Following a year of COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, a bit of summer fun in Fulton County may be on the horizon.
Plans to revive Wauseon Homecoming and the Delta Chicken Festival, both sidelined in 2020 by the pandemic, are being spurred by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s recent announcement that state fairs and festivals can resume this year due to improved health conditions.
The festivals’ organizers announced through online posts that the events have been scheduled, with hopes that DeWine’s consent March 11 to re-establish outdoor warm-weather festivities will hold. They say the move forward could still be thwarted if COVID activity increases again by summer.
Wauseon Homecoming is set for July 22-24, although Committee Chair Kevin Knierim confirmed the festivities are at the mercy of the pandemic. The announcement for Homecoming was made after he, co-chair Jodi Posey, and committee members consulted with the Fulton County Health Department and spoke with the city’s Chamber of Commerce. Planning is still in the early stages.
“We’re basically following the same format. If we get told we can’t have it, we won’t have it, but at this point it’s a go,” Knierim said. “We’re planning it as we normally hold it. As far as we’re concerned, it’s definitely a go.”
D&D Putting and Amusements of Continental, Ohio, will provide rides, game booths, and the Kidz Zone, selling all-inclusive tickets. Knierim said several food vendors have made contact to attend, and Homecoming’s annual Battle of the Bands already has had inquiries from several musical acts. The Homecoming Queen Pageant will also return.
Sunday’s annual 11 a.m. parade will follow its usual route through the city, ending on Elm Street. And the Homecoming raffle will still award a $10,000 first prize, along with other prizes that include the traditional golf cart, a big-screen television, and iPad, and a chain saw. Tickets will likely start selling mid-April.
Knierim said the extent of COVID-19 restrictions during the festival is still in question. He said, at the least, masks may be requested.
“We’re sure going to ask people to wear them,” he said. “Whether they become mandatory – we’re going to have to see where we’re at by then. If there are strict rules we have to follow through the state and health department we’ll have to follow them.”
But how a mandatory mask rule would be enforced during an open-air event is another question, Knierim said, adding, “That’s going to be the problem with it.”
It was a huge disappointment to shut down last year’s Homecoming after it had been fully planned, he said. “It wasn’t nice to have a break. This is so good for the community.”
Wauseon Mayor Kathy Huner said she was delighted to hear of Homecoming plans. “Honestly, I feel that Wauseon citizens need this, the community needs this. It’s great to see things starting to open up, and I look forward to it,” she said.
Last year’s cancellation of the Delta Chicken Festival was the celebration’s only interruption since it began in 1956. Chairperson Kathy Miller said although planners have started organizing the 2021 festival, fingers are crossed that COVID-19 won’t bump the festivities again.
After consulting with Delta Mayor Frank Wilton, Village Council, and the county health department, Miller confirmed the event has been scheduled for July 9-11 in its usual spot in Delta Municipal Park. But she added the word “tentative,” saying a green light will depend on whether the governor’s current decision on permitting fairs and festivals remains in effect by summer.
We are going to start planning the festival, but whether it happens is completely going to depend on what the governor says at that time,” Miller said. “He might change his mind – that’s always a possibility. It’s tentative that the festival’s happening.”
Should this year’s event go forward, none of the attractions will change. The festival’s fast-moving signature chicken dinners will be sold for $10, longtime entertainment provider D&R Shows of Lambertville, Mich., will offer rides, game booths, and several food booths on the site’s west end, and the village’s Fraternal Order of Eagles chapter will sponsor D&R’s traditional fireworks show on July 9 at 10 p.m.
There will again be about 10 additional food booths featuring such festival staples as burgers, french fries, milkshakes, cotton candy, shaved ice, and cheese snacks, and about two dozen vendor booths offering clothes, purses, and services. The festival planners, which include co-chair KJ Abair and Kayla Miller, are also hoping to obtain Don Strobel’s Animal Oasis exotic animals, Friday night musical entertainment, and the Dreamers Car Club show.
And the event’s usual soccer and Nate Parsons Memorial basketball tournaments will be underway throughout the festival weekend. A baseball tournament not affiliated with the Chicken Festival will take place on nearby diamonds.
The festival’s parade will also return, on Sunday, July 11. It will begin at Delta United Methodist Church, travel to Delta High School, move south on Taylor Street, then west on Fernwood Avenue, and onto Wood Street. A sign-up form to participate will be found on the Chicken Festival Facebook page.
And while Miller isn’t sure yet whether all COVID-19 restrictions will remain in place, she said the county health department assumes masks will be required to attend. She said, because the festival has no focal entry point, plans concerning how to police a mandatory mask rule are still being considered. Miller said that task may fall, at least partially, to Delta police officers who patrol the festival.
A fundraiser for Delta’s park, the Chicken Festival brought in just under $12,000 in 2019. But with the possible uncertainty people may feel about attending safely, “I just hope we can break even (this year),” Miller said. “Anything over breaking even is a win.”
She said it was her call to cancel last year’s festival amid the pandemic. “I expected it. And I kind of made the decision knowing what was coming down the pike,” she said.
Delta Mayor Frank Wilton said the Chicken Festival is an important community endeavor for the village. “People get together – people actually come back to town for the Chicken Festival. It’s a big thing,” he said. “I sure don’t want it to not work for two years in a row.”
When the festival’s Facebook page announced Saturday the event was going forward, it received 3,000 “likes” in about four hours. “We were pretty pumped about that,” Miller said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.