Archive for Thursday, September 5, 2002

Watermelon Festival ushers out summer

September 5, 2002

Ann Dabbs found her services in demand shortly after the crowd from Saturday's parade made its way to the Watermelon Festival in Miller Park.

Labor Day Weekend might be the customary end of the season, but summer made a comeback Saturday. That made the watermelon offered at the Watermelon Festival Committee's booth at which Dabbs was working the perfect treat as temperatures climbed toward the upper 90s.

The heat may have explained some of the booth's popularity, but it was much the same up and down the park's central walkway, as the hungry lined up three deep to sample the offerings available at 15 food booths.

The De Soto Rotary Club found eager customers for the buffalo burgers it offered despite the warning on Bob Zindler's apron that stated "Never trust a skinny cook." Further down the park's central walkway, Mark Crumbaker sounded very much like a carnival barker as he peddled the Rotary Club's coupon books.

"We're doing pretty well, but you've got to work at it," he said.

The Rotary Club wasn't the only local organization using the festival to make money. Dan Gulley found himself confined in a small jail for being a public nuisance as part of the VFW Ladies Auxiliary fund-raiser.

"I'll probably come up with pocket money pretty soon," Gulley said as he considered his $500 bail.

Crafters also attended the festival with an interest in earning money. Eudora's Kenneth Williams said he found a lot of interest in the quilts available at his tent.

"I'll be doing all right," he said. "I'm selling mainly the little stuff. I had a lot of people ask about the big things."

Nearby, John Toplikar browsed the craft tent looking for more than bargains. The Olathe man and Johnson County Commission candidate was one of many candidates took advantage of the crowds to search for votes.

"I'm not trying nearly has hard as Adam Taff," he said of the GOP candidate for the 3rd Congressional District. "My thinking is most people here don't want to be bothered."

Candidates added to the parade's number as they walked the route, rode in classic cars or covered its length on horseback.

Concerns that the festival would draw smaller crowds because it coincided with Labor Day Weekend didn't materialize, said Watermelon Festival Committee Chairman Max Atwell.

"I don't know how we could have done any better," he said. "The carnival was happy. Most of the food vendors were. I was too busy to get over to talk to the crafters before they left.

"We had a real good crowd Thursday night. It fell off a little Friday, but the carnival people said the night before made up for it. They had such a good crowd Saturday night; they stayed open until 11. They usually close at sometime around 10 or 10:30."

The committee will continue discussion of the event's name, Atwell said. In the hopes of securing grant money to help fund the event, the committee changed the name from De Soto Days to the De Soto Watermelon Festival. The word festival in the title met one of the conditions of the grant, but the committee found it had no hopes of meeting other stipulations.

"It would open it up to a lot more themes," Atwell said of the De Soto Days name. "When the name's Watermelon Festival, that kind of limits your themes."

Those who feel strongly about the issue are welcome to join the committee to voice their opinions, Atwell said. In fact, he said the committee is badly in need of new and more volunteers. The secret may lie in a new pool of potential recruits, he said.

"We could get a lot of new volunteers if we got the new people who moved to town," he said. "We need to get them involved instead of using the same people over and over again."

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