Ohio city hands out tickets for free show by Jay Leno

Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Jonathan Abernathy, front, Daniel Eltzroth, second row left and Sean Siders, right, catch some sleep Monday as they wait to get free tickets for Jay Leno's performance in Wilmington, Ohio. (Skip Peterson ~ Associated Press)

WILMINGTON, Ohio -- Residents affected by thousands of layoffs at the local airport or otherwise struggling to get by in the shaky economy are hoping laughter is the best medicine.

By late afternoon Monday, an estimated 3,300 tickets had been distributed for next month's free comedy show by Jay Leno, who is bringing his act to southwest Ohio as a morale booster.

People formed lines stretching out from four entrances to the Roberts Centre, where Leno will hold his Comedy Stimulus show May 10.

Penny Tapp, 57, of Highland, Ohio, arrived about 7 a.m. Monday, more than four hours before the distribution of 4,000 tickets began.

Tapp, who lost her freight delivery job in November, said Leno has a big heart for doing the show.

"It's like stretching your arms out and hugging the community and saying 'It's going to be OK,'" Tapp said. "I think it's tremendously important."

Wilmington, a city of 12,000, has drawn attention as an example of the economic struggles of small U.S. communities during the recession, and both presidential candidates discussed its plight last year.

Earlier this month, DHL said it will move U.S. hub operations for its international business from Wilmington to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport by mid- to late summer to save money.

DHL expects to add 180 full-time positions and 650 part-time jobs at the airport in Hebron, Ky., more than 50 miles southwest of Wilmington.

About 8,000 workers were employed at the Wilmington Air Park a year ago when DHL Express announced it was pulling out, and about 3,500 remain. Wilmington Mayor David Raizk says at least half of them will lose their jobs when DHL leaves this summer.

Jack Vyhnalek works at the air park as a pilot for ASTAR and has been told he will lose his job by next March. Sitting on the ground at the head of a line hunched over a laptop computer, Vyhnalek said he is trying to start his own photography business.

Vyhnalek, 50, of Lebanon, said he appreciates what Leno is doing.

"It's an excellent way for him to reach into a community, which is obviously hurt and devastated and maybe for just even a few moments take our minds off of what's happening around here and it will lift us up," he said. "If you can lift up your chin and laugh once in a while, it makes things a lot easier."

Leno also has performed free comedy concerts in the recession-wracked Detroit area.

Suzy Kappaz, of Gail & Rice, the Michigan-based entertainment production company distributing the tickets, said during the 90-minute show Leno will "say a few words to the community about how he understands what they're going through and what a challenge it is and just to hang in there."

The ticket distribution also drew people who are employed, but undergoing tough financial times, such as Kim Corey, 48, of Chillicothe. She works as a motel desk clerk making $7.30 an hour and until recently had been homeless.

Corey said she plans to bring her mother to the Leno show as a Mother's Day gift.

"It kind of gives us a little hope. ... It makes you feel good that he's talking about something we're all worried about," Corey said.

On the Net:

Wilmington, Ohio: http://ci.wilmington.oh.us/

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