UTICA — Traditions are often the backbone of communities, and in Utica, tradition continues with the 77th annual Homecoming Fall Festival. This year’s theme is “Taking a sentimental journey down memory lane.”
“It’s been around since 1930, and is greatly supported by the community. It’s a great time to meet your old friends and meet some new ones, and reminisce about days of Utica gone by,” said Utica Mayor Larry Friesel.
The event is organized each year by the Utica Volunteer Fire Department and the Women’s Auxiliary.
“We’ve always had a great support,” said Scott Gilbreath, event committee chairman. “The homecoming has two different visions to me. Homecoming was designed to be one big reunion, people coming home to see family and friends they haven’t seen in years. And [secondly], it’s for the kids.”
The pet parade has become a highlight of the festival for children, who are given the opportunity to show off their favorite animal.
“The pet parade was founded in 1930,” said Gilbreath. “Utica, Ohio, hosted the very first pet parade in the United States. It was founded by a school teacher named Perry Adams, and it’s to showcase the talent of the kids.”
Back by popular demand is the British Invasion, which kicked off the festival’s entertainment schedule.
“Everybody liked them, so we brought them back this year,” said Gilbreath.
Highlighting tonight’s festivities is Gas Pump Jockeys. On Friday, starting at 7 p.m., music will be by Marquis 66, and closing out the festival entertainment on Saturday is Street Level Band at 8 p.m.
The celebration will include games, rides, food and music through Saturday. Other events will be the car show on Saturday, as well as the cake auction, which starts at 5:30 p.m.
Although times are getting tough, Gilbreath doesn’t want to see the homecoming die out.
“I would like to let the community know that the fire department hardly makes anything off of the event. We do this as a community service,” said Gilbreath. “The fire department’s main purpose is to save lives and protect property; the homecoming is secondary, but we would like to see it keep going. I know we will be back next year, but I don’t know what will happen after that.”
The fire department has organized the event since 1988.
“It takes a tremendous amount of teamwork to put this together, but I love it,” said Gilbreath.
Attending the festival Wednesday with his grandfather was Grant Preston. Preston said he definitely likes the food the best, and his favorite ride was the Screamer.
Shanea Mantel of Danville was happy to watch her brother spin on one of the carnival rides.
“My grandma lives here in Utica, so we come every year,” she said. “It’s been a tradition to come down here and eat with grandma, then go to the homecoming. I like spending time with grandma the best.”