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Published: Wednesday, 7/16/2008

East Toledo church primed for homecoming festival

BY MEREDITH BYERS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Mike Tate, 51, remembers when he used to sleep overnight at the St. Thomas Aquinas Homecoming Festival when he was a Boy Scout growing up in East Toledo.

"We would set up on Tuesday, and the festival didn't have security until Thursday night. We would guard the tent before the prizes came in and the security got there," he said.

His fondness for the festival was passed on to him by his father, Bob, 82, who was involved in the planning of the festival in 1968.

It continues to be a family affair.

Mr. Tate's daughter, Megan, 18, will work at the snow cone and ice cream booth at this year's festival.

"If you go through the whole process of the festival, you see a lot of the youth there. The youth keep coming back and volunteering, which is a key part to sustaining it in the future," he said.

The festival, one of the longest-running church festivals in the Toledo area, is scheduled for this weekend.

The festival has about 40 booths with more than 150 volunteers each hour.

The Rev. John Blazer, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas for 14 years, enjoys attending the festivals.

"Every year I wonder how we're going to pull it off. It's such a small area and we don't have a lot of property. Still, people come. People see me places and ask about the festival," he said.

"People are attached to it - it's the spirit of the people."

"It's a good example of people coming together with different talents and abilities and contributing to an annual event that not only raises money, but helps bring the East Toledo community together," said the younger Mr. Tate, festival chairman.

Denny Fairchild, 59, has previously served as co-chairman and chairman of the festival.

His wife, Mary Lou, 59, has been involved with the festival since it started.

Their daughter Joyce, 27, who now lives in South Carolina, is returning home to attend the festival.

"There's just something about it," Mrs. Fairchild said. "We have people who move away and still come back for the festival."

The festival began when a group of St. Thomas members got together and decided to organize a carnival-style festival in lieu of the popular feather parties of the day, which involved auctioning off turkeys and chickens to raise money.

The first festival, a two-day event in 1968, raised $18,000 for the parish. The next year, $30,000 was raised.

The elder Mr. Tate said there were some years when the festival netted more than $100,000.

"For a short event, we raise quite a bit of money," his son said. The festival, now in its 40th year, still maintains the feel of a traditional carnival.

"We have an announcer hawking the different booths," the younger Mr. Tate said.

All the festival's food, which ranges from burgers to pizza to Mexican cuisine, is made from scratch, and the festival does not allow outside food vendors.

Though there are some traditional-style carnival booths, including a duck pond and a "county store," a few new booths crop up each year, including this year's "GuitarHero" booth, based on the popular video game.

"We keep it simple. We don't have any big rides. We try to keep it more local," Father Blazer said.

About 30 to 40 people plan the event.

"It's a great way for people in the parish to get to know each other. I've made an awful lot of good friends through the festival," the festival chairman said.

The festival will run from 5 to 11:30 p.m tomorrow, from 3 until 11:30 p.m. Saturday, and from noon to 7 p.m. at St. Thomas Aquinas Church at 729 White St.

Admission is free.



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