BROOKSVILLE — It was Hernando County's own little version of the New Year's Eve crystal ball drop in New York's Times Square. Only this countdown party centered around the midnight descent of a 7-foot-tall orange fiberglass tangerine.
"It was fun, and it was unique," said Wayne Vutech, longtime organizer of Brooksville's annual Tangerine Time event, which was held the past eight years at the Jerome Brown Center and Tom Varn Park. "We always tried to have something for everybody."
There won't be a Tangerine Time this year. Vutech was forced to scrub Hernando's only public New Year's Eve event mostly because of a lack of volunteer helpers.
"It's very sad to lose this," said Vutech. "In a county of 160,000, I could only find about six or seven people who wanted to help. I figured I needed at least 15 in order to make it work."
Vutech, owner of Archer Painting Co. in Brooksville, organized the first Tangerine Time in 2002 at Tom Varn Park with the idea of offering an alcohol-free event where families could gather and enjoy the runup to the new year. He came up with the tangerine theme as a homage to the region's history as a major citrus producer.
Businesses kicked in contributions of food, drinks and prizes; and local singers and dancers donated their time. Admission was a nonperishable food item, which was donated to the Salvation Army's food bank.
Vutech recalled the first event was held during a driving thunderstorm, forcing about 100 attendees to hunker down inside the Jerome Brown Community Center near midnight while he and volunteers struggled to lower a giant blowup tangerine.
At its peak, the event drew nearly 1,000 people. But as the economy began to sink, it got harder to secure donations. Vutech said he probably could have pulled off the event this year if he had more time to find the help he needed. "I was relying on people that are either too old or too sick to do it anymore," he said.
Vutech hasn't given up completely. He hopes to revive the event next year. Anyone interested in volunteering at next year's event is encouraged to call him at (352) 799-7420 or (352) 585-3570.
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.