Changes planned for Old Settlers event

Times Herald File PhotoAn antique car participates in last year’s Old Settlers Parade. The festival will take place August 1 through August 3 in Odon.

ODON — Odon’s Old Settlers Homecoming will welcome residents past and present, as well as friends and visitors to the Odon Park for the 134th running of the community celebration, Aug. 1 though 3, making it the oldest community celebration in the state.

The closest contender is Tell City’s Schweizer Festival that only began in the year of the 73rd Old Settler’s. Three years ago that record was almost lost until the Odon’s Lion’s Club stepped in to take over organizing the event when former organizers burned out. Volunteers with the Lion’s Club admit it is a lot of work that the club isn’t really structured to handle.

“We just couldn’t let something that’s gone on so long just die,” said Lion’s Club Chairman Bart Neiswanger.

The festival began as a church picnic hosted by Second Mount Olive Baptist Church. To honor its roots, Neiswanger said the festival always kicks off with a Sunday church-style picnic in the park. This year’s Sunday in the Park kick-off will be held on July 28. Everyone is welcome to attend a community church service and music hosted by multiple local churches. Following the service a picnic meal will be provided.

While the introduction of various modern forms of entertainment, as well as the ease of travel to larger destinations, have affected the festival’s size over the years, Neiswanger recalls the popularity of the festival when he was younger.

“When I was a kid growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, there wasn’t a parking spot available in the whole town of Odon during the Old Settler’s Festival,” said Neiswanger.

Despite its crowd’s dwindling size, the festival’s free evening concerts still draw an audience of around 200. This year’s free concerts begin at 8 p.m. each evening, and concert-goers are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and leave coolers and outside food and drinks at home. All the festival’s food and drink vendors will be open and available nearby.

Certain aspects of the festival remain unchanged year after year, like Callahan’s hot fish from Washington, but organizers are waiting for community participation to fill in the gaps and make its unique mark through vendor spaces that are available. Space can be reserved by calling 812-636-8218, and art exhibits for the floral hall are still available where there’s a category for just about anything you’re proud of. Neiswanger believes the cash prize amounts have not been updated since the early days of the festival when $1 was an attractive amount, but winners still get bragging rights.

Exhibits will begin being accepted on July 31 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., as well as on Aug. 1 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Judging of the exhibits will begin at 4 p.m. that day, and then the floral hall will open for public viewing starting that evening from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., and then reopening each day of the festival at the same time.

The 2019 parade theme is “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in honor of Grand Marshall Gary Allen who has invested countless hours into the community’s Little League program. At 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 1, parade lineup and judging will begin in the old Odon School lot. Details on vehicle and float placement can be found on the event’s website

To add to this year’s free, family-friendly entertainment, the usual midway rides that require a nightly bracelet purchase will be replaced by seven inflatables rented with funds leftover from last year’s event that will open at 5 p.m. for free bouncing fun, so please remember your children’s socks.

Festival goers will still find the same festival foods that they’ve enjoyed throughout the years, and with enjoyment of the inflatables and musical entertainment being free, extra spending money might be left to fill up on cinnamon rolls, taco salad, barbecue, fish sandwiches, elephant ears and lemon shake-ups.

Friday at 1 p.m. there will be both community bingo and the 50 year club presentation at the park. In case of rain, both events will be moved to the nearby community building.

Individuals who have attended for 50 of the festival’s 134 years will be recognized, and special recognition will go to the longest attending member of the club, and last year’s winner 101-year-old Flora Nugent, is this year’s favorite. Nugent is disappointed that the carnival rides will be absent this year.

“That’s how I knew it was Old Settler’s when I heard the merry-go-round music,” she said.

Despite her disappointment, Nugent hopes she gets a chance to go again this year, but she doubts she’ll get in the bounce houses. She advises anyone planning on attending to “go with the idea that you’re going to enjoy it.”

The 2019 Miss and Mister Contest is at 7 p.m. Friday. A child must be between the ages of three and six by Aug. 1 to participate in the Little Miss and Mister contest, and registration will be open now through July 27. Applications are available at the Odon Journal office.

Saturday at 6:30 p.m., parents will have an opportunity to show off their younger children at the baby show.

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