Continuing decades of flair and fanfare, the 82nd Annual Wauseon Homecoming will fill Fulton Street this week with the sights, sounds, and mouth-watering aromas of a city celebrating its heritage.
On Thursday and Friday, 5-11 p.m., and all day Saturday, visitors will be able to indulge in a variety of foods, music, entertainment, and vendor booths along the midway, and try their luck in the ever-popular grand prize drawing. The three-day event will include popular mainstays such as the Grand Parade, the Queens Pageant, Battle of the Bands, the Kiddie Parade, and games of chance.
Homecoming Committee co-chair Jodi Kutzli said new features will include a Kids’ Zone nine-hole Putt Putt golf course, small animal petting zoo, and Grand Prix Big Wheel race; a Saturday cornhole tournament adjacent to Sullivan’s Restaurant; a change in Thursday night’s feature meal to a pork chop on a stick dinner from Pettisville Meats; several local merchandise vendors; and local musicians playing Saturday from 4-11 p.m. on the main stage.
“Our committee has been working very hard all year long to make sure this community enjoys its Homecoming activities to the fullest,” Kutzli said. “It’s very rewarding when we get to see everything in place, and we’re very excited to see our hard work come into play.”
The schedule of events includes:
• Thursday, July 27 – Pork Chop on a Stick Dinner from Pettisville Meats, 5 p.m. until gone, Fulton County County Courthouse lawn; Kids’ Zone, 5-9 p.m.; Kiddie Parade, 6 p.m., with line-up beginning at 5:15 p.m., south end of midway; Queens Pageant, 8 p.m., main stage.
• Friday, July 28 – Ribeye steak sandwich, 5 p.m. until gone, Fulton County Courthouse lawn; Kids’ Zone, 5-9 p.m.; Battle of the Bands, 7 p.m., main stage.
• Saturday, July 29 – Grand Parade, 11 a.m.; chicken barbecue dinner, 11:30 a.m. until gone, Fulton County Courthouse lawn; Cornhole Tournament, 1 p.m.; Kids’ Zone, 2-9 p.m.; Wauseon Home Junior Pageant, 2-3 p.m., main stage; live music, 8-11 p.m., main stage; grand prize drawing, midnight, south stage.
According to its website, the Wauseon Homecoming began in 1935 but has its roots in street fairs held since the city’s early years. It was eventually titled “Homecoming” to acknowledge the tradition of city natives returning to celebrate. In more recent years, the event has also attracted tourists from across the country and a few visitors from around the world.
Over the Homecoming’s history other traditions developed, such as the talent show, carnival rides, the flower and art shows, and fireworks. This year, the traditional prize drawings, which are held late on the last day of the festivities to keep anticipation flowing, include: grand prize, $10,000; second prize, a custom golf cart; third prize, a 50-inch flat screen television; fourth prize, a Weber gas grill; fifth prize, a laptop computer; and sixth prize, a Fulton County Fair package.
The Queen Pageant has always been a highlight, and for years the contestants wore banners on stage representing the local merchants sponsoring them. The winner rides with her court in the Grand Parade on the last festival day. A Junior Pageant was also created.
This year’s Homecoming Queen contestants and the talents they’ll share are: Abriana Hernandez, singing to “The Girl You Think I Am”; Rylee Wreede, tap dancing to “Jailhouse Rock”; Carisa Hoffman, playing trumpet to “He’s a Pirate”; Elizabeth McCullough, singing to “See You Again”; and Liv Ladd, performing a humorous speech, “A Tiny Miracle With a Fiber Optic Unicorn.”
The Queen Pageant has been affiliated with preliminary Miss America preliminary contests, and alumni have graduated to larger competitions. Past winner Anne Foote went on to be runner-up in a Miss Ohio contest, and Court member Susan Short represented Michigan in a later Miss America Pageant.
The Grand Parade has been a main feature for decades. Since its inception, everyone has gotten into the act; local businesses, churches, and civic organizations have sponsored and decorated floats, area marching bands have shared their musical selections, and costumed kids and adults have walked or ridden adorned bicycles along the route. And every young spectator awaits the tradition of parade participants tossing candy into the crowds of spectators, many of whom arrive early to claim choice vantage points.
Mayor Kathy Huner, a Wauseon native, has attended Homecoming since she was a girl. She has fond memories of the annual event from childhood and as an adult.
She said it’s noteworthy that people find the event so endearing that former residents will return for it and Wauseon High School alumni will hold their reunions there.
And Huner expressed pride in the fact that the festival is held through the work of community volunteers.
“That’s an amazing thing,” she said. “People will take time away from their jobs, vacations, and their families. I give hats off and kudos to those volunteers…who love their community enough to keep this pastime going.”
Huner said Homecoming “is all about tradition and great memories, from childhood on. It brings happy thoughts. Just great memories, and it brings the community together.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.