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Evansville Fest will go on: Lack of volunteers had put its future in doubt

The Carlson family float is a mainstay of the Evansville parade. (Ross Evavold / Echo Press)

Evansville's Fourth of July celebration got pushed to a weekend this year, with July 4 falling in the middle of the work week. But outside of that, the festival looked the same, and most importantly, it will again next year.

That wasn't necessarily going to be the case. Word had gotten out that the two-day celebration Friday and Saturday might be the last.

"Anybody who plans an event knows how much work it is. It takes a lot of people to get it all done. A lot of prep goes into it, months before you even see anything happening," said city clerk/treasurer Diana Olson, who informally took over as co-chairman of the event with Miranda Henneman when Penny Ostendorf from First Security Bank stepped down as head of the Evansville Community Club.

"It gets difficult. We're down to just a few of us. There are only three or four or five of us at the meetings. One time it was just two of us," Olson said of the community club. "Some of the ones helping are starting to get older. It's a lot of work, and we said we can't keep doing it."

The lack of people to pitch in and help isn't unique to Evansville, she said.

"It's not just us. Every organization struggles with the volunteers to man this stuff. A lot of people just don't really want to help," Olson said, noting that Brandon's community club is also searching for volunteers.

So Olson and others with the community club announced that if more people couldn't be found to help out with Evansville's summer festival, they were stepping away and this could be the event's last year.

It will not be, however, Olson said Monday, because of the response they received.

"There were tons of people who stepped up and we definitely appreciated all the help that we got. It was awesome," she said. "It's sad we had to threaten that, but it was amazing the turnout of people who said, 'We'll help.'"

Sometimes it's just the little things, such as wrapping baked potatoes in tinfoil for the pork chop dinner, or setting up traffic cones on the parade route, that make a big difference.

"Some of the things are easy to do," Olson said, but when they are added to the list of duties that already fall on a small group of people, it can get overwhelming. She said workers at the feed actually got to take a break this year.

Having decided the fate of the festival, Olson said the community club is meeting Thursday night to determine the 2019 dates for the Evansville Fourth of July celebration. With July 4 being a Thursday next year, she said the event may return to being held on the 4th, or it could remain on the weekend.

Colorful weekend

Attendance fell for the event this year, Olson said, but those who did take part were in a patriotic mood. From the inventive clothing seen primarily at this time of year — with two-thirds of the city's "Red, White & Boom" festival theme visible on shirts, skirts and hats — to Old Glory waving along the parade route and on parade floats, it was unmistakable that Evansville's summer gathering was embracing all that is Independence Day.

Most spectators lined the parade route, but Helene Olson of Elbow Lake, who has been a constant at the parade for the past two decades or more, watched it all pass by from the comfort of her Lincoln MKX.

"It was really nice," Olson said of the parade. She didn't have a favorite moment. "It was all good."

Handling the announcing chores as the parade made its way past City Hall was Dale Stinton. It was his first parade at the mic, but you wouldn't have known it by the way he mixed in historical notes and information on the dozens of units in the parade, along with the occasional wave at participants.

"I thought it was fun," he said. Stinton's wife Corinne was his spotter, which came in handy when units got out of order from the original lineup. "We just winged it a couple of times."

The couple moved to Evansville in 2005, calling themselves transplants from Illinois.

"I tried not to tell people I do this sort of thing, but word must have gotten out," he said. Stinton did plenty of public speaking in and around Bloomington, and was asked to fill in for Nancy Neterval, who this year participated in the parade, riding on a float along with other members of the Evansville Tigers' Class of 1968.

Other Saturday activities as part of Red, White & Boom Days Saturday included a 5K run/walk, a bean bag tournament, all sorts of kids' games, a pork chop dinner, free watermelon and music, with the day capped by evening fireworks.

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