, the release said.

The organization is also working with the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce. Mandigo said Chamber President Sean Lewis called her to ask what the chamber could do to help plan the Festival of Lights. "It's the first event we're planning as a team," she said. "The chamber is the perfect partner for us and we're thrilled about that. We're honored they want to work with us."

She said Lewis emailed chamber members, inviting them to participate in this year's Oneonta Festival of Lights, and said "we've gotten quite a few businesses on board already. We certainly couldn't do that ourselves. We would like more individuals and artists involved."

This year's festival will begin Sunday, Dec. 18, and will continue each evening from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. through Sunday, Jan. 1, the release said. The first night will include a ceremony honoring Dr. Yoshiro Matsuo and Physician Assistant Lynne Bolstad, and a menorah lighting as it is the first night of Hanukah.

The theme for 2022 is "Fabulous Fox Physicians" and the event will be in honor of Matsuo and his wife, Bolstad, for their "many decades of providing compassionate, medical care to our community," the release said. The organization is working with Fox Hospital and there will be a display at the festival in Matsuo's and Bolstad's honor.

"Health care workers have endured years worth of strain and we want to honor all who choose to stay and work in the area," Mandigo said. "Dr. Matsuo and his wife are inspiration to other doctors in the area. They could have left and made more money elsewhere, but they chose to spend their lifetime career here to help people in the area. We are grateful to them and all of the healthcare workers."

Everyone in the community is invited to create a display for the festival, and schools, clubs and businesses are encouraged to highlight their organizations in their display design, the release said. Those interested in signing up can email firstnightoneonta@gmail.com for more information. Five Star Subaru and Cleinman Charitable Trust are sponsoring $2,000 in prizes for three winning displays with matching donations to charities of the winner's choice, the release said.

In addition to the Festival of Lights, Hill City Celebrations will bring back the traditional First Night New Year's Eve at The Foothills Performing Arts Center. It is an indoor event, geared toward children and families, and is an alcohol free, family friendly celebration of arts and culture, the release said. The event will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. on New Year's Eve, and will feature DrumQuest, Cosmic Karma Fire, the Hill City Ice Queen and friends, Mike the Juggler, music, face painting, puppets, free pizza, ice cream and more, the release said.

"We'd love it if people signed up for the talent show," Mandigo said. "The talent show was always very fantastic. It was one reason I was so upset we couldn't have First Night during COVID. There is incredible talent in young and old people."

Five Star Subaru and Hill City Celebrations will provide judges and prizes for the talent show, the release said.

All of Hill City Celebrations events are offered at no cost and there is no fee to set up a display, the release said. Hill City Celebrations are admission-free because of sponsors whose names can be found at www.firstnightoneonta.com and in advertising for the events.

Hill City Celebrations board membership is all-volunteer and the organization is in need of new board members, sponsors and volunteers. Anyone interested can contact Stan Fox at stanleyfoxdo@gmail.com or Mandigo at firstnightoneonta@gmail.com for further assistance and questions.

Vicky Klukkert, staff writer, can be reached at vklukkert@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221.