Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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From humble beginnings to big aspirations
Uniting community at Saturday’s Fun Fest

by Steve Targo

August 04, 2011

Geneva — It began with a simple idea. Have a fundraiser, serve some food, some live music and some fireworks.

Four years later, the Fun Festival has evolved into a full-fledged community tradition.

"I remember the first year," said Tara Young, one of the three co-chairs of this year's event, which is scheduled for Saturday from noon to 10 p.m. "We had no idea what we were walking into. It had such a huge turnout."

And it's grown even larger, which is fine according co-chair Gene Decker.

"We're shooting for a larger attendance than the Walworth County Fair," Decker said. "It would be really nice if we ran out of beer by 8 p.m."

Young said last year's attendance was estimated between 600 and 700 people. For Saturday, about 73 volunteers will help the 12 Fun Festival Committee members make this event, which is held at north boat launch on Lake Como, happen.

"It's a community event, so we pull in the community to help," Young said.

This year finds the event hitting its stride with a winning formula — raffles, Como's Got Talent, live music and a fireworks display.

The event

Young said one change this year is there are more vendors selling their wares during the event, which she was happy to see.

"There are people in the community who make things and they should have an opportunity to show them," Young said.

She said there's more of a concerted effort this year toward bringing in families, too.

"We want to see more kids and more families," Young said.

Decker said last year, the children's games weren't so organized. Both he and Young said this issue was addressed at the first Fun Festival Committee meeting this year.

"So we're going to have a little more organization this year," Decker said. "The kids games will be from noon to 6 p.m. and feature everything from balloon tosses to sack races. There will be something different every half-hour."

One of the main draws for the event is Como's Got Talent, which begins at 4 p.m. This year, it's an all-music lineup of 12 different acts. The MC is Nancy Douglass, of Lake 96.1 WLKG.

If that's not enough music, two acts which have performed at Fun Festival before — The Underdogs and The Wize Guys — are set to provide music outside of the talent show.

Decker said The Wize Guys are "three generations who do a combination of karaoke and singing" involving music ranging from the 1940s to the 1970s, and The Underdogs perform music from the 1960s and 70s.

"The sock hop theme just kind of fits into that," he said.

The raffles provide the chance to win some cash or a large-screen television. The Big Money Raffle has a grand prize of $5,000, with second- and third-place prizes of $1,000 and $500, respectively. There also will be a same-day raffle to win the TV. Tickets are one for $20 or three for $50 and can be purchased directly from the event co-chairs or at area taverns.

As in the past, there will be beer and dining tents. Local Boy Scouts will help out in the dining tent. Picnic-style food such as hamburgers, hot dogs, brats, Italian sausage and corn on the cob will be served from noon to 8 p.m.

Expect to see some local celebrities slinging suds in the beer tent. The co-chairs said one of the more popular bartenders during the event, Sen. Neal Kedzie, will resume his bartending duties from 5 to 7 p.m.

"He does a pretty good job," Young said. "All the girls love working with him."

It all ends with a bang, literally. Fireworks are expected to begin lighting up the night sky at 9:15 p.m. Decker said they will be shot once again from a barge on Lake Como.

The work

This year, Fun Festival founder Margaret Downing isn't at the helm, but the three who are have been involved in the planning before. Bill Leonard, the third co-chair, said Downing is in charge of seeking donations to help fund the event.

"She wanted a break," Leonard said. "She deserved it."

Listening to Young, Decker and Leonard talk about what's in store, it's clear these three have formed a synergy. When one of them can't finish a thought, another one steps in to complete the sentence without missing a beat. When one of them can't remember a name, another one can.

That's what happens when people work together for a long time.

"We first met in March," Decker said. "We met once a month. We've been meeting every two weeks since June to make sure everything's buttoned up."

Young and Decker gave Leonard credit for coming up with this year's theme — a 1950s-style sock hop.

"I think that was the first thing out of Bill's mouth. We all said, 'Great,'" Decker said.

Although everything goes through the three chairs, they each have their areas of management.

Young oversees the beer tent, advertising, the Como's Got Talent show, food and vendors. Leonard handles the shuttle boats and fireworks. Decker is organizing the tents for the event, the raffle, children's games and entertainment.

But months and weeks fall quickly. Once the Fun Festival Committee's work is done, it comes time to actually set up the event. Decker said this begins a couple days prior to the big event.

"On Thursday, it's basically getting the tents, the bar and stuff all set up out there," he said.

Decker said on Friday, they set up tables, chairs, electricity, heated food servers and lighting.

Leonard said there hasn't been a Fun Festival he's worked when he didn't return home before 3 a.m.

"It's a lot of work, then we disappear for a couple weeks," Young joked.

So why do it?

"I love to see smiles on people's faces," Leonard said.

Decker said it's for a good cause. As in the past, proceeds from the event will go toward fire coverage and lake and park improvement costs. He said during the past three years, the event has raised $45,000 — money which has been used to buy a defibrillator for town police and a weed cutter for the lake.

"I love to see people get involved," Decker said.

"It's really brought the whole lake together," Leonard said.

"It's a day when we all get together and it's great," Young said.