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Published: Saturday, 6/16/2007

Organizers insist heat won't stifle sweet treat at the Holland Strawberry Festival

BY MAGGIE REID
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Roy Gruetter, 6, of Liberty Center plunges down the Fun Slide at the annual Holland Strawberry Festival. Roy Gruetter, 6, of Liberty Center plunges down the Fun Slide at the annual Holland Strawberry Festival.
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Seeking escape from the overwhelming afternoon heat, John and Jane Engler sat in the main tent at the Strawberry Festival in Holland yesterday with two plates of strawberry shortcake wiped clean in front of them.

The couple said they come to the festival every year just for the strawberries.

"They're just delicious," Mr. Engler said. "I even ended up stealing most of my wife's."

But the festival isn't only about strawberries.

Yes, there are the overwhelming plates of strawberry shortcake and strawberry pie, the strawberry milk shakes, and strawberry ice cream. There are even giant strawberry seats for the Tilt-a-Whirl ride.

The annual festival at Community Homecoming Park also offers amusement rides for children of all ages, carnival games, and lots of entertainment.

De-Laciana Martinez, 3, left, and her cousin Abby Speiker of Cocoa, Fla., take a spin on one of the rides at the festival. Tasting the strawberry treats is part of the fun in Community Homecoming Park. De-Laciana Martinez, 3, left, and her cousin Abby Speiker of Cocoa, Fla., take a spin on one of the rides at the festival. Tasting the strawberry treats is part of the fun in Community Homecoming Park.
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While the main stage is filled with music, dancing, and DJs in the evening, it hosts contests and pageants during the day.

Gary Leasure, Community Homecoming Corp. president, said the festival will have all the traditional events this weekend, including a bake-off, toddler pageant, and queen pageant for high school girls aspiring to be the Strawberry Festival Queen.

Other events this year include the pie-eating contest, where contestants scarf down strawberry pies without using their hands, and a rib-eating contest.

"This year, the heat is hurting our turnout, but we're hoping it will be back to normal this weekend," said Mr. Leasure, who has been in charge of the festival for 15 years.

Despite the heat, hundreds of people have been enjoying the food and fun, Mr. Leasure said.

In the main kitchen, Pam Frank, who has been kitchen manager for three years, was up to her elbows in strawberries and whipped cream.

She said the bake-off should be great because the strawberries have been good this year.

"They're really wonderful right now," she said. "They're extra big and red and sweet - really delicious."

Admission to the festival is free. Food and drinks can be bought from a wide variety of vendors scattered throughout the park, and tickets can be purchased for the rides and games.

Standing in front of one of the basketball games, Tristen Nettles, 11, showed off an oversized stuffed basketball, his prize for winning the game.

He said he loves playing the games, but he's only allowed to play once. His family divides its time each year between playing games, riding rides, and tasting all different kinds of food.

"Can I play again? Please?" Tristen begged his mom.

But within five minutes, Tristen was clutching his tickets for the rides and sipping his lemonade, grinning from ear to ear.



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