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Covington Vows to Take on Education as City Celebrates 200 Years in Style

It was a party two hundred years in the making and the people of Covington and its supporters rose to the occasion in black ties and gowns, mingling amid a colorful futuristic display that featured energetic college-aged clowns, champagne flutes that light up, illuminated gift boxes, and a checkered dance floor that was put to good use.

Saturday night at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center, at the stroke of midnight, the City of Covington officially turned 200 years old, and a year-long bicentennial celebration is now underway.

Hours before the celebratory midnight toast (accompanied by DJ Khaled's raucous All I Do Is Win courtesy of WKRQ's Jon Jon who presided over the Birthday Bash), the Bicentennial Gala featured a look back at the city's history, a contemplation of its present, and a call to action for its future.

COV200 Co-Chair Norm Desmarais announced the bicentennial's legacy project as a joint effort between community leaders and organizations to fast-track the improvements to Covington Independent Public Schools, to make it the envy of urban districts. "Imagine a Covington where there are no boundaries, there is a school system unparalleled, where students give back to their community," Desmarais asked of the crowd. There was no need to imagine, he said, as those things were already happening: Glenn O. Swing Elementary recently completed a two-year climb from the 19th to the 99th percentile in the state and 71% of CIPS students participate in a service learning project.

But there is still much work to be done to spread those successes across the district.

Covington Independent Public Schools, Covington Partners, Children, Inc., and Gateway Community & Technical College have formed a coalition, Desmarais announced, that will create a pathway "to take all schools to the 99 percentile".

The announcement received a standing ovation from the 1,000-plus gala crowd, an encouraging sign for Desmarais who had just asked for their financial and participatory support to create a sustainable fund that would become a strong source of revenue for education-focused non-profits like Covington Partners and Children, Inc.

Desmarais, founder and chairman of TiER1, and fellow COV200 Co-Chair Amanda Greenwell, program director at UpTech, oversaw a glitzy production that included a sneak peek at the COV200 documentary that premiers at various locations across the city on Sunday, presentations of awards and gifts to the city's oldest business (Motch Jewelers, presented by Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President Trey Grayson), a preview of the newly released first-ever comprehensive history of Covington (co-edited by Kenton County Library Executive Director Dave Schroeder and Northern Kentucky University historians Paul Tenkotte and Jim Claypool) and to the city's two oldest residents who have been alive for more than half of Covington's existence and both of whom happen to be named Opal.

"Both of their names are Opal, so we think that's part of the fountain of youth, as well as living in Covington, so remember that," said Mayor Sherry Carran in presenting 107-year old Opal Hizallah (represented by family) and 105-year old Opal Evans who was at the gala. Evans and her husband operated a jewelry store at Ritte's Corner in Latonia for forty years before retiring in the early 1970s. 

The gala attracted guests young and old and was both a who's who and a who's new in Northern Kentucky and if the event was a spectacle to behold, Desmarais promised that there would be much more to come. At $125 a ticket, the gala is the year's biggest fundraiser for COV200, and the money will be put to good use, if Desmarais's hint is any indication.

"Major League Baseball put its All-Star game in Cincinnati in honor of Covington," he joked, referencing the summer tradition that is slated for the Queen City in July. COV200 is planning some significant events to coincide with that opportunity, part of the organization's goal to have tens of millions of eyeballs on the city. "I'm hearing some rumors," he continued coyly. "Let me tell you, if you think tonight is special, you wait till that time. We're going to rock this city."

Story & photos by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News

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