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The Sun Broke Through
>> Harley C. Jones Memorial Rotary Amphitheater // Celina, Ohio
By Richard Lubbers
Celina is a small town in western Ohio about 125 miles north of Cincinnati. It was named by its founder, James Riley, after the city of Salina, N.Y., but with a spelling change so as not to confuse the census takers. This town on the banks of Grand Lake has a population of just over 10,000 residents, but it is a small town that likes to think big. I was there to join a celebration of a new amphitheater named for one of the town's notable business and civic leaders.
The date was Sept. 21, 2019. The sun broke through angry clouds on this warm, humid day. We had just finished lunch at the Pullman Bay Restaurant, during which we were fearful the noon-time rain would keep people from the upcoming celebration that was to be the grand opening of the Harley C. Jones Memorial Rotary Amphitheater. We left the restaurant to find blue skies filled with cumulus and cirrus clouds, and no more rainfall. The former Mercelina Park was about to get rockin'!
The site for this celebration has a long and rich history. In 1868 it was the grounds for the "First Annual Fair" held by the Mercer County Agricultural Society. Subsequent fairs were held there for a quarter century. In 1872 the society purchased an additional 17 acres of land bounded by Buckeye Street, Fayette Street and the Reservoir (Grand Lake). An 1888 map shows the original fair site and part of the 1872 purchase as the Fair Grounds. In 1893 the society purchased land on West Market Street several blocks to the west, and the fair grounds were relocated there. The original grounds were renamed Celina Park.
In the early 20th century, a grand wooden structure was erected on that site. Later, the Mercelina Hotel was expanded to include several cottages for use by summertime visitors. Waterfront resorts flourished in the years prior to the development of air conditioning. The park was renamed Mercelina Park, a combination of the names Mercer (County) and Celina. A 1941 advertisement stated, "Mercelina Hotel and Park, Modern Summer Cottages for Rent, Chicken and Fish Dinners, Open All Year, phone # 1575, Carl Brandts' Mgr., Celina."
The man for whom the celebrated amphitheater is named was a well-known businessman and civic leader.
Harley Jones was born Dec. 27, 1933, in Ritner, Ky. As a young adult, he served his country as part of the 101st Airborne Division, known as the Screaming Eagles, during the Korean Conflict. It was at this time that he met and married Fay Layman. Upon completion of his military service, he enrolled at Gruen Watchmakers Institute, earning the distinction of Certified Master Watchmaker in 1954.
His career eventually led him north into Ohio, and in 1967 he began a business partnership in Celina. In time he moved his family there and took sole proprietorship of the jewelry store. His family still owns and operates Jones Jewelers, which is one of the oldest retail businesses in the community.
In support of his community, Jones served as president of the Celina Area Chamber of Commerce, and he served on numerous other boards and associations. He was a member of both the Celina Lions Club and the Celina Rotary Club. His local fundraising efforts benefited the people of Celina over the years.
Harley C. Jones passed away at the age of 82 in 2016.
Three years before Jones passed away, the city was approached with a proposal to purchase the land formerly known as Mercelina Park, and consolidate it with Lake Shore Park and Pullman Bay Park to form the Bryson Park District. The Celina City Council established a committee of community members to solicit ideas, and the proposal that gained the most traction was a new amphitheater and outdoor performance structure.
The mayor came upon an existing structure in Colorado that became the basis for the design, which was further developed by Beam Designs LLC of Dublin, Ohio. Funding for the project was secured through a $1.2 million Budget Line Item Grant from the State of Ohio Department of Natural Resources, obtained by former Ohio State Senate President Keith Faber.
The band shell concept developed by Beam Design was submitted to ICON Shelter Systems of Holland, Mich., which provided the city with a proposal to fabricate the structural members, roof deck and the arching sign at the front of the building. The erection of the band shell was completed in the spring of 2019.
Additional funding was needed to complete the amphitheater section. In January 2019, the Celina City Council approved the issuance and sale of bonds with the intent to obtain potential matching funds through available grants. Former Mayor and city school administrator Jim Muster wrote the matching grant applications.
Harley Jones didn't live to see the completion of the city's vision for Mercelina Park. But because of his continual support for projects that improved Celina for all its residents, the city decided that the new amphitheater and band shell were a fitting tribute to the man who gave them so much.
In the words of Mayor Jeff Hazel, "Not only is it to honor him so that we can tell future generations why it's here. But also it's something that, for the community, it brings them together and they know it wasn't just the tax dollars that put this together. It was something in honor of someone. I think that makes a big difference when you look at what you have in your parks." RM
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