UTICA — Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of the summer driving season, and millions of Americans have hit the road to take advantage of the three-day weekend. For others, holiday entertainment is as close as their own backyard, witness the 38th Utica Sertoma Ice Cream Festival.
Ice cream lovers need no excuse to indulge themselves, and as the thermometer reached for the 90s on Saturday, festivalgoers eagerly headed for the grounds of Velvet Ice Cream, which along with the Energy Cooperative served as host of the event.
As in many small towns across America, Utica kicked off the Memorial Day weekend with a parade along village streets. Dozens of participants drove or walked the 1.5-mile parade route, which began and ended at Utica High School, and kids of all ages lined the streets to take it all in. Among those featured in the Saturday morning parade were John and Barb Rodenhiser, who were honored as the Grand Marshals, and Village Mayor Lester Grennell and his wife, Linda.
Several of the parade entries featured patriotic themes, and in keeping with the tradition of honoring America’s war dead with Memorial Day events, the parade committee gave Appreciation Awards to the Newark Marine Corps and to Ron Bruce of Military Ambulance. Parade participants ranged from kindergarten-aged Little Miss Ice Cream contestants to octogenarians behind the wheels of antique cars, tractors and go-carts.
Traffic from the village to the festival site just south of town was bumper-to-bumper for a time as people switched venues after the parade, and by early Saturday afternoon the festival was in full swing. Nearly 100 artisans had their hand-crafted items for sale and kids were entertained with an array of activities including sack races, wheelbarrow races and a balloon toss.
After riding in horse-drawn carriages near the front of the parade, a dozen 6-year-old Little Miss Ice Cream hopefuls took to the main stage with Mount Vernon native Joel Riley of WTVN radio in Columbus. Riley put them at ease with genial interviews while judges scored them for poise and answering questions. When the scores were tallied, Avery Boyle was named second runner-up, Abby Paxton was first runner-up and Kylie White was crowned as Little Miss Ice Cream for 2012.
Numerous awards were handed out to parade entries. The Darcie Marchers were the Best Marching Unit, with Dynamic Mention second. Horsemen Helping Horsemen and the Baughman Half Slingers were first and second among Horse Units. Best Service Unit went to the Utica Church of Christ, with the Utica Care Center second. The Best Float came from the Community Bible School, followed by the Utica Church of Christ. And what would a parade be without clowns? VIP Clowns took top honors in that category, with the Grotto Clowns second.
The Chairman’s Choice Award was presented to the Utica Care Center. Dan Dennier’s John-Deere 620 was rated the Best Antique Tractor, and Thomas Graden entered the Best Antique Car. The Oldest Antique Tractor award was taken by Luke Rice and his 1940 Farmall BN.
Musical acts during the first two days of the festival included the Caliber Band, featuring country sounds, Marquis 66 with sounds of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, and MTVarts with selections from its upcoming revival of “Grease.” Still to come is a 1 p.m. performance by the Fossill Creek Bluegrass Band this afternoon.
Newark magician Dave Layman is featured throughout the festival with his Magic of Laughter show, and he will perform today at 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Other activities today as the festival winds toward its close include games for kids, a seed-spitting contest and a plank race. The last official activity is an ice cream eating contest at 4 p.m. The numerous food stands and crafts booths will open at 10 a.m. and close at 6 p.m.
The Sertoma Club and LaSertoma are active in many aspects of the Utica community. They sponsor programs for the hearing and speech impaired, youth sports teams, the Utica Band, North Fork and Northridge High School scholarship funds, the Utica Fire Department and Utica EMS, among others. Since 1975, the Memorial Day weekend Ice Cream Festival has been Utica Sertoma’s largest fund-raising project.
Admission to the Utica Sertoma Ice Cream Festival is free, but there is a per vehicle parking charge.