As most of you know, the Edwardsville Autumnfest won’t be held this fall. Instead it is being moved to the spring and will be re-branded. Undoubtedly the Chamber of Commerce and the City of Edwardsville will be working together to come up with a celebration that will find its niche in the spring.
The Edwardsville Autumnfest traces its history to the late 1980s when Tom Cooley was city administrator. He wanted to hold a special celebration to mark the opening of Woodend Road from Ninth Street to I-435. There is no doubt that was a major event in the history of Edwardsville. In my opinion it sparked development of the industrial park. Originally the idea of opening Woodend was to allow emergency vehicles a way around the always busy railroad tracks to reach the north end of the community.
The event was a lot of fun and included some neat activities. In fact it was so much fun that it was decided to make it an annual event and shortly thereafter, the Chamber of Commerce became a partner. The event was successful over the years due to the hard work and effort of Phyllis Freeman, Edwardsville city clerk who worked tirelessly and often with little help from anyone. The entire area owes Phyllis tremendous praise for her dedicated efforts. Phyllis recently retired after years of hard work and success as city clerk.
Another reason for the starting of Autumnfest was the new Edwardsville City Park which was dedicated in 1986. The Autumnfest was a good way to get the public to visit the park. The park was ideal in that it had lots of space and ample parking. Also the area around the industries on Ninth Street was ideal for organizing a parade. Usually, the biggest crowd for the parade was at the Edwardsville Plaza Shopping Center.
Edwardsville had made several attempts at starting a festival in the 1970s and 1980s, but none of them really got off the ground. Probably the most notable was the raft race from DeSoto to Edwardsville. While it drew a rowdy and sizeable crowd, it caused problems and the City of Edwardsville voted not to sponsor the event. There were some other springtime events, but they sputtered and faded away.
The Autumnfest got off to a good start and it seemed to me that the event would be a long term success. One of the problems the planners faced was finding a suitable day for the celebration. Initially it was held in mid-October and had a short run of good weather. That, sadly, didn’t last and a combination of rain and cold weather took its toll and one year the event was cancelled after the parade.
This led to a problem of finding a suitable date. It went to the first week in October and then to the third week in September, which was in my opinion, a mistake. That meant it was just three weeks after Tiblow Days. The volunteers from the Chamber didn’t have time to rebound and get ready for another major event.
I did enjoy the Autumnfest, particularly when it was at the park. It was truly a family event with games for children ranging from a punt, pass and kick contest to an egg toss and three legged races. Later, they added a soccer kicking contest. One of my favorite events was the annual slo-pitch softball game between the staffs of the City of Bonner Springs and the city of Edwardsville. I, along with the president or manager of the bank, umpired the game. They also had a chili and pie baking contest which was judged by members of the Bonner Springs and Edwardsville City Councils. It was truly a family fun oriented event.
After I retired, I helped with the parade and for years have been chairperson of the Edwardsville Kiwanis Club Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, Incidentally, the Kiwanis Club has agreed to sponsor the prayer breakfast at the new spring event and I will continue as chairperson.
The group planning the new event faces some daunting challenges. The first is selecting a date which will be tough in April and May. Next, they will have to find a leader like Phyllis Freeman who will work tirelessly to make the event successful. Replacing Phyllis will be a tough chore. They will also have to select a theme and decide what format the event should use. Yes, it will be tough but I really believe Mayor McTaggart and Mike Webb, city administrator, will meet and conquer the challenge.
Finally, the success of Tiblow Days is due to the effort of local club and individuals who have been willing to give of their time and efforts. Residents of Edwardsville need to commit to duplicate that effort and make a commitment to make sure the new spring event is a success.
Putting on a festival takes the involvement and hard work on the part of the city, Chamber and the residents of the community. I’m looking forward to a great event next spring in Edwardsville.