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Published: Monday, 10/10/2005

Oak Harbor festival features more than apples

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A bundled-up crowd braves cold weather to stop downtown for the annual Oak Harbor Apple Festival. A bundled-up crowd braves cold weather to stop downtown for the annual Oak Harbor Apple Festival.
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OAK HARBOR - The Oak Harbor Apple Festival isn't much of an apple festival anymore. But that doesn't mean it's not a popular affair.

This year's version - the 27th annual, which ended yesterday - found the town's business district crowded as usual, though poor weather on Saturday and yesterday chased some people away.

Donna Bergman was there, as usual, manning the Bergman Orchard stand at the corner of Apple Street and Blossom Lane. Ms. Bergman noted that she can recall missing only one festival.

In the early days, there were around 10 area apple growers participating in the festival, giving it its name. Now there are two, Mrs. Bergman's and Moore Orchards of Oak Harbor.

Still, business was brisk at the Bergman stand, where in addition to nine varieties of apples, you could buy apple butter, apple nut bread, and apple dumplings.

Mrs. Bergman, who wore ear muffs yesterday, said that despite the changes, she still enjoys the festival. She's the first vendor to sign up every year to make sure she retains her prized location.

"We wouldn't give this up for the world. It's really a neat event," she said.

Twelve-year-old Brooke Hensley, who was runner-up in the royalty contest at the festival, takes time from royal duties to try an apple. Twelve-year-old Brooke Hensley, who was runner-up in the royalty contest at the festival, takes time from royal duties to try an apple.
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Tom Priesman, who has chaired or co-chaired the festival 18 years for organizer Oak Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce, said the event has grown every year, drawing 30,000 to 50,000 visitors. This year 110 vendors turned up, and the wait list grew to 80 vendors.

Years ago, the town hosted the Fall Fair, but that event became the Ottawa County Fair, leaving Oak Harbor without an event for 20 years. In 1978, former chamber President Dorothy Heiks conceived the idea for this apple festival, and its been upward ever since, Mr. Priesman said.

Money raised goes back into the community, according to Mr. Priesman.

"We try to make [Oak Harbor] a better place to do business and a better place to live," he said.

In addition to more vendors, activities have grown through the years as well. More amusement rides, more entertainment, more contests.

Popular additions this year were the Turtle Lady - a vendor who sold turtles. She replaced the Monkey Man - a vendor whose monkey posed for photographs with children. Also new was Mike's Cheese Shack of Eau Claire, Wis., which served up tasty, fried cheese balls. Vendor Mike Whiteside, who sported a cheesehead hat, was a hit with customers.

Dave Thierwechter, who manned the Oak Harbor Rotary Club booth yesterday afternoon, has been around for all the festivals and used to help organize the Fall Fair. He said both events have been great for the community.

"[The apple festival] encompasses the best of both of them," he said.

Contact George Tanber at: gtanber@theblade.com or 734-241-3610.



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