Sun Day Worship Region welcomes spring in the air, if not yet on the calendar.

Posted: March 08, 2010

All around the region yesterday people went outside to celebrate a sunny day when the temperature hit 56 degrees.

Ilya Bondarenko and Sofia Udovenko, both 26 and living in Center City, made a wooden bench look incredibly comfortable.

They spent the afternoon snoozing and snuggling in Fairmount Park's Azalea Garden. It was too early for shrubs to bloom, but not the human spirit after more than 70 inches of snow and lots of cold weather this winter.

"We are very happy," Bondarenko said. "After hibernating, there's nothing better than getting out on the first nice day."

Perhaps the surest sign that spring is coming was the return to Boathouse Row of Robert "Chief" Rasmussen, who has been selling water, snacks, pretzels, and pinwheels there since he was 16. He is now 83.

He parks his minivan on Kelly Drive and sells his wares from a little table. Across the footpath from him is a bench that was dedicated in July. The plaque reads: "Dedicated to Bob Rasmussen - Chief - a friend to rowers for more than 65 years."

Chief was way too busy to sit on it.

"Hi, Chief," said Marissa Caldwell, 18, a rower from Chesterbrook with the Conestoga High School club, buying water.

"How you been?" he greeted her. "You out here every day now?

"Yes."

"Me, too," he said. "This is my first weekend back."

"Usually I come out in mid-February," he said. "I couldn't get out here this year. Too much snow and ice."

When Chief started, everything cost a nickel. Now everything is $1, except for Gatorade and pinwheels, which are $1.50.

Dog biscuits are free.

Speaking of dogs, John Martin, 33, of Roxborough, took his 150-pound Great Dane, Marmaduke, and 10-pound Yorkie, Cody, out for a walk in the park.

It was hard to tell who was happier yesterday, dogs or humans.

Allison and Mike Friel of Broomall took their 8-month-old daughter, Mary, for a stroll.

"We just moved back to the area this fall," Mike Friel said. He was born and raised locally, but his wife was not. They moved from San Francisco.

"It's not always like this," the husband had kept telling his wife all winter.

Yesterday was proof.

"It's great to be out," Allison Friel said. "Just a relief."

Matt Boldt, 21, a Drexel University student, was "bouldering" - rock-climbing - in a popular spot along Kelly Drive known as "The Shell."

In shorts and rolled-up sleeves, he was trying to regain his form, climbing up and down and across the face of the rock.

Which is harder, rock climbing or biomedical engineering, his major?

"Physically, this," he said. "Mentally, that."

People found joy in all sorts of ways.

Jon VanWyngarden, a seventh-grade teacher at the KIPP Philadelphia Charter School, wedged himself into a sunny spot on the Schuylkill riverbank and blissfully read his Bible.

Miles Thompson, 46, a songwriter from Cheltenham, took daughters Rhys MacArthur-Thompson, 12, and Brigid MacArthur-Thompson, 15, down to the sculpture garden on Kelly Drive to play their guitars.

Between the statues The Laborer ("He Wrought Miracles") and The Scientist ("He Weighed the Stars"), father and daughters played Taylor Swift songs and made merry.

Nicole Serini, 28, and Dave Wood, 32, both of Manayunk, spread a blanket and enjoyed a picnic lunch of Wawa grapes and cheese.

Justin Monroe, 24, set out from his home near 26th and South Streets, planning on a 50-mile bicycle ride to and from Valley Forge. But he didn't even get as far as Boathouse Row. A rip in a sidewall caused an inner tube to blow.

He stopped near the Philadelphia Museum of Art to replace the tube, but he would need a new tire before he could ride any farther than back to his home.

"I'll probably just go for a run," he said cheerfully.

It was just too nice out yesterday to be upset over a flat tire.

Contact staff writer Michael Vitez at 215-854-5639 or mvitez@phillynews.com.

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