UTICA — The Utica Old Fashioned Ice Cream Festival kicked off its 35th year with the grand parade which large crowds faithfully attend each year.
Lifelong Utica resident Jeff Blacksten sat with his wife, Debbie, their children and grandchildren, watching the dozens of parade entries stroll down Central Avenue in the center of the village.
Watching his grandchildren scramble for the candy thrown by those walking and riding in parade entries, Jeff said he comes back every year to watch the children enjoy the event.
“That’s what it’s all about,” he said smiling. “It’s for the kids.
“We come every year to watch as a family,” Debbie added.
There was plenty to watch, as the parade began with a Velvet Ice Cream truck loaded with smiling people passing out frozen treats to the crowd.
Fire engines from several area departments, scout troops, marching bands and pageant queens were among those following in the long line of parade participants.
Enjoying his first parade this year was 2-year-old Connor Whisner of St. Louisville who watched from the arms of grandfather Randy Whisner. Connor declared the firetrucks his favorite part of the parade.
Many who cheered and watched the parade had family and friends among the many participants. As 4-H clubs, pageant royalty, scouts, and church groups walked past, the crowds lining the street waved and shouted encouragement.
Rhiannon Suggs, 16, of Mount Vernon was in the crowd to watch her friend, Bethany Myers, Knox County’s reigning Pork Princess, ride in her first parade since being crowned.
Like many in the crowd, Suggs said she enjoyed watching the children in attendance as they clapped and pointed, smiling as each float passed.
“I really liked watching the little kids enjoy the parade,” said Suggs after the last entry made its way up the street.
Tractors, riders on horseback, and musicians playing marches fit for a parade all drew appreciative cheers from the parade-watchers.
The parade was a fitting beginning for the nostalgic three-day festival which is held on the grounds of Velvet Ice Cream and the Energy Cooperative, about a mile south of Utica on Ohio 13.
The Utica Old Fashioned Ice Cream Festival draws crowds of thousands from around the state who come to enjoy family oriented activities, traditional music, tents filled with arts and craft vendors, delicious food, and of course, hundreds of gallons of ice cream.
The festival is organized by the Utica Sertoma and LaSertoma. The groups use the funds generated by the event to pay for community services and scholarships.
Utica resident Bonnie Ramseyer, who has volunteered at the festival every year since the first event was held in 1975, said the many volunteers from the community make the event possible.
“They couldn’t pull this off if the community didn’t get behind it,” Ramseyer said pointing at the grounds filled with the activity of thousands of festival attendees.
She explained volunteers from groups such as the Utica Sertoma, LaSertoma, Serteens, Utica Merchants Association, Utica Care Center work tirelessly to put together the activities for the three days each year.
“You can’t live in Utica and not volunteer,” Ramseyer said with a chuckle. She said her husband, Dick, a veterinarian who has worked in the Utica community for many years, planned to volunteer at the festival later in the weekend. “He’ll be here tomorrow scooping ice cream,” she said.
Ice cream is an important part of the weekend’s activities. There were ice cream eating contests for ice cream devotees of all ages. And hundreds and hundreds of gallons of ice cream in over 15 flavors were served in sundaes, over pie, in root beer floats, and on top of cones throughout the festival, which continues today.
In the tent operated by the Utica United Methodist Church, volunteers dished up slices of homemade pie to hungry festival-goers. On top, they added scoops of Velvet ice cream.
Church member Sara Crall said the money raised by the sale of the fourteen kinds of pie and angel food cake would benefit church ministries. Volunteers will have dished up slices of hundreds of pies ala mode by the end of the festival.
Crowds at the festival enjoyed magic shows, and concerts throughout the weekend as well. Bluegrass band Faces Made For Radio, which hails from the Ashley area, entertained audiences Saturday.
“I really like the bluegrass,” said Columbus resident Kevin Hill, who was attending the festival for the first time with his family.
Car and bike shows, as well as antique engines and tractors were also big draws during the weekend’s activities.
Ramseyer said the simplicity of activities such as sack races, water balloon and egg tosses, and ice cream eating contests fit the old-fashioned atmosphere of the festival. “We don’t do rides and carnival stuff,” she explained of the nostalgic feel of the festival.
At the center of the festival grounds, the ice cream parlor tent drew lines of hungry families, eager to beat the heat with a bowl of frozen comfort food.
Jacob Hoskins, who at 2 1/2 years old was enjoying his third festival with his mother and grandparents, said while the ice cream was great, he also enjoyed the other festival food, especially french fries.
Jacob’s mom Tiffany Elswick said after taking a food break, the family was headed to a children’s area so Jacob could have his face painted.
Katie Fowler, 11, of Mount Vernon was enjoying her very first funnel cake. Nibbling on the sugar-dusted fried dough, Fowler said the sweet treat was one of her favorite things about the festival, which she attended for the first time this year with a group of friends.
“It’s really, really good,” Fowler said. “It’s totally different, in a good way.” Fowler and her young friends said they enjoyed the shopping and ice cream at the event, as well. They also visited Ye Olde Mill, on the grounds of the Velvet ice cream factory across the road from the festival grounds.
“We are really glad that we made the trip,” said Bridgette Mueller who came from Columbus with her husband and two young boys. “They loved the magic and balloon animals, and ice cream is a total favorite,” Mueller said while her husband and sons nodded in agreement.
The only point the family could not agree on was the question of favorite ice cream flavor. “Chocolate,” said 4-year-old Bradley. “It is definitely cookie dough,” disagreed 6-year-old brother Ben.
With so many activities to choose from, families were kept busy at the festival, which has no admission charge aside from a parking fee. The festival continues through today at 6 p.m.