WETZEL — Ask Wendi Cremeans where she would be if she could take a vacation anywhere, and without hesitation, she answers Wetzel.
“I love it out here. This is my vacation. You could send me to the Bahamas. You could send me to Hawaii. I’d rather come here,” she said. “I honestly love this place.”
Cremeans was at Wetzel on Friday with her fiancé, Tom D’Andrea, and some of their friends. They drove in from Amherst on Thursday, this time in a car since their motorcycle was in the shop, for the annual event. She’s a regular, has been for nearly a decade.
“I’m a mom; I have two daughters. This is my vacation,” Cremeans said. “I come here, I relax, I show my boobs, I have fun.”
D’Andrea said it’s a great place to spend time. People put their cellphones away, for the most part, and just hang out with others talking, drinking and relaxing.
“Everyone is walking around having a good time,” D’Andrea said. “Women are walking around topless, guys are walking around with their pants off and nobody cares.”
Wetzel is a big party north of Van Wert each year the last weekend in July. The Wetzel Motorcycle Club holds the event on its property which includes a pond shaped like the Harley-Davidson bar and shield in a rural location where people set up tents to camp and party the weekend away. There’s live music, vendors, a swap meet and a lot of food.
Tom Olinger, of Mechanicsburg, has been at Wetzel eight years selling half-pound hamburgers, fish, hot dogs, fries, funnel cakes and various breakfast items.
“We brought 1,600 hamburgers, half pounders. Hopefully we can get rid of all them,” he said.
Food is a big hit at Wetzel since, after all, people have to eat. Olinger said it’s a big weekend for him. He gets about three hours of sleep during the event where people eat around the clock.
“We’ll be up until probably 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning,” he said.
Danny McPhail is one of the club members who helps make the event a success each year. The event draws up to 9,000 people from across the country in what is an annual pilgrimage for many.
“It started as a motorcycle rally. It’s still over half motorcycles,” McPhail said.
But people arrive in various ways — by motorcycle, car and even motor home.
Wetzel Motorcycle Club is a non-profit organization that donates a lot of the gate fee to local charitable causes such as the Boy Scouts, fire departments and crisis centers for women. Last year, the club donated more than $50,000, McPhail said.
“This event is what funds all that and keeps the property going for us,” McPhail said.
Like any memorable event, there has to be a way to memorialize it for those who attend.
Step in Kelly Stroud, of Daytona Beach, who makes the drive annually as she has for 13 years selling T-shirts and other memorabilia.
“We have the official event T-shirt,” she said. “Just about everyone who comes here has to have a shirt.”
Stroud brought 2,000 shirts to sell. She loves Wetzel even though she spends all her time working.
For many, Wetzel is much more than a place to hit once for the bucket list. It’s a place to return over and over once they’ve been there.
Jerry Hartman, of Eaton, has come to Wetzel every year for two decades.
“I come up here for the women and the party,” he said. “That’s my goal.”
Hartman joked it takes a little alcohol for the women to meet him. Hartman was sitting around Friday with three male friends waiting for it to get busier and more women to arrive.
“I can’t wait to get here,” he said. “I rode my ’92 (Harley Davidson) Heritage here.”
Hartman and friends camp out every year and stay the whole weekend. He also likes the bands.
“Hanging out, walking around, talking to people,” he said.
Cremeans said relaxing, having fun and getting away from the worries of the world for a weekend is what Wetzel is about.
“As soon as I leave, I have to put my shirt back on, and it’s back to normal again,” she said.