Thursday, March 14, 2013

Making Summerfest Happen by Michelle Libby

A call for local businesses to step forward to keep the Windham tradition afloat.

After last week’s news that Windham’s Summerfest was cancelled a concerned group of citizens began exploring the options of having Summerfest, but in a way that can help grow the event in future years.

“Summerfest can happen and should happen,” said owner of Windham Automotive Ron Eby, who was heavily involved in the planning of Summerfest for five of the last six years. “It’s going to take a dedicated group of people,” he said.

Summerfest is an annual event that is run by the community for the community. It has never made a profit for the town and isn’t designed to be a money making event. The challenge for the 2013 Summerfest, scheduled on June 22, came when very few people stepped forward to volunteer their time and talents to bring the event to fruition. In past years, it has cost between $17,000 and $18,000 to hold the event and that is with many items being donated outright. The Windham Police Department doesn’t charge for the additional patrols needed the day of the event, RSU 14 donates the location, power and the clean-up crew, others donate their time. The previous year’s volunteers deserve thanks and praise for the work they have contributed to keep it going for six years, said Eby.

“There are a lot of underlying costs that people don’t see,” said Eby.

“No one wants to see Summerfest go away but its continued presence cannot rely on town staff and a handful of volunteers. Summerfest belongs to the community; broader participation, commitment and investment of time and money are needed to ensure its future,” said Town Manager Tony Plante.
A small group of business owners Eby, Kelly Mank (owner of The Windham Eagle), Director of Windham Parks and Recreation Brian Ross and Windham officials, are planning to meet to discuss scope and options for this year’s event. The most important part, Eby said, was that the community realizes that the town government is not running the event – the community is.

Eby believes that with dedicated, goal-oriented people who do not want to reinvent the wheel, a committee can bond and successfully bring back Summerfest from the brink. “Anyone who is going to participate needs to be treated with respect,” said Eby.

The Summerfest parade has its own committee and budget of approximately $3,000 headed by Clarence Wisecup. The car show is run by Stan and Cheryl Page. The rest of the event, from food booths and entertainment to the business fair and fireworks, is coordinated by a committee, but at this time it is in need of more volunteers.

“The goal of the committee is to create a community event that brings a great cross-section of community businesses, civic groups, community groups and church groups together to share in the pride of our community. It’s a partnership,” said Eby.

There is a website for Summerfest, but it is not being used to its full potential, according to Eby.

“I’m a huge advocate as well as I believe other businesses are in offering or donating our local services or products free or at cost in exchange for sponsorship to help our local community,” said Mank.
“It’s tough because everybody is stretched so thin. Businesses have to see the value,” said Eby.

One of the events that scheduled to take place on June 22 is the 25th anniversary of the Windham Chamber Singers. It was suggested that Summerfest be used this year to help promote the concert and possibly capping the night off with a fireworks display.

One of the reasons the event was called off this year was, according to Plante, “we didn’t have the volunteers – especially for the parade – to organize it, control traffic and ensure both participant and observer safety. This is in no way a reflection on those that have volunteered and are still hanging in there, but we have to be realistic about our ability to have the event in a manner that is safe, fun, and reflects well on the community.”

That being said, in order for a group to save Summerfest, volunteers are needed for fundraising, organization, entertainment, publicity and more. “It needs to happen soon,” Ross said. He feels there needs to be one person to “lead the charge”, and a group of 10 to 15 people running everything.
“There is a lot to handle,” said Ross. The most iconic parts of the event are the entertainment and the fireworks. Even in a scaled down model, Ross believes these are some of the important facets.

“We put a lot of effort into it the last six years. We want to see it happen and see it happen correctly,” said Ross.

There will be a Summerfest meeting Monday, March 26 at 6 p.m. in the Time4Printing offices, 588 Roosevelt Trail. All interested businesses, individuals and organizations are encouraged to attend.

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“It’s a great event. It should not go away. It’s going to take a dedicated group of people to continue the tradition of Summerfest into the future,” said Eby.

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