Nearly 300 Clarkes- and Highland-area picnickers turned out with friends and family for the annual picnic last wee

by: CRAIG LOUGHRIDGE - The picnic features all sorts of fun family gamesThe Clarkes Community Picnic last week may have been the last occurrence of the community celebration, held annually since September 1999.

Nearly 300 Clarkes- and Highland-area picnickers turned out with friends and family to wind up the summer under sunny skies and mild temperatures. They were joined by drivers showing off classic cars, and by firefighters and a sheriff’s deputy who came to meet picnickers, and to join the fun.

The Nelzen family, which owns the property where the picnic has been each of its 15 times, announced they would no longer be able to organize the event.

Luann Nelzen hoped some group might take over, but said if none did, then this year’s picnic will have been the last.

“I hope it doesn’t go away,” said 11-year-old Kelsey Urton. “I’d be really sad. I love (the picnic). I come every year. We have so many great memories from here.”

The “here” is “Ringo Pond,” the privately-owned site off Beavercreek Road where Nelzen’s father, Boyd Ringo, created a pond and park for local residents to put on events for themselves.

Ringo died in 2001, but his family continued to expand the park. A sign reading “Boyd Ringo Memorial” now graces acres of close-cropped lawns, flowering shrubs, native trees and a large, log pavilion.

Luann and husband Gary have been the primary organizers of the picnic in recent years, and Gary has been suffering from cancer since 2009. Luann said Gary and his doctors have been fighting hard against the disease, but it has spread to his liver and lungs.

Because Gary’s prognosis is uncertain, and because Luann is in her 60s, the Nelzens felt it was time to end their participation with the picnic.

Kelsey’s mother, Michelle, said she wouldn’t mind helping in future years.

“I hope it doesn’t go away,” Ms. Urton said.

Luann said her family would continue to offer their property for the picnic if other people would keep the event going. She said her family hoped the picnic could stay at Ringo Pond, and that it would continue to be on the second Sunday in September.

“We also felt if we brought in the community more, they’d feel more like it was their event,” Luann added.

Gary Bush operates a Christmas tree farm in Clarkes. Most picnickers spot him hovering around a large, barrel-shaped barbecue, where he dutifully tends to burgers, hot dogs and sausages. He said he would miss the picnic.

“It’s great,” he explained. “There’s a lot of people you don’t normally see.”

Said Sue Sleight, a Clarkes resident for many decades: “It’s beautiful, and really special, and it does bring the community together. I do hope the Grange can take it over.”

by: CRAIG LOUGHRIDGE - Clarkes Community Picnic supperSleight and other picnickers who talked that Sunday afternoon suggested that Clarkes Grange members consider taking over the event. The hall where the Grangers meet the second Saturday of each month is less than a mile from the Nelzens’ property.

Said Bush, who also is a Grange member: “I think the Grange ought to do it.”

Rev. Tom Truby, pastor at Clarkes United Methodist Church, thought local church members might be able to pitch in too.

Bush expected the topic to be discussed at an upcoming Grange meeting, although when a decision might be made was unclear.

Luann organized the first community picnic along with her friend and fellow Clarkes resident Joan Loschiavo as a way to bring local neighbors together.

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