Chesterton Tribune

Photo: A successful homecoming for the Chesterton Wizard of Oz Festival

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Oz Festival Committee: Members of the Oz Committee, whose work led to the recent return of the Oz Festival to downtown Chesterton, are pictured here. Front row, left to tight, Susan McGlothlen, Sharon Millet, Terry O'Donnell, Carla Sellers and Mary Reinhart. Back Row; Marilyn Zengler, Quinten Dillenger, Jane Delligatti, Raymond Brickner, Machelle Blount, Laura Layman and Jeff Ellis. (Photo provided)


Guest Commentary


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 Chesterton.

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 sky.

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 performers.

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 you again!




Posted 9/25/2009