Jennifer Ludiker recalls the Neosho Fall Festivals of many years ago.
In those days, she said, there was a parade and the event spilled over into Big Spring Park. Later on, the fall festival went away for several years, but was brought back to life in 2008. This year's fall festival, held Saturday on and around the Neosho Square, was the biggest since the event's revival four years ago. That was in spite of unseasonably cool temperatures. The thermometer hovered at around 45 degrees Fahrenheit for most of the morning, and the sky was mostly overcast.
Ludiker was there with her husband, Randy, and kids Ryleigh, 9, and Charli, 2. She said the event was “quite a bit bigger” 10 years ago or so, but that this year's festival has obviously improved.
“It has definitely picked up quite a bit over the last three or four years,” she said. “The weather could have been worse today, too. At least it isn't raining. This isn't that bad.”
There were more than 90 food, crafts and business vendors set up around the Neosho Square on Saturday — about 30 to 40 more than last year. Neosho Parks and Recreation Director John Jordon didn't have an estimate on the crowd numbers, but said he was pleased with the turnout considering the cool weather. He said he thought the number of vendors this year was “incredible.” Jordon also said he thinks the Neosho Fall Festival is on track to get bigger and better, as word spreads.
“I don't see any reason why it won't grow,” Jordon said. “Over time, I think it will build back up to, and even surpass, what we had before. The more people we get involved, as far as volunteers and on the planning committee, I think the bigger it will become.”
Saturday's event featured not only a wide variety of vendor booths, but also a mix of other activities, including a pancake feed, square dancing, wagon rides, live music throughout the day, a large art exhibit and sale in the Civic Auditorium, dance performances, a pet contest and, perhaps the biggest draw, free inflatables and climbing equipment, which the city rented from Maccaroo Gym in Joplin.
“People would ask me how much it cost, and I'd tell them 'it's free. This is the city just trying to give back.' People just couldn't believe that,” Jordon said. “If we would have had warmer temperatures I don't have any doubt that there would have been more people there.”
Donna Sandnes, of Sweetwater, watched her six-year-old grandson, Brenden, climb a fake palm tree. He was harnessed in and had lots of toe and hand holds.
“I just wanted to bring him down and have some fun,” Sandnes said, pointing to her grandson. “I come down here every year, but I don't always bring him. So I thought I would bring him today.”
Page 2 of 2 - A block away, at the Newton County Historical Park, was History Alley, which featured live demonstrations in things like blacksmithing, basket weaving and wool spinning, among many other activities. To mark the second year of the Civil War sesquicentennial, this year's History Alley event also had a strong Civil War emphasis. There were Civil War reenactors on hand to give demonstrations and talk to the public, as well as informative Civil War displays, including one on soldier food fare, where kids and adults alike could sample things like hard tack and salt pork. Also, on loan from George Washington Carver National Monument, was a large, multi-panel Civil War educational display set up in the one-room schoolhouse.
Heather Keller grew up in Neosho, but later moved away. She returned to Neosho about a year ago. As a kid, she remembers going to the Neosho Fall Festival every year. On Saturday she brought her two children, Curtis, 14, and Kaitlin, 12.
“We came for the entertainment, and you always run into people you don't usually run into, and to make memories,” Keller said.
It was the first time either of her kids had been to the Neosho Fall Festival.
“I like it,” said Curtis Keller. “There are a lot of activities and a lot of things to do.”
Harold and Darlene Higley, of Salmon, Idaho, have been visiting friends in Neosho for the past two weeks. Saturday was their last day in town. At the fall festival, the couple stopped at a vendor booth to buy a matching pair of fuzzy pink flamingo hats to wear. They kept them on as they strolled along the Square.
“Not many guys would be 6'4” and wear a pink flamingo on their head – and pull it off in style,” quipped their friend Mike Phillips, of Neosho.
This was the Higley's first time in Missouri.
“We've really been enjoying Missouri,” Darlene Higley said. “People here are so friendly.”
David Merrick, of Owasso, Okla., watched his son, Adam, 4, laugh his way down an inflatable slide on Saturday. His parents moved to Neosho last week from Robbins, Ill., where he grew up. He was in Neosho visiting them and they told him about the fall festival.
“This is very reminiscent of my hometown,” Merrick said. “I miss this small town environment. I live near Tulsa now and it's a totally different experience. Today brings back memories of my own hometown fall festival.”