Welcoming 2022

Traditional midnight ball drop returns to Menasha on New Year’s Eve

by Tim Froberg

Gathering at Times Square may be the ultimate way to ring in the new year. But celebrating the arrival of 2022 at Curtis Reed Square is an excellent alternative to the Big Apple.

The 29th annual FirstEve New Year’s Eve Celebration returns to downtown Menasha in its traditional form Dec. 31 from 11 p.m. to 12:15 a.m.

A year ago, the FirstEve celebration was held as a virtual event (with no crowd) due to the global pandemic.

This year, it’s business as usual at Curtis Reed Square. A full crowd is expected with a DJ on hand to get the party started. The event – put on annually by the arts and cultural nonprofit group, Community Forward – will be highlighted by the traditional Times-Square-style ball drop at midnight followed by a Festival Foods fireworks display over the Fox River.

Festival Foods, TLC Sign Co. and WFRV-TV Channel 5 – which will do a live broadcast – are the primary event sponsors. There is no admission charge.

“We always say that the number one place to welcome the new year is Times Square in New York, but the second best is Curtis Reed Square in Menasha,” said James Taylor, president of Community Forward and one of the co-founders of the event. “It’s a moment in time – the changing of the year – and we’re really happy that people can come here again and celebrate the arrival of the new year.”

For the actual ball drop, a metal ball that is six feet in diameter and decorated with 140 lights descends from a flagpole at Curtis Reed Square. Bob Endter, a metal fabricator, and Gary Breening, a welder, worked to create the first replica ball, with Elmer and Mabel Becher of Becher Electric providing electrical expertise. The Menasha High School metal shop created a new metal ball of the same dimensions five years ago.

The lighted ball will sit at half-staff early in this year’s program in honor of those who lost their lives this year due to COVID-19. 

The FirstEve celebration is a family-friendly event, and no alcohol will be served.

Taylor came up with the original idea for the FirstEve celebration after he and his wife, Monica, watched “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” on television in 1993.

“It occurred to us that we have a city square with a flagpole – we can do this in Menasha,” said Taylor. “We keep the program short because it’s Wisconsin and it’s cold out that time of the night. But people know how to dress for it.” 

With the celebration being an outdoor event, masks will not be required.

“It’s just a fun event to get people together to embrace the new year,” Taylor said. “We get people from different communities in the area – Neenah, Appleton, Kimberly, Kaukauna, Fond du Lac. It’s fun to hear the DJ shout out where people are from.”