LIMA — At the intersection of state Route 65 and Sycamore Street in Columbus Grove, there are no less than three signs along the roadway advertising a summer festival in the area. Summer weekends on community calendars are often filled with festivals, such as Pioneer Days in Kalida or the recently competed Summer Moon Festival in Wapakoneta.
“With the moon landing happening on July 20, it makes for a perfect time to have a festival,” said Josh Hines, director of the Wapakoneta Chamber of Commerce. “Neil Armstrong is our most famous citizen, so we definitely want to celebrate that.”
Young and old alike often make their community festivals one of the centerpieces of their social calendar, catching up with old friends or taking the time to show off their town for family and friends. However, behind the rides and games, behind the musical entertainment and behind the elephant ears and french fries is a dedicated group of organizers, with people often volunteering their time to bring these events to their neighbors.
“This is a good area for volunteering, so this is a great way to volunteer and give back to the community,” said Dereck Meyer, one of the head organizers for Ottawa’s Tri-State Rhythm and Rib Fest. “It’s a great way to bring everyone together.”
“We’re not making any money off of this,” Bart Mills said. Mills has helped organize several events in Lima, including Pickle’s Blues Extravaganza, Square Fair and the upcoming Lima Live.
Also, the labor involved in putting these three-, two- or even one-day events together is very long and intense, with planning done months in advance.
“We start planning next year’s festival on Monday,” Hines said. “It’s a full year of planning. You have your full-time job and then you have to try to find time to devote to this.”
“I’m working on next year already,” Meyer said. “I’d like to be able to actually enjoy this festival some year.”
So what makes all of the phone calls, emails, committee meetings, set up and tear down worth it? Mills sees two areas of motivation for putting on these events, with the first being very practical.
“At some point, it’s evangelism for what you serve,” he said. “With big, money-making events, the idea is that we need to raise money for an organization because its work is important to the community.”
The second comes down to community pride.
“I have children who are going off to college, and I want more than anything else for my kids to want to come back to Lima,” he said. “The thing that sends teenagers away more than anything else is the idea that your hometown isn’t cool or that there isn’t anything to do. I think different events can help your hometown look cool and keep people coming back.”
However, as motivated as organizers can be, there comes a point where the workload can get to be too much to handle because of age or other concerns. The concern then is finding others who are willing to take the baton and run with it.
“We worry about that, for sure,” Mills said. “We need to make sure we can have a new generation of people who can come up and learn how to do these things, so even if a director starts getting old or can’t do it anymore, we can have other people who can come up and take the reins.”
With its 11th year now complete, the Rhythm and Rib Fest has already seen a changing of the guard.
“This was started 11 years ago and the original guys are in the process of handing this off,” Meyer said. “When I was approached about taking it over, I had to sleep on it for a good two weeks before I agreed. But being a part of this for five-plus years, I can say that we’re growing strong and we’ll continue to do so.”
Hines, who is in his first year of overseeing the Summer Moon Festival, attributes its longevity to not just community support, but also a great committee working to put this together.
“One person can’t do everything,” he said. “We’ve got a great group of people who wants to keep this going.”
With all the work involved, Meyer and other event organizers still can enjoy some of the rewards for their labor, knowing that the community has come together and is having a great time, which, ultimately, is what these events are all about.
“Hopefully when I get on that stage tonight, I’ll see nothing but people,” he said. “That will be a satisfying feeling.”