54th annual Heritage Days packs in new things among old favorites this week

Team Johnson – JJ’s Convenience Stores sprints down the course during the Heritage Days Bed Race last year at Huntington North High School. The team won the competition and was also voted crowd favorite. This year’s bed race will take place on Saturday, June 17, at 7:30 p.m., again at HNHS.
Team Johnson – JJ’s Convenience Stores sprints down the course during the Heritage Days Bed Race last year at Huntington North High School. The team won the competition and was also voted crowd favorite. This year’s bed race will take place on Saturday, June 17, at 7:30 p.m., again at HNHS. TAB file photo.

This year’s 54th annual Heritage Days will be packed full of new things to do and see throughout the festival, June 14 through 18.

In keeping with this year’s theme, “The ’40s: Liberty, Democracy, Dignity,” the festival has announced that World War II veteran Leo Scheer will be the grand marshal of the 2017 Heritage Days Parade.

Rich Sutton, quartermaster of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2689, says when the members discussed who would make a worthy grand marshal, Scheer’s name rose to the top of the list because of his heroism during the invasion of Normandy. Scheer was serving in the United States Navy at the time, when Allied forces landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.

“The ship that he was on there in the ship to shore landing actually hit a mine, and the ship blew up. He and the rest of his crew that were on the ship with him were in the water, and basically they were struggling for their lives to get to shore,” Sutton says. “He actually saved a few lives of sailors that weren’t good swimmers with the clothing that they had on them, plus if they had a backpack or radio strapped to their back, while they were still in the water.”

Scheer, a resident of The Heritage of Huntington, is excited about the honor of being grand marshal and riding in the parade, Sutton adds.

The Heritage Days Parade takes place Saturday, June 17, starting at 10 a.m. and moving south on Jefferson Street from the corner of MacGahan and Jefferson streets. Huntington County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Steve Kimmel says this year’s parade will be a bit bigger than in past years, with 105 units at last count.

New this year, the judges’ stand will be located at Rotary Centennial Park, as the parade turns the corner onto West Park Drive then heads south again on Warren Street.

There will be plenty of candy tossed from floats, so kids should bring a container for the goodies. They will also be delighted to discover that free ice cream will once again be handed out during the parade, courtesy of Dean Foods. The sponsors, Huntington County Emergency Management and the Freedom Riders, will give out about 1,700 American flags to children along the parade route.

“When the fire trucks, and when the military and when the color guard and everybody goes by, we want the kids to wave their flags,” Kimmel says. “We’re trying to make it more of a patriotic-type theme this year, with the theme being the ’40s, it’s kind of the beginning and ending of World War II. So, hopefully, by putting a flag in the 3 to 8 or 9-year-old kids’ hands, they’re waving the flag and hopefully Mom and Dad can explain what that flag means, and what it means to freedom, and what these individuals from the American Legion and VFW did in their lives to give us our freedom.”

Spoiler alert! The “Grand Finale” of the parade will be the unit from Brett Molitor and the Haunted Hotel: 13th Floor, which will feature a group of walking zombies. The assemblage will focus on the downtown Huntington attraction’s 50th ghoulish year, and promises to be a bang-up ending to the parade.

The night before the parade the patriotism will be evident with a USO-style dance and party, on Friday, June 16, starting at 7 p.m. and going until 9 p.m. in the LaFontaine Center ballroom. The ticket pays for entertainment, hors d’oeuvres and the chance to experience what a 1940s USO “canteen” was all about, says organizer Angie Garcia.

“Back in the ’40s when they would have the little gathering for the evening, people would listen to big band music, have some drinks and dancing, and just have a night of fun. That’s the canteen part of it,” Garcia explains. “The USO part of it would be that stars would go and see the military, wherever they were at, like the Bob Hope USO shows. We have our own version of Bob Hope, which is Mike Perkins … He’s our emcee for the evening.”

The Erie Band will play the live big band, swing and jazz sounds of the era. Guests are encouraged to wear their most authentic 1940s outfits, with prizes awarded for the best costumes and for the best ’40s-style dancers. Kim’s Katered Affair will provide food and the VFW will man a small cash bar. Also during the evening, a short World War II tribute to veterans will be a part of the program.

