FAIRMONT - When coordinators for this year's post-prom party in Fairmont met with the woman who spearheaded the event 30 years ago, they marveled at the similarities that remain and chuckled at the differences.
Post-prom is held each year to provide a safe, alcohol- and drug-free gathering for students to continue to celebrate their spring formal, a night that too often prompts underage drinking and driving.
Last year, Jeani Tennyson, Dawn Petrowiak and Karla Sauck were parents of prom-going seniors, which was the reason they volunteered for the post-prom party. The positive aspects and rewards resulted in the three returning to coordinate this year's event, scheduled to follow the April 26 prom, although Petrowiak is the only one with a child attending.
When the trio met recently with Donna Holstine, who organized the first post-prom party in Fairmont in 1984, they were surprised that many aspects have stayed the same.
"The first year, there were 30 kids," Holstine recalled, with attendance staying about the same the first three years. "I passed it on after 11 years - it was getting to be a lot - and by then we had almost 200 kids."
"Last year, we had 199," Petrowiak said.
"I hope you had good help," Tennyson told Holstine.
"I did it alone for seven years, but I had great volunteers," she said.
Some of the first volunteers, such as local service club members and Fairmont firefighters, remain staunch supporters three decades later.
Holstine explained to this year's coordinators why she was compelled to start the post-prom party. While growing up in a small Nebraska town, she experienced a great loss when her best friend's parents were killed by an impaired driver. Years later, after moving to Fairmont, Holstine became involved in local government, serving on the City Council, as mayor and on the Safety Council at the local and state level, where she championed a chemical-free environment as a method of saving lives.
The post-prom party evolved from those convictions.
"No. 1 - I wanted the kids to be safe. I wanted to show that they could have fun without alcohol," Holstine said. "If you save one life, it's worth all the effort."
"The goal is still the same; it hasn't changed," Petrowiak said.
Bowlmor Lanes provided the setting for the first several years of the event. After the dance, students were allotted time to change from formal gowns and tuxedos into "normal" clothes and arrive at the post prom party by 1 a.m. They could gamble at a mock casino, bowl a few frames or play various games, with prizes awarded throughout the evening.
In 1990, the grand prizes were a 12-inch black-and-white television and a Nintendo game system. This year, two lucky students will win an Ipad tablet or a "dorm package" consisting of a microwave, mini refrigerator and a television - a color television, that is.
Several years ago, the event relocated from Bowlmor to the Martin County Arena to accommodate the growing number of students attending. The party starts at midnight, with doors locked at 1 a.m. No students are allowed to enter or leave until 4 a.m.
No food, drink, bags, purses or backpacks can be brought into the party. Ample food and beverages will be supplied, and students will receive a free bag for their tickets and any prizes they may win. Cell phones will be allowed.
Students pre-register at the high school, and the earlier they sign up, the greater their chances for winning prizes.
"The earlier they register, they get more tickets to put in for the grand prize," Sauck explained.
Casino games are still popular with the students. Following this year's theme of "Luau Palooza for 2014," a special grass skirt relay is planned. There also will be an obstacle course, rock climbing wall and photo booth.
Over the past three decades, one thing has remained constant.
"You rely on the parents to volunteer and get the kids to come, but the community is the other half," Holstine said. "This community has been wonderful."
"People are very generous," Tennyson agreed.
While Holstine visited businesses door to door to request donations, now funds and prizes are solicited through the mail. Petrowiak said more than 400 letters were sent out, but only 25 percent prompted a response.
"But we do get a lot of last-minute donations," she noted.
Financial donations are accepted year-round at Fairmont Area Chamber of Commerce. Checks should be made payable to Youth First, with "Post-prom" written on the memo line.