Memorial Day traditions continued in Hamburg when the Jaycees organized the annual Family Festival on the grounds of Etchberger Memorial Park. The four-day event, held May 23 to 26 this year, includes carnival rides and games, live music and food stands.
Scents of tantalizing foods, from popcorn and funnel cakes to hamburgers and chicken pot pie, filled the air. Children pulled parents from ride to ride, ready to try them all. Among the crowd on Saturday were friends Munreet Jawanbha, age 3, from Bernville and Allison Heffner, age 6, of Hamburg.
Allison’s mother, Angela, watched as the girls rode a spinning ride.
“Hamburg is a good place,” she said, “it’s really coming into its own. When we come to town, it’s nice to have something to do.”
Behind her, the sound of clinking bottles rang through the air as guests tried their hand at Cub Pack/Boy Scout Troop 184's traditional bottle toss game. For those who landed plastic rings on glass bottle necks, the prize was a fresh bottle of soda.
Scouts Thomas Tellus, age 12, and Ethan Boyer, age 14, ran the stand Saturday evening with the help of their mothers and parent volunteers Dana Shollenberger and Jackie Boyer. Boyer took charge of organizing the game this year. The group bought 37 cases of soda for prizes and had already run through 17 by midday Saturday.
“It’s been good,” Jackie said, chatting during a lull between customers. “Thursday was slow but Friday night was busy.”
Dana said the game was part of her own childhood and she enjoyed helping her son run it now.
“It was my favorite thing to do when I was a kid,” she said.
Lisa Johnson, a Shoemakersville resident, helped staff the Lions Club’s bingo tent. This was her second year helping at the Hamburg Family Festival.
“I love doing it,” she said, “I like being around people, although it’s a little slow this year with the weather. I’m hoping it will pick up.”
The Jaycee’s food stand was full of busy orange-shirted teenagers, all members of the Hamburg Are High School’s Wilderness Club. Courtney Merkel, a sophomore from Shoemakersville, said she enjoyed helping out, taking orders and giving customer’s change.
“It’s fun,” she said, “I like math, so it’s fun dealing with the money.”
Ryan Witman, president of the Jaycees, co-chaired the festival with Derek Leibensperger, a long-time Hamburg resident. Witman said it’s unclear the exact date the event started, but estimates it has run since the 1960s. This is his 8th year helping with the festival and he spends much of his time in the food stand.
“I had been deemed the 'food guy' of the group and just kind of ran with it,” Witman explained, “planned the menu, price shopped, pretty much learned how to run a mini restaurant for the weekend.”
“My favorite part of the weekend is our firework display we have Saturday night at 10,” Witman said. “After three long days, it’s nice to take a minute right before the fireworks start to survey the park and see just how many people are there for the fireworks, all enjoying the live music.
“As 10 approaches, our Saturday entertainment, The New Individuals, play a selection of patriotic classic hits that really set the mood for the Memorial Day weekend festivities. I then finally get to sit down for a few minutes to enjoy the fireworks display with my family and fellow Jaycee members.”
Although at one point an entrance fee was charged, the Jaycees discontinued this practice in order to allow anyone to enjoy the music and fireworks. This means it is hard to estimate how many attend each year, Witman said, although Friday is busy and by Saturday’s fireworks, it’s often standing room only.
“In addition,” he added, “the proceeds of our food stand is our primary fundraiser for the year. All of our profits go to fund other community events, most notably the King Frost Parade, which will be [in] its 56th year this October.”
Witman descrbed the Jaycees as a “young person organization that teaches leadership and active citizenship. The Hamburg chapter is best known for the Family Festival and the King Frost Parade. Anyone interested in joining or helping out at an event can contact us on Facebook or talk to a member at one of our events.”