Jim Raykie

Jim Raykie

I thought it was a nice gesture for the Quaker Steak & Lube to schedule the return of the Bavarian Fun Fest this summer in honor of my birthday on Aug. 5.

Well, maybe they scheduled it when the wildly popular Hank Haller Orchestra, one of the mainstays from former editions of the fest, was available. That’s probably it.

Kidding aside, the iconic fun fest returns to downtown Sharon for four days Aug. 2-5 on the grounds of the QS&L after a more than 20-year absence. I think that’s great news.

Gary Meszaros and George Warren, co-owners of the original Lube and the brains behind the fun fest, pushed hard for its return. Since deciding that its return was a go, it’s been deja vu for them as well as the staff.

Whether it has been looking for a tent big enough to cover a football field, a celebrity festmeister, vendors and entertainers or old pairs of lederhosen (leather breeches), it has been a nostalgic ride in planning the return.

In its heyday in the 1980s, the festival of German food, drink and entertainment drew more than 100,000 visitors during its nine-day run. It was voted the state’s top festival and was an annual can’t-miss event for the young and old.

As is the case with its return, the fun fest has always been a high-risk investment, with promoters hoping that the whims of Mother Nature provided hot, dry weather for the event.

The first fun fest in 1975, a baby compared to future celebrations, was staged in late September to try to stay as close to an Oktoberfest theme as possible. It turned out to be a financial disaster as cold weather with rain almost killed what eventually would turn into a Pennsylvania tradition.

But with the perseverance of Meszaros and Warren, they tweaked the celebration, and gradually moved it into the dog days of August in hopes of better weather. It didn’t guarantee a rain-free fun fest, but at least they could rely on summer heat in most cases, and festgoers could live with a few showers.

The celebration had its detractors throughout the years. Residents who didn’t attend complained about snarled traffic, parking everywhere, “noise” as polka bands played into the night, and of course, allegations of widespread drinking by minors. That was the perception, at least.

Without question, some young folks were arrested every year during the fun fest for finding a way to drink beer. But with a gate of 100,000 spectators through two weekends, such arrests were minimal when placed in that context.

I knew the guys who worked security, and knew how hard they worked to keep plastic gallons or jugs out of the hands of our youth. But when irresponsible adults buy beer for kids, pass it to them along the dark banks of the Shenango River, and they drink it out of sight off the grounds, it’s nearly impossible to control. Given the amount of people attending and the layout of the grounds, security in reality did a terrific job in limiting the instances of underage chugging.

The fun fest had a great economic impact on the Shenango Valley area, and the void created by its departure many years ago never has been filled.

Here’s hoping for superb weather and a great turnout for the fun fest this summer, which could serve as the springboard for its return on an annual basis and for its return as the state’s best festival.

I can smell the strudel and sausage already from my office window, and it’s only March.

I like the USPS, but ...

I have written in other columns that I think first-class postage is a real deal, and that mail carriers don’t get enough credit.

But the post office, as an institution, can be puzzling. I sent a letter on Jan. 22 to Tam O’Shanter Golf Course in Hermitage, but mailed it to 2968 S. Hermitage Road instead of 2961.

More than 40 days later, the mail was returned to me with the dreaded “Return to Sender” yellow sticker pasted on the front.

Worse yet, someone took the time to cross out 2968 and write 2961 on the front of the envelope. How crazy is that? Besides, is Hermitage so big that the letter couldn’t be delivered to the golf course, despite one digit being wrong?

Somebody probably will offer some explanation, but I’m not buying it.

Jim Raykie is the editor of The Herald and writes this column on Mondays. His email is jraykie@sharonherald.com

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