by Terry Duffy
Kiwanis Club of Lewiston organizers have entered the end phases of preparation for an annual favorite.
The Niagara County Peach Festival returns next weekend - Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 9, 10 and 11, at Academy Park in the Village of Lewiston. Trucks began arriving at the Academy site on Friday, tents are being assembled, and a host of logistics is being finalized.
"Time to get moving," announced Peach Festival General Chairman Michael Roemer to Lewiston Kiwanis volunteers gathered at a planning meeting this past Monday.
Now going on 54 years, this event, more commonly known as the Lewiston Kiwanis Peach Festival, has become a staple of life in Lewiston and is one that continues to grow in appeal to visitors from near and far.
It typically offers a large variety of old-time fair favorites - all in celebration of Niagara County agriculture, particularly its famous peach harvests. Peach Fest traces its beginnings to the late 1950s when Kiwanis members, led by area farmer Buster Lombardi, decided to create a festival centered on the peach harvest. Members got together to handpick peaches; their wives peeled them for peach shortcake dessert and small groups assembled to enjoy the bounty.
The community took to the idea and the very first Peach Festival was held in 1958. Throughout the decades as community interest and involvement grew, so did "Peach" - as this event has become fondly known to its scores of volunteers.
But it's also still managed to retain a likeable, simplistic charm of an enjoyable old-time fair with offerings that appeal to visitors of all ages. Today, the Peach Festival is a favorite not only in Lewiston and Niagara County, but also for thousands throughout the Buffalo area and southern Ontario.
It gets under way on Friday, Sept. 10, at Academy Park, with grand opening performances of "Oh Canada" and the U.S. national anthem at 5 p.m.
From there the fun starts.
Roemer, together with Jerry Wolfgang, advisory chair, report that Academy Park is all prepped for this year's event, thanks to assistance of various kinds from the town and village of Lewiston. "Lewiston officials all have cooperated with the Lewiston Kiwanis to again provide a safe and pleasurable festival," says Wolfgang.
Kiwanis anticipates crowds upwards of 50,000 to attend this year's event. "Lewiston Police verify that the festival is one of the summer's most successful family events and brings thousands of people to the Village of Lewiston," says Roemer.
Academy Park will once again be filled with the largest midway in Niagara County. Kiwanis reports that more than 40 rides from the North American Midway are expected on site from the just-concluded Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. Also found on the festival grounds will be foods and vendors galore, along with plenty of games and fun for all tastes.
And then there are the peaches.
Peaches of all sizes will be ripe for sampling, Friday through Sunday.
Throughout the event, Lewiston Kiwanis will continue its long-time tradition of serving Niagara County peaches, furnished by Singer Farms and Jim Bittner, for its famous peach shortcake dessert. Visitors will find it at the Peach Tent at Academy.
A farmers market will sell peaches and other produce each day and will also feature peach pies.
Also found will be tasty Johnnie Ryan peach pop, served by crews in the Peach Tent and at Kiwanis food and beverage stands in the park.
Friday evening will see the return of another favorite, the annual Peach Festival Recipe Taste-off in the Peach Tent from 6 to 7 p.m. Wolfgang reports the number of entries received so far this year are likely to make it "one of the biggest ever."
Another "can't miss" is the 19th annual cheerleading contest, sponsored by DiMino's Lewiston Tops on the DiMino's stage at Academy. Running from 5 to 9 p.m., this one features community cheerleading groups and local youth football cheerleading squads performing their routines before a field of judges.
Other Friday happenings include an Upstate New York Transplant Services blood drive on the Portage Road side of Academy from 5 to 9 p.m. And visitors can check out this year's selection of Peach Queen contestants as they perform a Jazzercise dress rehearsal on the DiMino's stage from 8 to 9 p.m.
Peach Fest Friday continues to 11 p.m. The festival gets under way Saturday, 10 a.m., continues to 11 p.m., and again on Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Admission is free to the Academy Park grounds all three days.
Throughout the weekend Peach Festival visitors will find both the familiar popular events and some new and unique offerings.
One that stands out this year will be the special recognition by Kiwanis of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which will take place at the 54th annual Peach Festival Parade. The parade gets under way Saturday at 10:45 a.m., starting on North Fourth Street in the village.
Wolfgang, who also serves as parade chair, announced that in addition to the vast number of participants - more than 100 - that are expected to be a part of this year's affair, a local hero, Michael P. Barrett, sergeant major of the U.S. Marine Corps., will serve as honorary grand marshal of the 2011 Peach Festival Parade.
Born and raised in Youngstown, Barrett is a 1981 graduate of Lewiston-Porter High School who enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. and rose through the ranks to become the 17th sergeant major of the Marine Corp.
