File photo The Four Flags Area Apple Festival will be held Sept. 29 through Oct. 2 at the festival grounds. One of the most popular attractions is its carnival.

Archived Story

Apple Festival free fun for all

Published 7:03pm Friday, September 23, 2011

Community festivals are common throughout Michiana, so finding a way to stand out is each event’s key to success.
The Four Flags Area Apple Festival, to be held Thursday, Sept. 29 through Sunday, Oct. 2, has that niche — being free. Entrance to the festival and entertainment is at no cost to visitors.
Keeping the festival free has been a priority over the years, even with the downtrodden economy and the cost of bringing in acts.
“I think the biggest thing is the fact we don’t charge admission,” Board President Craig Crocker said. “We don’t charge for people to watch our fireworks.
“We tightened our belts and looked at some things. If it’s good entertainment, it’s good entertainment,” he said.
The board of directors has downsized its fireworks from two nights to one, and added a family day, which is an additional expense, but it is steadfast in its decision to never charge for the festival.
“This year have some major expenses — overall on the bandshell, about $4,000,” Crocker said. “We had to have some major reconstruction on it. We had some issues in our building where we had to cut up some of our floor.
“We hope we don’t get to the point where we have to start charging admission,” he said.
Parking is also free, although a donation for the firemen’s association is asked for attendees who park on festival grounds.
The festival is approaching its 40th anniversary in 2012, and has some big — but unannounced — plans to mark the milestone.
“We gearing out for next year being our 40th,” Crocker said. “If you can celebrate 40 years of doing something, you’re doing something right.”
This year’s festival, Sept. 29 through Oct. 2, still promises a good time, with live music, a lip synch contest, car show, apple pie eating contest, a horseshoe tournament and a large midway, among many other events. The most popular attraction is the Saturday night fireworks, but the festival also has different events that cater to all ages.
“The younger ones — the carnival; on the weekends it’s the arts and crafts,” Crocker said. “The grand parade is always a big draw. Every day has its own thing. The entertainment, of course, we have seating for over a thousand. Many people come up for only the fireworks.”
Crocker said that attendance usually totals at least 100,000 people over the four-day span, especially if the weather is dry and cool; attendance has exceeded 120,000 people before. If it rains heavily during the festival, attendance will be about 75,000.

A team effort
The 17-member board of directors works year-round to organize the Four Flags Area Apple Festival.
“The president sits on all committees,” Crocker said. “We own our own picnic tables; we own the bandshell. All year-round we are updating. We go to some of the different parades to promote the festival in southwestern Michigan. Starting in July, we generally have a work session every Tuesday. We start our sponsorship now for next year. It is a totally volunteer organization — nobody gets paid for anything.”
Most of the proceeds from the festival are used to pay its bills, which include rentals, maintenance, insurance and other expenses. Its budget this year is $150,000 to break-even.
The pageant winners win scholarships, which are paid after the first semester of college is completed. The festival also donates to Niles Project Graduation, Brandywine Project Graduation, Niles Riverfest, the Niles Bluegrass Festival, Relays for Life in Niles and Berrien Springs, the Berrien County Youth Fair, Fraternal Order of Police, and if money is available, The Salvation Army, a homeless shelter, food pantries and a women’s shelter.
“Anything in the community that we can support, we try and do that,” Crocker said.
Crocker got involved with the event 25 years ago because his brother was volunteering at the festival.
“I was involved with the trike and big-wheel races before I had my children,” he said. “Some of the executive board … we put in excess of 400 hours a year in volunteer time.
“It’s the dedication of the current board members … they still put forth the time and effort to make this thing go,” Crocker said. “It’s a year-round participation where we have the meetings and schedule things and work on things, so the current board can be proud it has grown and expanded.
“It’s rewarding to the fact that this is for the community. That’s what we are for,” Crocker said.

Festival expands
The Apple Festival was started in downtown Niles in 1973 as a way to promote southwest Michigan during the harvest.
“We’ve tried it early in September, but the problem is we don’t have apples,” Crocker explained. “Labor Day weekend dictates when it is held.
“This year they are picking apples, and some will be coming out of storage because they are already harvested,” Crocker said.
Crocker said the festival has grown over the years. The carnival is now two separate units.
“It is one of the largest festivals in the area,” Crocker said.
It has also added the family day to promote family and support the community.
“The children of today are the leaders of tomorrow,” Crocker said.

For more information about the Four Flags Area Apple Festival, visit

Four Flags Area Apple Festival schedule

• Parking donations $5, courtesy of the firemen’s association

Pre-Festival Events
Youth Day
Today, 8:30 to 9 a.m. Bike and Trike
Location: Ring Lardner Middle School parking lot
Ages: 2-3, 4-5 and 6-7

Prince and Princess Selection
Today, 10:30 a.m.
Ages: 5-8 only, selection is by random drawing, pre-registration required.
Location: South Bend Tribune/WSBT Radio Station Stage Main Tent

Youth Parade
Today at Eastside Park.
Parade lineup at noon, parade will begin at 1 p.m.
Parade route: Eastside Park to 17th Street to Apple Festival site

Kid Games
Today from approximately 2 to 4 p.m. following the Youth Parade at the Apple Festival Grounds on the corner of 17th and Lake streets.
There will be a Magic Show from 2 to 2:30 p.m. There will be a bounce house, Curious Kids Museum, McDonald’s games, hotdogs and cotton candy. All is free. Refreshments will be served to participating children.

