It started off as an idea on November 28, 2008, when it was announced that
the Wizard of Oz Festival would be no more. Why not bring it back to
Chesterton? We can do it. We have the Duneland Business Initiative Group to
help. Calls were quickly made, surveys were sent out and in December it was
decided that DBIG would initiate the return of the Wizard of Oz Festival to
Plans started prior to the Town of Chesterton’s approval; there was not a
minute to waste, time was already against us. Many vendors had already
planned for other events; sponsors dollars were already promised elsewhere;
and there was the heavy cloud of doubt that a group such as DBIG could pull
it all together in such a short time.
March 9th the Town of Chesterton approved the festival and the magic
started. Past planners joined the group, Everything Oz Club volunteered
their suggestions and support, the committee started forming and the
celebrities wanted to know if they were invited back … the buzz was out
there and there was no turning back.
We were not without challenges, pits, and downfalls. Many things required
time of those that already had full plates. But we found many rainbows with
our top sponsors and others. They helped us spread the word, house the
celebrities, feed and shuttle the celebrities, host the events, become Oz
central, make things beautiful, and allow us to drop winged monkeys from the
So when Friday, September 18th arrived, Chesterton was hoppin’. We did not
anticipate opening the souvenir stand, but the cry for souvenirs had us
swing the doors wide open for business. At the autograph sessions, a shuffle
game with Roger and Robert Baum had to be done because Executive Director
could not keep the two straight – smiles followed afterwards but boy did I
feel like an idiot.
At Friday evening’s Red Carpet Premier, held at Duneland Falls, the hall was
decked beautifully with an Emerald City theme. Great entertainment was
provided, food was excellent, wonderful silent auction items offered, but
the take-a-way was … there was no dessert. We laughed it off and still just
smile now and shake our heads – oh the little things that mean so much!
Firefighting the small problems with the parade had us doing the parade
route in reverse. The yells from the crowd as the celebrities passed saying
“welcome back”, the many thank yous offered up, and the high fives had
smiles for miles and miles.
After the parade the streets were packed with browsers looking at the many
artisan, craft, promotional, and Oz memorabilia booths. Food stands were a
huge hit with many vendors saying they did wonderfully and would be
returning next year. The park was full of people having picnic with the
Characters, watching the look-a-like contests, and listening to Oz Idol.
The first annual Munchkin Kidzone opened to the beat of Chris Pabon, young
blues guitarist on Saturday and had its Sunday finale with State Park. The
zone also offered puppeteers, acrobatics, Bounce N Around, games and other
Sunday’s highlights were the contest finales: Town Window Decorating Contest
winner: Chesterton Cake Shoppe; Oz of Cakes winner: Bonnie Mueller of
Valparaiso; Auntie Em’s Pie Contest winner: Sharon Wesolek of Fish Lake;
Margaret Pelligrinni’s Quilt Raffle winner: Meghan Russo of Chesterton; with
quilt pillows to Sue Bodner of Crown Point and Judith Meidel of Mishawaka;
50/50 winner: Jennifer Vannell of Porter; Parade winners: Best Oz Music:
Special Olympics; Best Oz Walking Group: Everything Oz Club; Best Oz Float:
Flannery’s, special mention to: Mom’s Club and J&R Barrel Train.
Sunday’s show stopper was Kylee Barnett of Porter singing Taylor Swift’s
Love Story winning Oz Idol. However, the best was yet to come as each of the
14 celebrities and many others that helped to make the festival happen, took
to the stage. Lollipop Kid Jerry Maren, belted out the lyrics of the
Lollipop Guild, then everyone in and around the bandstand sang “Somewhere
Over the Rainbow”, and there were very few eyes that were dry.
We had a great group of volunteers from the community, the high school
baccalaureate program, businesses, the Oz Committee, DBIG, Everything Oz,
Celebrity Ambassadors, and oh so many more. The Street, Police, Park, and
Fire departments were all out and the smiles were apparent on every face,
what a great partnership. We did it and it is over until next year.
There is so much to be done for next year, yet that is a story for another
time, big thanks goes out to everyone involved and everyone that came out to
support the festival. So many friendships of a lifetime were made and so
many smiles were created. I heard many times that this festival belongs in
Chesterton, and yep, it does because “There IS No Place Like Home.” Thank