Wolfgang points out that Barrett has a celebrated military career. It includes: combat service during the Gulf War in 1987; deployment to Iraq in May 2005 where he completed two combat deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom; and assuming duties of a I Marine expeditionary force, forward sergeant major in 2009, followed by deployment to Operation Enduring Freedom in March 2010. During this deployment, Barrett also became the NATO Regional Command (Southwest) command sergeant major for Nimruz and Helmand Province, Afghanistan. In early 2011, he turned over this command before he assumed his current post on June 9.
A highly decorated combat Marine, Barrett also personally served President Bill Clinton with the Marine Security Company, Camp David, Presidential Retreat, as the company gunnery sergeant, and as liaison to the Secret Service. His personal awards include: the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal with combat "V" and gold star, Meritorious Service Medal with gold star, Navy Marine Corps Commendation Medal with combat "V" and three gold stars, Navy Marine Corps Achievement Medal with two gold stars, Combat Action Ribbon with gold star, and the Presidential Service Badge.
"We are proud and honored to have our hometown hero, Sgt. Maj. Barrett, lead the Peach Festival Parade, especially on the weekend of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks," said Wolfgang. "He is the highest ranking enlisted Marine in the Corps, and his decision to commemorate this event here at home speaks volumes about the Lewiston and Youngstown community."
Barrett will lead this year's parade with the Marine Corps Drum and Bugle Corp from Albany, Ga., which was named the Marine Corps band of the year for 2010.
In addition to his participation at the parade, Barrett will receive a commendation from Town of Lewiston Supervisor Steve Reiter, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, at a special Saturday 6:45 p.m. ceremony at Academy. "A lot of people may not be aware of the magnitude of Sgt. Maj. Barrett's visit," said Reiter. "He is handpicked by the commandant of the Marine Corps to act as his personal advisor relating to discipline and morale of the enlisted men and women of the Marines. His rank has the protocol equivalency of a lieutenant general and he deserves the admiration and respect of civilians and service members alike."
Wolfgang said that Barrett is expected to speak at the Saturday evening event and also will be honoring a local wounded warrior that evening.
In addition to the daylong Peach Festival activities, foods and fun, other notable Saturday events include the annual 5K Run and 1 Mile Walk, starting at 9 a.m. on village streets, with proceeds to benefit the It Happened to Alexa Foundation; the First Niagara Peach Fuzz contest at 2 p.m.; afternoon and evening entertainment; the Peach Queen semifinals fashion show at 6:30 p.m.; and the "Tribute to the King" featuring Terry Buchwald at 8 p.m. on the DiMino's stage.
Sunday means yet more Peach Festival fun. The day opens on the Lewiston waterfront with the annual Neptune Ski Club water ski show, and then the activities pick up at Academy with rides, foods, peaches and more.
A "can't miss" this year is the all-new Sunday Dance Company Showcase, which will be held on the DiMino's stage from noon to 3 p.m. Wolfgang reports a number of area dance companies are expected to perform on stage. (For more on this, see Josh Maloni's feature report on Page 9.)
Daylong entertainment offerings, the Sevenson Environmental Services Peach Blossom Contest at 3 p.m., performances by Bob Volkman and the McCarthy School of Irish Dance, provide the perfect transition to grand finale events at this year's festival. The always-enjoyable Peach Queen contest finals take place at 8 p.m. on the DiMino's stage.
Led by Master of Ceremonies Brandy Scrufari, contestants will vie for the coveted crown of Peach Queen. Chairwomen Kris Trunzo and Jeanette Collesano estimate some of the festival's largest crowds will be on hand for the finals. The Kiwanis annual Media Award will also be presented on Sunday evening.
Kiwanis organizers invite local residents and visitors to stop by the festival and enjoy, partake and have fun. The festival's most popular food, peach shortcake, will be available Friday through Sunday. Peach Tent Chairman Gary Rose cautions visitors to get their shortcake early because the Kiwanis sell out every year. Bittner expects to supply more than 13,000 pounds - 6 1/2 tons - of Niagara County peaches before the close of the Festival Sunday evening. DiCamillo's Bakery will furnish the shortcakes.
Great food, great times for a good cause.
Profits from the Lewiston Kiwanis Peach Festival are put right back into the community. "For the past 10 years, $500,000 in goods and services have been contributed to over 50 organizations throughout Niagara County," Roemer proudly announced. Since 1958, the Lewiston Kiwanis has donated more than $1 million to area organizations.
Lewiston Kiwanis President John Frandina suggests everyone planning on attending should come early and enjoy.