Thursday, Sept. 29
• 1 to 3 p.m. — Judging of Windows Decorating, chairwoman, Karen Alexander.
• 3 to 10 p.m. — Carnival with Skerbeck Bros. Shows, Inc.
• Wrist band night/ride all rides for one price — $20
• 5 p.m. to close, Apple Products Tent

Friday, Sept. 30

• 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. — 18th Annual Exceptional Citizens’ Day (handicapped and senior citizens only), entry by pre-registration only
• 4 p.m. — The Niles city and township fire departments present “The Flash and Flicker Show.” Mini-shows promoting safety, saving lives and fighting fires.
• 3 p.m. to midnight  — carnival with Skerbeck Bros. Shows, Inc., wrist bands $25, concessions on site
• 5 to 8 p.m. — Entries for the scarecrow contest, all ages welcome, at front of Apple House
• 4 p.m. to close — Apple Products Tent
• 4 p.m. to midnight — beer tent
• 5 p.m. to close — Huntly Baptist Puppet Shows Every show on the hour and giveaways
• 7 p.m. — Live music by Centerville

Saturday, Oct. 1

• 7 to 11 a.m. — Pancake breakfast, Semco Energy Tent
• 7 to 11 a.m. — open stage, bring your own instruments, Semco Energy Tent
• 8 a.m. to noon — Entries for judging scarecrows only
• 8:30 to 10 a.m. — 20th Annual Community Prayer Breakfast, Ring Lardner Middle School
• 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. — Friends of the Library Book Sale, Niles District Library
• 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. — Scarecrow contest entries and registration deadline. Categories: Funniest, Most Original, Not So Scary
• 9 a.m. to close — Apple Products Tent
• 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. — 39th Annual Arts & Crafts Fair (more than 150 displays)
• 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. — Concessions On Site
• 10 a.m. to midnight — carnival with Skerbeck Bros. Shows, Inc., wrist bands, $25
• 10 a.m. to close — Huntly Baptist Puppet Shows, every show on the hour and giveaways
• 10:25 a.m. and 11:09 a.m. — 36th Annual Train Station Apple Giveaway, Niles Historical Train Station
• 3 p.m. — The Niles city and township fire departments present “The Flash and Flicker Show,” mini-shows promoting safety, saving lives and fighting fires.
• Noon to midnight — beer tent
• 1:30 p.m. — 39th Annual Apple Festival Grande Parade
• 1:30 p.m. — The Salvation Army, 424 North 15th St., refreshments during parade
• 3:30 to 5 p.m. — Old-fashioned Log Cutting and Hand Saw Contest, awards presented immediately following contest, first and second place cash prizes in the following categories: Senior Citizens, Men and Women 18-60 and Boys and Girls ages 5-7, 8-10, 11-13 and 14-17
• 4:30 to 5 p.m. — Homemade entries/registration, Homemade Apple Pies, Pastries & Cake Contest, Semco Energy Tent, ribbons and cash prizes awarded to first and second places
• 5 p.m. — Beard and Mustache Contest, Main Tent
• 5 to 6 p.m. — Judging, Homemade Apple Pies, Pastries & Cake Contest, Semco Energy Tent
• 6 p.m. — Scarecrow Contest judging, (rain date Sunday)
• 6 p.m. — Deadline for Biggest Apple Contest, Apple Festival Building
• 7 to 10 p.m. — YMCA Senior Citizens Dance, DJ Rick Clingerman, drawing, door prizes, refreshments, all free, Niles-Buchanan YMCA, 905 North Front St., Niles
• 8 p.m. — “An Evening with Cher,” A tribute by Lisa Irion
• Approximately 10 p.m. — Fireworks
• After fireworks – Live music by Catacomb

Sunday, Oct. 2
• 8 to 11 a.m. — Pancake breakfast, Semco Energy Tent
• 8 to 11 a.m. — open stage, bring your own instruments, Semco Energy Tent
• 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. — 12th Annual Apple Festival Custom Car Show 2011, free to spectators, no pets, first 100 cars receive dash plaque ($10 per-car registration fee). Car registration 9 a.m. to noon, awards to Top 50, awards at 3 p.m., National Standard grounds
• 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. — Apple Products Tent
• 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. — 39th Annual Arts & Crafts Fair (more than 150 displays)
• 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. — Carnival Skerbeck Bros. Shows, Inc., wrist bands, $20
• 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. — concessions on-site
ª 11 a.m. — Registration, Apple Seed Popping, activities tent
• 11:30 a.m. — Apple Seed Popping Contest
• 11 a.m. — Harold Galbreath “Galley” Memorial Horseshoe Tournament, double with single competition immediately following, $10 entry fee, awards and cash prizes
• Noon — Pre-registration for the Apple Pie Eating Contest at Apple Festival Building tent, all entries need to be in by noon Sunday, Oct. 2, no new entries after noon Sunday
• Noon — Judging, Biggest Apple Contest, cash prizes, Apple Festival Building
• 1 p.m. — The Niles city and township fire departments present “The Flash and Flicker Show,” mini-shows promoting safety, saving lives and fighting fires
• 1 to 3 p.m. — 22nd Annual Lip Sync Contest, cash prizes, must have been pre-registered at the Review on Saturday, Sept. 11, no new entries, South Bend Tribune /WSBT Radio Stations Stages, Main Tent
• 1 p.m. to close — Huntly Baptist Puppet Shows, shows every hour and giveaways
• 3 p.m. — Apple Peeling Contest, activities tent
• 3:30 p.m. — Apple Pie Eating Contest, immediately after lip sync contest
• 4 p.m. — Church of Niles church service, festival grounds

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