Fun like no other
By Corey McMaken | The Journal Gazette
There is no shortage of festivals taking place this summer – and many of them pay homage to the legends and history of the area.
In Fort Wayne, we have Three Rivers Festival. New Haven has Canal Days. There's the Peony Festival in Van Wert, Ohio, and North Webster has the Mermaid Festival.
There are the heritage celebrations such as Swiss Days in Berne, the Mihsihkinaahkwa Pow Wow in Columbia City and various festivals at Headwaters Park.
Here are just a few of the festivals and events with unique themes taking place in the area this summer:
Turtle Days, Churubusco
Legend has it that a farmer saw a huge turtle in his pond. People came from all around to search for the turtle, who was given the name Oscar.
The town's four-day festival, now in its 68th year, honors Oscar.
The festival has a cornhole tournament, parade, midway and fireworks, but the big draw is the Saturday afternoon turtle races, festival president Jenna Rosswurm says.
People bring turtles to the town park in categories such as biggest, smallest, fastest and most unique for the free races.
“We ask that people don't use ones that are on the endangered list, and we ask that they return the turtle to nature after the race,” Rosswurm says.
Heirloom Tomato Festival, Pierceton
Pierceton was once home to a Monarch brand factory that produced ketchup and other tomato products and had a tomato festival.
Ten years ago, Patty Knott saw an opportunity to honor that history and promote a cause she was passionate about: seed saving.
“I thought it would be a good idea if we started to help promote seed saving and growing heirloom tomatoes,” she says. “I probably have at least 175 varieties of tomato seeds.”
The festival includes music, crafts, speakers and an exhibit of at least 100 varieties of heirloom tomatoes inside an old train depot. There are contests for best green tomato pie, best salsa made on the spot and largest heirloom tomato. Last year's winner of the latter contest was a man from Indianapolis who showed up with a tomato weighing around 4 pounds.
There is a social featuring basic tomato sandwiches, but if you're looking for something a little more unusual, there are tastings of food such as tomato butter and green tomato bread.
Onion Days, Wolf Lake
Soil in the Wolf Lake area is good for growing onions, and in the early 1900s the area was known as the Onion Capital of the World.
From 1906 to 1918, an Onion Days festival marked the harvest when local farmers would take their crops to the nearby Kimmell depot to ship them to market, says Jennifer Beck, committee secretary for the modern-day event.
A group of Wolf Lake residents – including Beck's parents – revived the festival in 1972, she says. The modern Onion Days festival is marking 45 years.
The festival honors Wolf Lake's heritage with a heaviest onion contest, onion pies and a contest of onion art, wherein onions can be either the medium or the inspiration.
But the big draw? That would be the onion rings by Trowbridge Farms out of Kendallville.
“The last two years, they had to close up early because they ran out of onions,” Beck says. “Everybody loves the onion rings.”
Pickle Festival, St. Joe
After several years of hosting an Independence Day festival in the mid-1990s, St. Joe was looking for something that would draw a bigger crowd.
“It was suggested that we should do something unique to St. Joe,” festival board member Bruce Johnson says.
St. Joe pickle manufacturer Sechler's was nearing its 75th anniversary, and it was decided that the new festival would honor the Sechler family for what the family had done for DeKalb County. And so the St. Joe Pickle Festival was born.
Now in its 21st year, the three-day festival includes a parade, tours of the Sechler's factory, fireworks, a tractor pull and a Pickle People contest that lets entrants decorate people made from pickles.
“The one that really seems to draw people in is the pickle derby,” Johnson says. “The kids really look forward to that.”
Kids from as far away as Detroit and the Gary area have come down to participate in the derby. What is a pickle derby? Think of a pinewood derby, but instead of using balsa wood for the base of the car, you use – have you guessed it yet? – a pickle. The festival has the pickles, wheels and other parts that kids use to create their cars before heading over to the track.
Three Rivers Festival
Where: Fort Wayne
When: July 7 to 15
More info: www.threeriversfestival.org
Onion Days Festival
Where: Wolf Lake
When: Aug. 2 to 5
More info: www.facebook.com/WolfLakeOnionDays
Heirloom Tomato Festival
When: Aug. 26
More info: www.pierceton.us
When: June 14 to 17
More info: www.turtledays.com
Mihsihkinaahkwa Pow Wow
Where: Columbia City
When: Aug. 11 to 13
More info: www.miamipowwow.org
St. Joe Pickle Festival
Where: St. Joe
When: July 20 to 22
More info: www.stjoepicklefestival.com
Angola Balloons Aloft
When: July 7 and 8
More info: www.angolaballoonsaloft.com
Where: North Webster
When: June 21 to 24
More info: www.mermaid-festival.com
When: July 27 to 29
More info: www.bernein.com