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John Holmberg, the mastermind behind the annual Halloween Block Party, has prepared for Saturday's festivities since last year's Halloween party ended. Holmberg recalls the first block party being held in 1974. (Jason Chow | Staff Photographer)

OU alum helps with organization of annual October bash for 20th year

Editor’s note: This is the final in a five-part series exploring the different aspects and history of the Athens Halloween Block Party.

Though many who attend the Halloween block party are in the spooky spirit for only one night, the party’s main organizer is in Halloween mode all year long.

Jonathan Holmberg, chairman of the Clean and Safe Halloween Committee, has been a large part of the planning and execution of the Halloween block party for 20 years.

Holmberg originally joined the committee when he returned to Athens four years after graduating from Ohio University. He had several friends on the committee who convinced him to join. Several years later, after many members had left, he officially took over the committee.

As head of the committee, Holmberg controls almost every element of Halloween including bands, vending and entertainment.

Though the block party has changed since Holmberg was a student at OU, he said the basic premise remains the same: celebrating.

“Back when I was in school, everyone could drink, so Halloween was an Uptown deal,” he said. “So many people were spilling onto the street, so we took over the block, and eventually, we had to get it shut down. We didn’t have any bands; we just all got stupefied.”

Though some Halloween partygoers might still choose simply to get “stupefied” this year, others will enjoy the two stages of entertainment that Holmberg began recruiting for almost immediately after last year’s festivities ended.

“Working at Jackie O’s Uptown, I get to see a lot of bands that come through here,” Holmberg said. “I look for bands that are OU affiliated, or I pick from the finer bands out of Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati.”

Even though some parts of Holmberg’s job might involve listening to music and planning the party aspects of the holiday, he said much of his responsibilities revolve around making sure Athens residents and out-of-town guests are safe.

Holmberg meets with police department heads and recruits volunteers to deal with the large crowds the block party draws. Although he said the party might seem strict at times, the structure is necessary.

“Safety is a big issue,” Holmberg said. “We like to make sure that people have a good time and go home safely. We’re trying to make it more family oriented, less of a drunken brawl. I worry sometimes that people think it’s too organized and what’s missing is the unpredictability, but being unpredictable causes problems.”

To ensure a safe Halloween, Holmberg meets with many officials throughout the year, including Ron Lucas, deputy service safety director. Lucas and Holmberg first meet a few weeks after the celebration ends and continue to have meetings until the next block party arrives.

“He’s been running this since I can remember, and I’ve been here for 14 years,” Lucas said. “We work together to ensure that the stages are set up and safe.”

Lucas said Holmberg understands how to run the party in a way that is in keeping with safety regulations.

Though Holmberg is a large part of Halloween, his work sometimes goes without recognition, said David Alexander, one of the creators of Dave Rave, a DJ duo that has been featured at the block party since 2010.

“I think Jonathan’s work in organizing the Halloween block party goes unnoticed for the most part,” Alexander said. “Besides the event sponsors and some volunteers, I don’t think Jonathan gets much help or support. Everyone wants to party on Court Street at Halloween, but not many people understand what it takes to make Halloween work.”

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