Overcoming Tragic Obstacles, Mansfield Pride Festival Pushes Ahead

By Alissa Paolella, The Buckeye Flame

The Mansfield Gay Pride Association’s board of directors has pushed through unimaginable challenges this year to restart the Mansfield Pride Festival & Parade after a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The celebration in August in Mansfield—the northeast Ohio county seat of Richland County, located midway between Cleveland and Columbus — moved ahead despite some tragic obstacles.

Bald man wearing a neon yellow shirt and sunglasses on his head smiles in front of a rainbow flag with Sami's printed on across it
The Mansfield LGBTQ community lost a huge supporter with the death of Sam Ramirez

First, on Dec. 12, Sam Ramirez, who owned the local inclusive bar, Sami’s Bar, passed away after being hospitalized since Nov. 8. That same month, longtime board president Todd Rice resigned.

Less than four months later, on April 2, Rice passed away unexpectedly. Rice’s death remains under investigation.

At the time of Rice’s death, the Mansfield Gay Pride Association released a statement: “We at Mansfield Gay Pride Association’s hearts are broken and ask all of our community to continue to respect his family and their choice of privacy through this time.”

On Sunday, Aug. 8, the Mansfield Gay Pride Association remembered Rice with the Todd Rice Memorial After Pride Drag Brunch.

Todd Rice

Rice moved from Michigan to Mansfield in 2017, soon becoming president of the Mansfield Gay Pride Association. Rice used his leadership to not only grow the event, but also start other local LGBTQ+ events, such as Meet and Greets on the second Tuesday of each month and a book club.

As soon as Gov. Mike DeWine announced that fairs and festivals would be permitted in Ohio, the board got to work. In early May, after Rice’s replacement resigned for personal reasons, Tim Denis stepped into the president’s role with support of the board, and Sheila Barone was voted in as vice president. Two other former board members rejoined the local nonprofit board.

“One thing is that we are all going through this together,” Denis said. “We have an awesome board and a great team. They’re all so enthusiastic about Pride. But I don’t want anyone to feel overwhelmed. My philosophy is we’re a team. There are no big I’s or little U’s. We will win or lose as a team.”

Barone said board members all work well together, but most importantly, they listen to one another. Transparency has been an important attribute as the board has pushed forward in planning the seventh annual Mansfield Pride Parade and Festival.

“Everyone knows what each of us is doing. That way if something happens, any one of us can pick it up and continue,” Denis said. “We’re trying to preserve as much of Pride as we can without overextending ourselves.”

Two years ago, 35 groups entered the Mansfield Pride Parade. This year, there were just over 30 entrants with 15 first-time participants.

L-R: Ricky Campbell, nephew of Sami Ramirez; Mansfield Gay Pride Association President Tim Denis; and Karen Rice, mother of Todd Rice

Barone, who’s in charge of vendors, said she would have been happy with 25 vendors. As of late July, 38 were planning to attend, including one of the artists from Otherworld, the immersive art experience in Columbus. Additionally, two drag shows and a live band were scheduled for entertainment.

Despite the loss of Ramirez and Rice, their memories were prominent throughout the weekend. The parade’s grand marshals were Ramirez’s nephew, Ricky Campbell, and Rice’s mother, Karen Rice.

“Two years ago, we had an estimated 4,000 people come out to Mansfield Pride,” Denis said. “We’re hoping to have the same or maybe even more this year. It’s just a family-oriented place for everyone to have a good time, be themselves and be together without facing any judgment for who they are.” 🔥

The Buckeye Flame is an platform dedicated to amplifying the voices of LGBTQ+ Ohioans to support community and civic empowerment through the creation of engaging content that chronicles their triumphs, struggles, and lived experiences.

Copyright 2021 The Buckeye Flame. Reprinted with permission by The Buckeye Flame.

Published by Alissa Paolella

Alissa Paolella is a writer, editor, photographer, social media manager, and marketing communications strategist with over 15 years of experience in the news media, advertising, and health care industries. They have overseen print and digital campaigns for small and large organizations and has served as a communications consultant for numerous nonprofits and universities. In their free time, Alissa enjoys trail-hiking with their camera and almost always has a book (or two) nearby.

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