De Soto Days marks year of transition
The De Soto Days Festival's 2008 theme, "Into the Future" is fitting for an event experiencing a year of transition.
The 2009 festival will be its last year at De Soto's Miller Park before moving to Riverfest Park. The first phase of that park, specifically designed to be an event venue, is nearing completion in the West Bottoms on 79th Street.
In another transition, De Soto Days Festival has new leadership this year. Raheema Sampson took over the reins of the organizing committee in February, replacing longtime chairman Max Atwell.
Sampson isn't the only new face. The list of committee members in split between hold overs, such as past event chairwoman Kathy Ross, and newcomers.
The 2007 festival doubled as a celebration as De Soto sesquicentennial, with the community's historic families recognized and a tent set aside for historic photographs.
One holdover from a year ago is the trolley cars on which the historic families rode in the parade and shuttled festival goers to parking and points of interest. Sampson said a trolleys would be back for the festival's biggest day, Saturday, Aug. 30, to give tours city.
The committee opted for a status quo festival this year with few changes, Sampson said. New thing will be explored with the new site in 2009, she said.
The De Soto Days Festival has been a nomad since it was first started 43 years ago, changing sites, dates and even names.
The city's largest annual community celebration was founded by the De Soto Jaycees in 1964 when the organization encouraged all the many other community organizations to join in what was a four-day event. Whizzo the Clown of TV fame was the attraction first year.
De Soto Days has been scheduled at a number of locations over the years: both sides of 83rd Street between Shawnee and Peoria, in the old De Soto High School football field where the City Aquatic Center is now located and Miller Park.
A circus or carnival was an integral part of most De Soto Days events as well as a deluge of rain in many years. A Jaycee record book from 1972 listed among its last minute details a fervent prayer, "Dear God, make it stop raining."
The dates for holding the celebration have changed over the years in an attempt to avoid the rains that were capable of flooding Miller Park, the horrific heat, or major cold snaps.
A Saturday morning parade has almost always begun the festival's all-day celebration and has always had a changing "theme."
After the Jaycees, the event was organized by the city of De Soto and then passed onto the De Soto Park and Recreation Commission and for a time, was helped by the De Soto Chamber of Commerce.
It's now organized by a volunteer group of citizens. Currently, the Evans Carnival Company has agreed to guarantee the committee their participation on Labor Day weekend, so, the festival has settled, for the time being, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Food booths, craft booths, reenactments, and bands are just a few of the scheduled events for entertainment.
The name "De Soto Days" was changed to "De Soto Watermelon Festival" from 1999-2002 and made a 3-day event in an attempt to acquire help with state funding, but that did not materialize. The organization officially was made a non-profit incorporation in June 2001 and officially changed its name back to "De Soto Days Festival Inc." in 2003.