PEORIA — Bitterly cold temperatures Sunday didn't keep the Ellis family from starting a new family tradition by attending PNC Winterfest's first ever New Year's Eve ball drop.

The Dunlap family took to the ice at the outdoor rink, retreated to the warming tent and then headed back again to enjoy the ice slide and the rink. When 7 p.m. came — the first ball drop was for the kiddos — they attacked the ice. Some were in skates like father Brett and daughter Lydia, 8, Others like mother Mandy and 3-year-old daughter Lauren, just walked out to the rink. And as the countdown reached zero, horns tooted, people cheered and they partied like it was 2018. But it wasn't. At least, not yet.

"I'm here because we want to watch the ball drop and I hope I can stay until the band plays later," said Lydia, who took to the ice with gusto. For those feeling the cold, there was a storyteller inside the Peoria Civic Center, where children could hear stories and adults could warm up. Later in the evening, Dexter O’Neal and the Funk Yard would take the stage inside the Civic Center lobby. There was another ball drop scheduled for midnight, with fireworks to follow.

Megan Pedigo, a spokeswoman for the Peoria Civic Center, said: "We had hoped that people could be out and enjoying the rink later and enjoying the magic of Downtown later. But the weather did kind of play a factor in that." 

"It was really important to still have the ball drop, even though it was very cold. The men and women of the union construction network put a lot of hours into this ball. It's beautiful," she said. "The tradition starts now. It's just matter of getting better weather for next year."

And that's just what Paul Flynn, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local No. 34. wanted to hear. His local and others contributed to making the 1,550-pound and six-foot-tall ball that contained 2,000 LED lights. He looked around, seeing almost 200 people gathering shortly before the first ball drop and said he was proud to have been a part of the effort.

"I'm very happy to be at the first-ever ball drop in Peoria," he said.

But the cold weather wasn't for everyone. The Look family drove in from Pekin to enjoy the rink. It was something different and they are used to be outdoors. They went sledding much of the weekend. One of their boys plays hockey so skating is a thing for them but the cold got to be too much for them and after about 20 minutes, they packed it in. And they weren't alone. While the skating was free between 5 and 7 p.m., several people left after only a few minutes on the ice. According to the National Weather Service, it was about 0 at 6 p.m. With the wind chill, it felt more like -10.

The Manley family from Washington made the trek over because they wanted to take the kids skating for the first time. Plus, it was a new and different way to spend New Year's Eve. Leyton, their 9-year-old daughter, seemed to like the skating but admitted it was kind of cold.

After the ball dropped, Brent Ellis, wearing a paper 2018 hat, and his wife, Mandy, who sported a tiny tiara, both beamed as their kids looked at the bright sphere. When asked if it was worth the cold, they both said, "Yes," without any hesitation.

Andy Kravetz can be reached at 686-3283 and akravetz@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @andykravetz.