Pleasant Ridge street celebrates 40th annual block party

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published September 13, 2017

 Oxford Boulevard residents Keith Fisher and Joe Scott cook up some burgers during the Oxford Block Party.

Oxford Boulevard residents Keith Fisher and Joe Scott cook up some burgers during the Oxford Block Party.

Photo by Donna Dalziel

PLEASANT RIDGE — Off to the west side of Woodward Avenue, one street in Pleasant Ridge has managed to keep one party going for the past 40 years.

The Oxford Block Party celebrated its 40th year Saturday, Sept. 9, amid many neighbors on the block, including ones who have been there since the very beginning.

Resident Peggy Rubino was one of a couple of neighbors who helped organize and co-found the party when it first started in 1977.

She said they started the block party as a way to get to know people on the street. One 55-pound pig roast later led to the beginning of a 40-year-tradition.

“It’s a great way of meeting everybody,” she said. “If you don’t know them, it puts you all together at the same time, and they wear nametags so if you don’t know them, you do by the end of the party.”

Nowadays the party is planned by many residents, each taking some responsibility into their own hands. Gigi VanderWeele said they got together in August of this year to figure out people’s contributions and the theme of the party, which is “Throwback 1977,” which encompasses past themes such as Western, carnival, college gameday and Olympics.

The party is filled with many event staples; a DJ, face painting, inflatables, a photo station, a raffle and more, but it is highlighted by the yearly tug-of-war competition between the north and south sides of the street. An engraved trophy is handed out to the winning side.

“We’re really proud of the tradition,” VanderWeele said. “We know a lot of streets have block parties, but we haven’t heard about a lot that have gone on for this long.”
She continued, “We, on Oxford, pride ourselves in being a very close-knit community; from one end of the block to the other, we really know each other well, and this is just one of several events that we do throughout the year together.”

A 19-year resident of Pleasant Ridge, VanderWeele has been to almost half of the yearly block parties and feels the event has been able to stay around because it’s well-organized and it doesn’t feel burdensome to one particular family to organize.

“So many people pull together, which makes it an easy event,” she said. “People don’t leave Oxford often; like, when you move to this street, you often stay. And so people feel very connected, and this event is really about the street, and so therefore we don’t have a lot of turnover on our street. People have been celebrating this event for years, and it truly becomes a tradition.”

While many of the residents who were at the first party have either moved away or died, some have remained on the block, including Rubino, though she was unable to make this year’s party due to a wedding.

“We miss them, but the new people are revitalizing everything and making it look like when we first moved in there,” she said. “That’s the way a block exists. That’s the way it gets better and better.”

It’s because of these new people that Rubino thinks this is how they’ve been able to keep the party going over the course of the last 40 years.

“The new people are not new after the first year they’re there,” she said. “They’re part of everything.”

VanderWeele said that when her family moved to the city in 1998, they were young and thought maybe this would just be a house, and there would be more houses to come into their lives. But now they’re at a point where they can’t imagine leaving the city, with the block party being part of the reason.

“It’s the neighbors. It’s the people. We wouldn’t miss it. I mean, we literally schedule our fall around this event. It’s that important to our family,” she said.

“It’s the camaraderie. It’s the relationships that we built. People look out for each other on this street. When people have things going on in their lives and they need support, the street is extremely supportive of one another, and we just have fun together,” she added.