I grew up in Gallipolis and recently came home to this beloved little town on the river, as I do whenever I can, to spend Christmas with family. Our Christmas gathering met all of my expectations: happy children, quiet moments mixed in with the festive chaos, good food and lots of laughs. There was certainly plenty of reason for me to stop and count my blessings. But this year, my visit also included a few unexpected surprises.
The night we arrived from New Jersey, my parents insisted that we go to the park front. Tired from a long day on the road with two kids and a dog, I have to admit I was a bit reluctant. Not wanting to disappoint them, however, the kids and I piled into the car and off we went. I enjoyed the nostalgic drive along First Avenue, with familiar houses decorated beautifully for Christmas, but when we reached the park front, my nostalgia quickly turned to disbelief. “Gallipolis in Lights” was absolutely awe inspiring, from the hundreds of globe lights seeming to float high above the trees to the lane of decorated Christmas trees spanning the length of the park. It was impossible to take it in all at once. I asked Dad to drive around again.
But the surprises didn’t end there. Next we visited the old Colony theater, which Mom explained had been recently refurbished and now was serving food. She had arranged for us to have dessert there. As we entered the Colony Club, my expectations were completely blown away. It had been transformed into a comfortable eatery complete with bar and seating, only with a twist: Jimmy Stewart’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” was playing on the big screen in background. Our dessert was delicious, and the owners, Karen and Dave were attentive and gracious. What a gem hidden behind the old Colony doors!
The final surprise came the day after Christmas with a visit to the Bossard Memorial Library to see a free exhibit: “Bodies Revealed.” This is the same exhibit currently being offered at the Liberty Science Center near New York City. I had planned to go there, but the hectic pre-Christmas season had not allowed it. How surprised I was to find the same world class exhibit here in Gallipolis!
When you live in a small town in Southeastern Ohio, it is sometimes easy to think you are missing something in the bigger outside world. For anyone thinking that, I’d like to point out that I’ve been there. I have walked around New York, visited the tree at Rockefeller Center, seen the decorated Macy’s windows and watched the Radio City Christmas Spectacular featuring the famous Rockettes. While these sites are certainly wonderful, they lack something for me. Maybe it’s the personal connection you feel in Gallipolis. The Radio City ushers don’t call you by name, and you won’t find your high school biology teacher at the Liberty Science Center, asking how you are doing. Bigger is not always better.
Count your blessings, Gallipolis. If you are lucky enough to live here, appreciate what you have and try to be part of the effort to make it even better. If you moved away, appreciate where you came from and make an effort to return sometimes. And when you do, take some time to visit the local sites. Like me, you might be surprised at what you find. See, places like Gallipolis do not exist because they are economic centers. They exist because of the hearts of the people who live there. People who know your name and greet you with a smile. People who dream big and are willing to roll up their sleeves to make things happen. And that is something that can’t be mass produced. So count your blessings, Gallipolis, and when you do, be sure this little town tops your list.
Sandy Neumann is the daughter of Dan and Edna Whiteley of Gallipolis. She graduated from Gallia Academy High School in 1987 and went on to earn her Physical Therapy degree at Ohio University. She currently resides in Robbinsville, N.J. with her husband and two children.