Niles ’03 Riverfest draws record crowds
By By Joanna Arnett / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- The spirit of Riverfest and those enjoying it were not dampened by the occasional sprinkles and summertime heat.
In fact, record numbers of festival-goers, some from surrounding cities even hours away, flocked to Niles' Riverfest this weekend to enjoy the annual event.
The Blessing of the Dragon, performed before Saturday's Dragon Boat races, went off without a hitch.
State Sen. Ron Jelinek, R-Three Oaks, and his wife, Diane, arrived to witness the ancient tradition, recited by Erika Kirtdoll, President of the Niles Optimist Club.
She recounted the old Chinese legend of the dragon boat race and how it came to be.
Alongside her were Riverfest King and Queen Kevin Blair and Heather Schultz, Patrick Sawyer, a man who paddled the entire length of the St. Joseph River, Sen. Ron Jelinek, and Niles City Mayor Mike McCauslin.
They each contributed to the ceremony, dropping flowers into the river or lighting incense in the dragon boat's nose.
Roadsters and antique cars showed up in a pleasing procession at 7 p.m., parking at the north end of Riverfront park to await the next day's visitors.
The AAA Ninth Annual All Car and Truck Show began at 9 a.m. and drew quite a crowd throughout the day. Admirers of old, shiny things had plenty to gawk at, with over three dozen automobiles finely tuned, painted, and polished. Surrounded by the cars was the Oldies 94.3 radio remote broadcast center, which played music and announced prizes all day long.
Floyd Simpson of Dowagiac owns a jet black 1953 Chevrolet Bel-Air which he brought out to the show.
The car has 42,000 actual miles on it and was purchased for $2,828.18. He has won seven awards with the car and said that he doesn't take it to shows all the time.
Another neat vehicle was a stunning creamy white 1936 Mercedes Benz 540K Roadster replica. Built in 1984 by a Chuck Miller of Detroit, the car is now owned by Frank Wogoman of Granger, Ind.
For some senior citizens, the sight of these cars brought back pleasant memories.
Truesdell said this is her first time at Riverfest. She is visiting her daughter, Andrea Truesdell of Galien, and had recently come to South Bend, Ind., from Minneapolis, Mo.
Also beginning at 9 a.m. were the Dragon Boat races. There were 12 teams in two divisions and each team raced in two heats.
Dragon Boat results
Open division (all times are in seconds)
Allure Salon Professionals from Kalamazoo with 257.93, Best Time with 82.76
Tans Down Under, 261.77
City of Niles, 265.30
Greater Niles Federal Credit Union, 272.98
Niles Daily Star, 274.92
Dee's Autobody, 275.95
Meridian Title Co., 290.28
Michiana Christian Embassy, sponsored by the Plym Foundation, 270.32
Buchanan Athletics, sponsored by Noon Optimist Club, 278.44
Niles Band, sponsored by Crouch Realty, 279.86
JOOI (Junior Optimist), sponsored by Noon Optimist Club, 281.35, Best Time with 90.3
Niles Cheer and Football Teams, sponsored by Milano's Pizza, 283.80
The Friendship in Paddling Award, given to the team with best spirit, was awarded to the Greater Niles Credit Union in the Open Division and to the Buchanan Athletes in the Youth Division.
More than 30 booths of all kinds were open to festival goers, full of jewelry, clothing, sentimental items, and household knickknacks. There was even an Antique Fishing Lure booth, appropriately located right next to the St. Joseph River.
Sunday opened with a delicious pancake breakfast, sponsored by Friends of Niles/Riverfest, Inc.
At 2 p.m., Jetta and the Jellybeans, a traveling children's entertainment show, performed at the amphitheater. Seats under the tents on the facing hill were full of parents and grandparents watching their little ones romping with Jetta and her friend, Pinky. Their real names are Jetta Beaven and Susan Schroeder and the rest of their South Bend, Ind., quartet is Green Bean (Jetta's husband, Tom) and Orange (Craig Schroeder, Susan's brother).
And indeed she does, as she hula-hooped with the children, had them sing along to a song from Disney's "The Lion King," and "did the twist," singing the famous Chuck Berry tune and shakin' with the kids. They ended their segment with a limbo.
Afterwards, before Irv Cass appeared onstage as Elvis, the children pranced over to a tree from which a pinata hung, and all received two swings to break it. After less than 10 tries and several mean swings, the pinata fell to the ground, spilling candy to many eager little hands.
At 2:45 p.m., the Duck Race Fund-Raiser, sponsored by the Niles Optimists Club, was held at the south end by Main Street bridge. Raffle rubber duckies with numbers underneath them were placed in the water between long hoses placed by the Niles City Fire Department. The winning ducks were First place Joe Hunt, who won $1,000; Second place Ray Bishop, who won a family membership to Niles-Buchanan YMCA; Third place Gloria Linde, who won a $150 gift certificate to Millenium Steakhouse; Fourth place Donald Mangold, who won $100 gift certificate to Signal Travel; Fifth place David Morse, who won $100 gift certificate to Majerek's Hallmark; Sixth place J. Schriber, who won a $50 gift certificate to Millenium Steakhouse, Seventh place L. Kirts; Eighth place Renae Harrison; Ninth place David Morse; and Tenth place Gail Welsh. Seventh through tenth place winners received Riverfest t-shirts.
At 3 p.m., Tom Majerek, coordinator of Riverfest, introduced "Elvis" to the now-enormous crowd," much to the delight of many middle-age women. He curled his lip as he sang "All Shook Up" and other chart-toppers, shook his leg and even tossed a few scarves into the the crowd for good measure.
The thunderstorms that had been brewing miles away finally came and started to sprinkle on festival goers halfway through his show, but nary a soul left just because of a little rain. That little rain turned into more when the Church of Niles presented their Christian music show at 6 p.m., the last of the festival's perks, and more people felt obligated to keep themselves dry.
But it seems as though the weekends events held enough persuasion to the people who attended.