By Jonathan Weaver
People across the central Armstrong County region and across County lines filled sidewalks within Ford City Memorial Park for the now-annual Ford City Summerfest.
Formerly Ford City Heritage Days, a new non-profit organized and took over operations successfully last year – and are maintaining that success so far in 2015.
Co-Chairs Karen Buccieri, Denise Lasher and Bernie Milosner were all part of the inaugural SummerFest committee, but are now leading the four-day event
The co-chairs explained that some electrical issues hindered activity the first evening. Buccieri and Lasher only found out about not being up to electrical code Wednesday.
But, that didn’t stop Armstrong County Judge Joe Nickleach, State Representative Jeff Pyle and a handful of local dignitaries from proudly sitting in the park’s gazebo for the opening ceremonies at 6PM.
Ford City Borough Councilman Gene Banks even had a speech prepared.
“I watched this Summerfest group through time, effort and very little (money) put this together. It baffles me because I wonder how they did it – I’ve been coming to this for years, and I know it costs a lot of dollars to do this,” Banks said. “Then, I paused a minute and looked at this bill and it said ‘In God We Trust,’ and I said ‘Oh, that’s how they did it!’
The microphone was then given over to the Armstrong Festival Chorus – who sang a variety of patriotic songs, such as ‘God Bless America’ and ‘Stars and Stripes Forever’ during the next hour.
Ada Jean Hoffman has directed the 12-member chorus about 25 years. The retired Mercer County teacher led a variety of songs
“Ever since Heritage Days started, we’ve always been opening – hopefully, we practice enough that we feel comfortable doing it,” Hoffman said. “I was very proud of them.”
The volunteer chorus – which started rehearsing in March – will have an encore performance tonight.
This is the first year Carol Johns and daughter, Savannah, volunteered at Summerfest. For the past 11 years, Johns could be found helping the Ford City Lions, but this weekend, they will be in the Summerfest information booth across from the Ford City Post Office.
“They did such a good job last year, so we decided to join and help,” Johns said.
Johns – who pledged herself to help next year as well – even donated Bath and Body Works items for one of the four Chinese auction baskets.
“As long as we have festivals, I will be on the committee,” Johns said.
Winners for the baskets and five bicycles will be drawn Sunday, with 50/50 drawing winners announced daily at 10PM.
After Frank Baker’s performance with the Kittanning Fireman’s Band ended at 8PM, he and wife, Mary, strolled through the park.
“We don’t want to miss anything,” Frank said.
Though she had a piece of fudge in hand, Mary said that the band concert was the highlight of the evening.
Nearly 50 booths were also set up in the park – about 30 craft vendors and 20 food options.
It was Kathy Carlesi’s first Summerfest selling sun and shade perennials, but local crafters might recognize her from other local flea markets.
“I’ve always just loved flowers. I started growing some and that led to more and then I made more flowerbeds,” Carlesi said. “I tried to find something that was different than everybody else had.
“I pretty much don’t have a yard any more. It’s all flowers. If there’s a spot, I put something in it.”
Carlesi, who has grown plants – and not vegetables – for more than 40 years – is also accustomed to driving her “plant-bulance” station wagon from site-to-site and trying to give life to other plants either or taking them back to her home near North Buffalo Township.
This is the first year Bruce and Tina Bryner will be at Summerfest all four days selling their four varieties of homemade hot sauce made with Cajun or habanera peppers. Tina said Thursday the family is trying to branch out from the Prospect (Butler County) area.
Bryner’s Classics will also have a booth at the Fort Armstrong Folk Festival in Kittanning at the end of this month.
Andrew Tylinski, of Ford City, had a mixture of favorites, so naturally decided to purchase the booth’s $7 sampler pack.
“Mama’s Mild” is named for Tina and “Melina’s Original” is named for 14-year-old daughter, Melina – who shared the booth with her mother to sell her homemade flubber (a child-friendly mixture of glue and borax, a component of many detergents and cosmetics).
Melina said she is saving her money to buy a ferret.
Organizers are also preparing for big events tomorrow morning and evening.
Just as it has been the past two years, the annual 5K run/walk will benefit the local football team – but that team will no longer be the Ford City Sabers.
With the new Armstrong Junior-Senior High this fall comes the Armstrong River Hawks – which will combine the Sabers and Kittanning Wildcats on the football field.
Boosters Co-President Dwayne Weitzel said the race and tickets in August will help boosters pay for the school year commitments and practice uniforms.
His son Levi – a junior – hopes to crack the varsity roster this Fall.
Race Chairperson Casey Gilbertson said about 300 runners and walkers are already signed up for the 27th annual race, but parents will still register interested participants tonight and before the 9AM race tomorrow morning. She is hoping for a total of 500 racers.
Participants mainly hail from Kittanning and Ford City, but some from as far away as Virginia and Connecticut are
“It’s mandatory for the kids to come and volunteer, unless they’re running in it,” Gilbertson said.
Gilberton’s son – Sophomore Max Hileman – plays on defense and as running back.
The football team has been conditioning the past few months and participating in 7-on-7 tournaments.
Ford City Police Sgt. John Atherton – who led 10 teens setting up signs and the race course Tuesday – praised the student athletes.
“They did a great job – great work ethic,” Sgt. Atherton said. “They were polite and well-received. If they use that on the field, they should have a successful season.
“This posting usually is a two-day job, and we finished in one.”
Ford City Grad Zane Hassa – who chairs the evening parade – enjoyed the activities last night with three-year-old son, Calvin, before getting back to work.
Before the weekend is over, Lasher is also hoping to relax and enjoy local entertainment.
“Hopefully, we can have a smooth weekend to finish out,” Lasher said. “The entertainment we have coming up is really awesome.”
The Armstrong Festival Chorus starts off tonight’s activities at 6PM before Slippery Rock’s acoustic band “Muddy Creek” performs at 7:30PM.