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Published: Thursday, 5/13/2010

400 screaming fans fill church to cheer their hometown hero

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

ELLISTON, Ohio — Welcome to Crystalmania.

It's really more of a state of mind than a place on a map — a feeling that was reaffirmed in the hearts of 400 or so people who gathered last night in a fellowship hall to cheer on hometown hero Crystal Bowersox as she became one of American Idol's Top 3 finalists.

The standing-room-only crowd at Trinity United Church of Christ burst into a joyous scream, fists pumped in air, when host Ryan Seacrest announced near the end of the show that Bowersox had survived another week. Some, as they made their way to their cars, claimed they were gasping for breath in anticipation, being that Bowersox was the last one to advance.

“Crystal rocks! Crystal rocks!” shouted a delirious crowd of preschool and elementary school-aged children for the television cameras after the show ended, holding up a banner they'd made during the show in a side room.

Yes, lest there be any doubt, rooting for Bowersox has become a family affair. Her latest T-shirt went on sale inside the church last night, still warm from the printer. On the back are the songs she sang on Idol through Tuesday night, with the phrase: “She left Elliston a singer and came home a star.”

Keith Bowersox, Crystal's grandfather, watches ‘American Idol' in Trinity United Church of Christ in her hometown, Elliston. Keith Bowersox, Crystal's grandfather, watches ‘American Idol' in Trinity United Church of Christ in her hometown, Elliston.
THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge | Buy This Photo

No doubt the sentiment expressed earlier in the night by Crystal's father, Bill Bowersox, represented that of many people inside the church and across northwest Ohio.

“I'm the proudest Papa Sox on the planet,” Mr. Bowersox, a 54-year-old electrician for Brush Wellman Inc. told The Blade inside the church kitchen as his daughter's legion of fans was eating dinner. His house, one in which Crystal has resided, is a mere football pass from the church parking lot.

The atmosphere inside the church might not have been so remarkable if it weren't for the fact that Elliston, Ohio, has 75 residents on a good day.

Twenty miles southeast of Toledo in Ottawa County's Benton Township, it is perhaps one of the few slices of small-town Americana that even the late Norman Rockwell might have had trouble capturing in a painting.

The town isn't found on many maps these days; it has no traffic lights, no restaurants, no fast-food joints, no ATMs, and other things in life that people tend to consider conveniences or annoyances.

Blink and you'll miss it. The only sign of Elliston once having a gas station is an abandoned pump in front of an abandoned automotive garage that is so old its pricing dial is stuck at 30.9 cents a gallon.

Janene Gahler of Elliston folds Crystal Bowersox T-shirts at Trinity United Church of Christ, where the singer-songwriter's fans gather every Wednesday night to watch ‘American Idol.' Janene Gahler of Elliston folds Crystal Bowersox T-shirts at Trinity United Church of Christ, where the singer-songwriter's fans gather every Wednesday night to watch ‘American Idol.'
THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge | Buy This Photo

But a funny thing has happened during Bowersox's ascension to stardom.

Elliston got its MoJo back.

That happened even after the town lost its post office in 1981. Suddenly, locals say, it's cool to be from there or nearby Graytown.

“It's surreal,” Ava Bodnar, Graytown postmaster, said about the excitement surrounding Bowersox. “A lot of times, towns lose their identity when they lose their post offices, but Elliston has regained its identity.”

Indeed. Letters for Bowersox, with an Elliston address, have poured in from across the country. Many have even come from overseas, Ms. Bodnar said.

The church, one of two anchored at Elliston's main intersection, is thrilled by the fellowship that Bowersox has generated among some country folk, many who didn't know each other.

Robin Hansen, a Trinity member who serves on various church committees, said members of Zion United Methodist Church across the street have joined them for a weekly viewing of Idol for months.

Crowds in recent weeks have averaged between 250 and 400. She said one man from Napoleon asked her yesterday afternoon how to get there.

Women in their 80s stay at the church hours later to vote for Bowersox, according to Ms. Hansen.

The gathering starts with a buffet-style dinner. One woman has been baking eight dozen cookies a week. Area businesses have donated pizzas, subs, and other food.

One person they'd never seen before dropped off 20 2-liter bottles of soda, she said.

More than 3,500 T-shirts have been sold, generating more than $5,000 for a local diabetes program. Bowersox has had diabetes since age 7.

A self-published history of Elliston from 1968 has also suddenly become a hot seller.

“It's crazy, it's awesome,” said Amber Gahler, a Graytown woman who didn't realize who Bowersox was until she saw her picture.

“It's brought us together,” Ms. Gahler said. “She's united a community.”

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com,or 419-724-6079



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