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Summerfest’s high octane fuel: Volunteers

Service clubs and individuals offer their time and talents Summerfest is less than two weeks away, starting on Thursday, July 14, and running through the Sunday.
And the bands played on: Festivalgoers enjoying live music on Pelham Street in downtown Fonthill during the 2019 Summerfest. RON HANSELL

Service clubs and individuals offer their time and talents

Summerfest is less than two weeks away, starting on Thursday, July 14, and running through the Sunday. Now in its 11th year, the four-day festival includes a wide range of activities for all ages, including music and entertainment, a Kids Zone, retail and food vendors, arts, crafts, a wine garden and beer pavilion, and a Sunday morning breakfast and car show in Peace Park.

Of course, none of it would be possible without an army of volunteers on hand to lend their time and expertise to the event, providing everything from logistical support to the most basic serving and cleanup.

“We have an extremely diverse group of volunteers, who all come together and work cohesively to support this event,” said Pelham’s Communications Specialist Leah Letford. “It's a symbiotic relationship, really, in that the volunteers themselves wouldn't be able to mount the event without the Town’s support, and the Town can’t do it without the sheer number of volunteers required. Our local service clubs coming together, along with community members at large, to be part of the evolution of Summerfest.”

The four key volunteer groups are the Fonthill and Fenwick Lions, Fonthill Rotary, and Fonthill Kinsmen, said Letford.

“They tend to fill a lot of our key volunteer spots, given that some of their members have been with Summerfest since its inception. They handle a wide variety of jobs. I would also mention that all of our bar sales people have Smart Serve training.”

The Summerfest Planning Committee is a committee of Town Council, working to secure performers, vendors, sponsors, and ironing out the logistics and traffic flow of the events, said Letford.

“They meet monthly during the year, and weekly leading up to the event. Where do the fences go? Where the toilets go? The committee looks after all of those behind-the-scenes pieces.”

One volunteer role is that of bike valet, responsible for safeguarding all of the bicycle drop offs and pickups for those who are using active transportation to get to the event, said Letford. Others are “bouncer supervisors,” who oversee the inflatables in the Kids Zone, ensuring that youngsters are adhering to safety protocols.

“We have volunteers that assist with our wrist-banding at event entry points, and volunteer stagehands that support our musicians who are performing, setting up music equipment prior to the act, then tearing down the stage afterwards. Volunteers who are techies often relish this role,” said Letford.

Pelham staffer Brianna Harford is responsible for volunteer coordination, said Letford. Those interested in volunteering at Summerfest are encouraged to call Brianna at 905-732-7889, ext. 347.

“There are opportunities for all different levels and abilities, high schoolers to seniors. Thursday night, there are two different time slots, and we have over 20 different roles for volunteers,” said Letford. “On the Saturday, we have volunteers on site as early as 7 AM, and as late as past midnight.”

Rotarian Frank Adamson serves on the Summerfest Committee as vice-chair, with a role in coordinating the Mayor and Council Pancake Breakfast on Sunday. Food is being supplied by local firms.

Adamson has also been integrally involved in fundraising for the new Pelham Arches, and told the Voice that Rotary will have a booth Saturday promoting the Arches, and selling Raise the Arches and Canada Summer Games T-shirts.

The Canada Games Torch Run will be coming through Pelham on the Saturday of Summerfest, with a pep rally starting at 9 AM. Torch runners include Mayor Marvin Junkin, Michael Jacques, Christina Picton, Eilea Given, Ava Colangelo, Frank Adamson, Dave Hunt, Robert Lucchetta, Jim Chalcraft, Sharon Greenwood, Natalie Anderson, Shellee Niznik, and Rhys Evans.

Summerfest would not be possible without the help of the service clubs, along with the Town leadership and Vickie VanRavenswaay’s staff

“Rotarian and Past President Paul Snack has been pivotal in organizing 14 Rotary clubs in each of the 12 municipal torch runs, and is a torch bearer in Port Colborne this Saturday,” said Adamson. “Collectively, the Lions, Kinsmen, Rotary, and Summerfest Committee members are volunteering Thursday evening, Friday evening, plus all day Saturday and Sunday. Summerfest would not be possible without the help of the service clubs, along with the Town leadership and Vickie VanRavenswaay’s staff, who are phenomenal. Committee member Remo Battista has been terrific in securing sponsorship businesses, with more money raised than the preceding nine years. We have a great team.”

Bill Gibson is another long-time Summerfest volunteer, who first got involved when member Bea Clark invited him to join the Active Transportation Committee.

“Then I met [former Town Councillor] Gary Accursi, and, metaphorically speaking, any spare time I had after that was gone,” Gibson said with a laugh. “Gary got me involved in lots of different aspects of the Summerfest Committee.”

The Sunday car show was a Gibson idea.

“The Mayor and I were standing there on a Sunday morning years ago, and he commented on how little was going on. I suggested the car show concept, and he said, ‘I’ll back you on that.’ And then Gary Accursi said the same thing. So the next year, we had a car show, and we've had one ever since, except for the two years of Covid. This year we’ll have about 100 vintage and collector cars on display along Pelham Town Square, and in the proximal parking lots that local businesses offer. Everybody has been more than helpful.”

Gibson mentioned that Mike Knapp, owner of both Mike Knapp Ford and Welland Chevrolet Buick GMC, has been a loyal supporter of the car show since its inception.

“We have trophies and plaques we give away, and we have a draw for an electric guitar I have made by hand at the end of the car show, that’s tied in with a blues concert that day.”

Community volunteer Bea Clark shared her vivid memories of Summerfest.

“I'm one of the originals,” she said. “I can still recall the meeting I had with John Wink in his office at Meridian Credit Union all those years ago. I was representing the Active Transportation Committee, and we had been really hoping to have an open-streets event, where we would shut down vehicle traffic. It was at the time when the business groups were really concerned about the impact of the construction downtown. Summerfest sort of grew from there. John, Vickie VanRavenswaay, Todd Barber, Gary Accursi, and I were the original planning group for Summerfest. I can still remember when I walked onto Pelham Street that morning, and the tents were going up, and the vendors were setting up, and the sun was shining, and people started arriving. I had goosebumps, I was just so excited to see it all come together.”

Clark believes that Pelham is well-respected in Niagara for its volunteerism.

“People are involved in so many aspects of community life here,” she said. “Summerfest’s Kids Zone, for example, is sustained by many Meridian Credit Union employees who volunteer to take shifts to ensure that everyone is safe and having a good time. It’s not uncommon for people to stop me on the street, and say ‘Hey, I love Summerfest, what can I do to help out?’”


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Don Rickers

About the Author: Don Rickers

A life-long Niagara resident, Don Rickers worked for 35 years in university and private school education. He segued into journalism in his retirement with the Voice of Pelham, and now PelhamToday
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