Can’t dance? Bev Johnson and her daughter will be happy to give a few lessons, Garcia says.

Proceeds from the event will go to help fund local Veterans’ Day events in November.

The midway rides will be a stone’s throw away from the Kids’ Zone, on Saturday, June 17, from noon to 3 p.m., located on Cherry Street between Washington Street and West Park Drive. A larger petting zoo is promised, with camel and pony rides back as well. Free ice cream treats will be given as well.

Also on Sunday, June 18, from noon to 2 p.m., children can embark on their very own bear hunt at the Izaak Walton League, 470 Hauenstein Rd. The club has purchased about 100 teddy bears and will invite children to purchase a “hunting license” to go hunt their very own bear. They can keep the bear they “bag.”

Kimmel says the bear hunt is an effort to get people re-acquainted with the Izaak Walton League and what they do.

“They want to get people back to the Izaak Walton; they’ve kind of lost membership over the years,” he says. “They’re going to hide teddy bears around the wooded area. There will be some on the ground for the 2 and 3-year-olds; there will be some in some of the higher branches for the older kids … They just want to get some kids on the grounds and have some fun.”

The cost of the event includes a hot dog lunch. Membership information about the Izaak Walton League will also be available for parents.
Also on Sunday, June 18, kids ages 8 to 17 years old can get a free airplane ride between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. during the Young Eagles Rally held at the Huntington Municipal Airport, 1365 N. Warren Rd., Huntington. The Young Eagles, which offers the free rides to youth to get them interested in aviation, is sponsored by the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 2.

“It tries to get kids, ages 8 to 17, interested in aviation,” Kimmel says.

The airport will also host a Warbirds display. Airport Manager Steve Gray says some of the planes will likely take to the sky at various times over the weekend. Rides for any age will be available Sunday on a T-6 Texan Warbird, also known as the “pilot maker” because of the plane’s role in training pilots for combat during World War II. There is a cost for the ride; however, admission to come see the planes is free.

Also at the airport, a feed hosted by the Civil Air Patrol will take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is open to the public. The menu includes hot dogs and bratwurst. Proceeds from the feed will go to fund various Civil Air Patrol projects.

The ninth annual JeFFFest caps the Heritage Days Festival on Sunday, June 18. JeFFFest – which stands for “Fun food, Fine arts and Fab music” – will be held between 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on Jefferson Street in downtown Huntington.

This year’s food vendors include The Party Shop, Kim’s Katered Affair, Brick House Grill, Hoosier Drive-In, Nadean’s Cakes, Cookies & Catering, The Berg Ale Haus, Moose & Mollie’s and JB’s Cuisine Machine. Food can be purchased with tickets sold in $1 increments at the LaFontaine Arts Council booth.

Patrons will also have the chance to bid on numerous 5x7-inch artworks produced by area artists and donated to the LaFontaine Arts Council to sell in a silent auction to fund school arts-related activities.

Eric Clancy Jazz returns to lay down some cool tunes, with vocalist Shannon Persinger performing with the group.

Tables and chairs will be set up on Jefferson Street, but a word to the wise will be to bring a chair in case they are all occupied, especially anyone arriving late.

With most activities held outdoors, Kimmel says the final task on his long list of things to do is to pray for good weather to preside over the festival.

“It’s kind of hit and miss, but we’ve had worse forecasts and still had a good time,” he says. “We’re looking forward to it. I always enjoy Heritage Days just because I like to watch the faces of the kids. I like to watch Mom and Dad that bring the kids to the parade, for maybe the first time. It’s always fun watching the kids have a good time, and Mom and Dad watching their kids have a good time.”

The 2017 Heritage Days has Gerdau Huntington Facility as its corporate sponsor. For more information and a list of complete events, check out the Heritage Days Festival section in today’s TAB, contact the Huntington County Chamber of Commerce at 356-5300 or visit www.huntingtonheritagedays.com.