Ypsi prepares to celebrate bicentennial with New Year's ball drop, historical events, and more

A year of events honoring the city of Ypsilanti's bicentennial will kick off with a bang on New Year's Eve.
A year of events honoring the city of Ypsilanti's bicentennial will kick off with a bang on New Year's Eve.

The free, all-ages Ypsilanti Bicentennial Kick-off will start with a kid-friendly test ball drop at 7 p.m. on South Washington Street in downtown Ypsi, to be followed by a proper Times Square-style ball drop at midnight. Downtown businesses will offer special deals, music, crafts, and a drag performance throughout the night.

"We want the celebration to have a First Fridays kind of feel," says Evan Milan, chair of the city's Bicentennial Committee.

But that's just the beginning of the festivities, which will continue through the year with a focus on honoring the city's history. Milan brings historical expertise to the proceedings, thanks to his experience with the Ypsilanti Historical Society. 
Ypsilanti Bicentennial Committee chair Evan Milan at The Ypsilanti Historical Museum.
"History is my main interest and what I’m the most excited about, and a lot of folks in Ypsi have put a lot of effort into [it] as well," he says. 

Along with Ypsilanti Historical Society President Bill Nickels and other society members, Milan is working on a bicentennial history book containing 40 different stories from Ypsilanti authors who he says "have lived through historical events or have a deep understanding of them." This book follows the centennial book also curated by the Historical Society, and will be available by summer of 2023.

The Bicentennial celebration will continue on the Fourth of July with the reveal of a time capsule buried in 1973, and a large celebration on Aug. 19 featuring county and state officials, musical performances, and bus tours of Ypsilanti historical sites. Milan also says the Bicentennial Committee will also work with Eastern Michigan University history professor Mark Higbee to offer tours highlighting African-American history during Ypsilanti's Juneteenth celebration.

In addition to those events, Ypsilanti Communications Manager and committee member Tom Koch notes that committee member Stefan Szumo will lead a series of historic walking tours. Those will include a three-mile walk of the perimeter of the Ypsilanti Historic District, which is the third largest in Michigan, and historic walking tours of downtown Ypsilanti. All events are free to the public.

"Whatever background we have, we are a part of this community and have the opportunity to celebrate what a remarkable place we call home," Koch says. "It has been the primary focus to incorporate everyone in this once-in-a-lifetime chance."
Destination Ann Arbor Marketing Coordinator and Office Manager Maria Skrzynski at The Ypsilanti Historical Museum.
Maria Skrzynski, marketing coordinator at Destination Ann Arbor, has also been working alongside Koch and the rest of the committee to curate the #Ypsi200 Facebook page, where residents can get the latest updates on bicentennial events and activities.

"We're so excited to be a part of the Ypsilanti Bicentennial celebration," Skrzynski says. "All year long, we're inviting present and former members of the community, and those with ties to Ypsilanti, to celebrate 200 years with us."

The Bicentennial Committee is also working with the nonprofit YpsiWrites to support the "Love Letters to Ypsi" campaign, started by Caroline Sanders, EMU's interim associate director of community relations and engagement. The campaign is soliciting Ypsi residents both past and present to write letters and postcards reflecting on their favorite memories of the city. 

"I’ve lived in Ypsilanti for 20 years," Sanders says. "I think this will be a very meaningful way to continue [EMU’s] partnership with the city and contribute something that will be long-lasting." 
EMU Interim Associate Director of Community Relations and Engagement Caroline Sanders.
YpsiWrites representatives attended the bicentennial homecoming celebration this past September, offering materials for guests to write letters in person. Community members can continue to fill out postcards online through the YpsiWrites website, and turn in physical postcards to drop boxes at any Ypsilanti District Library (YDL) branch.

YpsiWrites Community Outreach Coordinator Kristine Gatchel says there are plans to "intensify" the Love Letters to Ypsi campaign once the bicentennial year officially begins in 2023. This will include drop-in writing sessions at YDL's Whittaker branch on Jan. 18 from 6-8 p.m. and Feb. 6 from 5-7 p.m. Gatchel says YpsiWrites is also collaborating with Ypsilanti teachers to create love letter prompts that will be "beneficial for students" and make postcards available in classrooms after the first of the year. 

Not only will postcards be displayed at various bicentennial events and at both library branches, but Gatchel says YpsiWrites will also collaborate with Ypsi's Neighborhood Theatre Group to turn some of the love letters into a performance piece.

"We do have a couple people on our team that are also part of Neighborhood Theatre Group," she says. "As we collect our materials we will form a better idea of what it will look like."

From letter writing to walking tours to grand events, there will be a way for all Ypsilanti residents to participate in the city’s 200th birthday. More information and updates on all events will be available at Destination Ann Arbor's Ypsi Real website or the bicentennial Facebook page.

Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.

All photos by Doug Coombe.
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