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Kid-friendly festivities ring in 2008
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Youngsters partied all day Monday aboard a plane at the Interactive Neighborhood for Kids and sipped sparkling grape juice at the Gainesville Bowling Center to ring in the new year.

Nearly 200 children flocked to INK for the grand opening of an interactive 1955 AeroCommander airplane exhibit that took more than 50 people 1« years to restore. The seven-passenger polka-dotted plane features a cockpit with a refurbished interior that invites children to push buttons simulating the sound of its engine cranking.

Alan Wayne played an integral part in restoring the plane to add to the INK exhibit collection, and said it may soon have the capability for an interactive traffic control radio tower. He said the plane cost more than $100,000 to construct, but various donations were made from corporations and private households from as far away as Ohio and California.

Wayne said Hartzell Corp. donated a $15,000 propeller to the exhibit, while the Cottrell company footed the plane’s $12,000 paint job.

The new "Grandpappy Airlines" plane made its debut at the sixth annual INK New Year’s Eve celebration, where families were invited to watch a magic show from Jeff McClure. Kids also participated in face painting and a variety of crafts.

"We always have a great turnout on New Year’s Eve," said Sheri Hooper, executive director for INK.

Hooper said the interactive town at INK provides a great opportunity for families to come together on New Year’s Eve, even for the little ones who sometimes have a hard time making it to midnight.

The crowded cockpit and the children’s squeals being emitted from it were a testament to the success of the all-day New Year’s Eve celebration.

"(The plane) will be used as a hands-on learning experience for kids," Hooper said. "They’ll learn what it’s like to be a pilot and will be able to use their imagination to be whatever they want to be. What better way to fly out of 2007 and into 2008?"

Wayne credited partner Gary Myers as another plane restoration enthusiast who made the INK addition possible. Wayne said that he was surprised so many individuals came forward to contribute to the exhibit.

"When you say you’re doing something to keep kids off the street, that’s the ticket, because nobody wants to see kids go bad," Wayne said.

Elementary schoolers and teenagers also joined in a wholesome New Year’s Eve celebration Monday afternoon and evening at the Gainesville Bowling Center.

For the first year, the bowling center held its afternoon family party, and invited families to welcome 2008 with family deals on lanes, as well as cosmic bowling, make-your-own cupcakes, pizza, Chicago-style party fedoras and noisemakers.

Lisa and Ralph Johnston brought their whole family out to spend the afternoon bowling. In fact, they’ve made bowling at 3 p.m. on New Year’s Eve a tradition for their three children. Brothers, sisters, grandparents and cousins all showed up dutifully at the bowling alley Monday for the fifth consecutive year.

"The kids were really small when we started, but now they’re getting older and we still have fun," Ralph Johnston said. "Rather than just sitting around and watching TV, we wanted to do something active as a family."

Johnston said that although his family is an athletic one, bowling is no one’s forte, which makes for an afternoon full of laughter. He said the tradition gets the family together so they can talk and welcome the new year in each other’s company.

"You’re hanging out with your family, and they’re a pretty good influence. They’re even fun to hang out with, most of the time," Liz Johnston, 13, said.

She added that even as she enters high school, she plans to continue spending New Year’s Eve at home with her family watching the ball drop in Times Square.

Her father, Ralph Johnston, said that he plans to incorporate his children’s friends into the tradition to keep them excited about it as they get older.

The family bowling celebration gave way to a more adult-geared party beginning at 8 p.m. But Debbie Love, who co-owns the Gainesville Bowling Center with her husband and parents, said she plans to hold another family bowling party on Dec. 31, 2008.

"It’s a great way to spend time together and catch up," Love said. "Even if the kids don’t want to go with you, they’ll have fun because bowling is cool — and cosmic bowling is really cool. It’s just a chance to end the year on a great note and start the new year on a great note."

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