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Delphos uses festival to help terror victims


Veteran Hubert Grothouse watches the parade pass by as part of Canal Days in Delphos.


DELPHOS, Ohio - The terrorist strikes in New York and Washington were credited with drawing crowds to the Old Fashion Canal Days Festival, where the American Red Cross gained $1,000 as Tony Wehri lost his beard, mustache, and full head of hair on stage yesterday.

More people than usual filled Main Street late yesterday afternoon, long after the 122-unit parade passed by and Mr. Wehri donned a plastic party hat over his freshly shaven head.

By midweek, Kevin Wieging, Canal Days chairman and president of the Delphos Area Chamber of Commerce, had received numerous calls asking if the festival would be canceled in the wake of the tragedy.

The organizing committee decided instead to dedicate it to the memory of the terrorism victims and collect money for cleanup and relief efforts.

“It was right to put on the festival,” he said looking over the crowd as the Village Idiots group performed on stage. “We raised money for the Red Cross. It gave people a reason to celebrate. We here in Delphos, a small, little, dot-on-the-map community in Ohio, can help rebuild New York.”

Mr. Wieging said he hoped the festival could donate at least $5,000 to the Red Cross. At least $1,000 of that will come from the folks who started an auction and then passed a hat to raise money to persuade Mr. Wehri, a local electrician, to part with his hair. He began growing a beard in February to promote the beard contest he organized for the festival. His efforts were a success. About 30 men entered the contest, competing for prizes for the best goatee, best mustache, longest beard, fullest beard, and best overall beard.

But Mr. Wehri's wife, Amy, was not a fan of his beard and told him he had to shave it off the day of the contest. Festival organizers heard her plea and turned it into the disaster benefit, drawing $100 from a friend of Mr. Wehri, $50 from his mother, and $25 from his mother-in-law before bidding ended.

Yesterday's bright sun and 70-degree temperatures were perfect for enjoying about eight rides, a dozen food stands, about the same numbers of craft tables, and numerous other festival displays and games.

When festival planning started for the event months ago, there seemed to be far less interest in Delphos, a city of about 7,000 near where Allen, Van Wert, and Putnam counties meet.

The community debated whether beer sales should be allowed at the festival, and discussions reached a head this summer when Mr. Wieging and other residents submitted an initiative petition to ask voters in November to decide whether organizations should be able to sell alcoholic beverages at events on city property.

Beer sales were banned in 1998 when newly appointed Police Chief David Wagner declared it illegal and immoral for alcohol to be sold at family events on public property. City council backed him by a 4-3 vote.

The decision hurt the profits projected for the annual Canal Days, Mr. Wieging said at the time. There were signs at the festival that read, “Exercise your right to celebrate responsibly. Vote yes for Delphos beer tents November 6, 2001.”

Efforts to raise $28,000 for festival expenses - to cover tents, tables, portable toilets, and entertainment - got off to such a slow start that the city donated $5,000, which is thought to be a first, Mr. Wieging said.

Then the festival opened Thursday to dreary weather and a community startled by horrifying national news.

But by yesterday afternoon Mr. Wieging was raving about the fun area residents had.

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