FORT LORAMIE — It’s been nine years since the Fort Loramie Liberty Days festival included a parade.
That’s why this year’s event — in celebration of the festival’s 50th anniversary — will be particularly exciting. The parade will return.
And its grand marshals will be three of the five men who organized the very first festival in 1968: Jim Bornhorst, of Fort Loramie, Ron Winner, of Leesburg, Florida, and Mel Puthoff, of Naples, Florida. Leo Berning and Les Barlage are deceased, but will be honored posthumously on the grand marshals’ float.
The parade is the project of a 15-member committee headed by Neil Borchers and Jennifer Snider.
“Someone from the festival committee called and asked if we’d put a parade together for the 50th anniversary,” Borchers said.
Scheduled for June 30 at noon, the procession will feature not just the grand marshalls’ float, but 70 to 80 additional entries, including the TRCC Drum Corps from Dayton, the Greenville Jeepsters, the Fort Loramie and Anna High School bands, the Community Alumni Band, the Wapakoneta Optimists Lawn Mower Drill Team, antique cars and tractors, clowns and fire trucks.
In keeping with longstanding tradition, “a local ‘Indian chief’ will lead the parade on a horse. Jeff Pleiman is returning as the chief. And we’ll have all the past chiefs on a float pulled by a team of Barhorst Belgian horses,” Snider said.
Another float will carry former Liberty Days queens. The Fort Loramie Fire and Rescue department will bring up the rear.
“They always end the parade in case they have to go on a call,” Snider said.
Uncle Sam may also show up and the Shelby County Animal Rescue Foundation is expected to march the route with adoptable dogs from the Shelby County Animal Shelter.
Borchers said the biggest challenge in organizing a parade after so many years was learning how to do it. There were no notes from past parades, so the committee was starting from scratch, much like the first festival’s committee did 50 years ago.
“Mel Puthoff and Les Barlage should get the credit,” Bornhorst told the Sidney Daily News, Tuesday.“It was my idea to get things started, but they’re the ones who took over and made it happen.”
At the time, there was a privately owned park in the village. Bender’s Park was across the street from the post office. On July 4, Boy Scout troops would run bingo games during a small Independence Day celebration there. Bornhorst and some friends thought it would a great place for a bigger event.
“We polled some of the people, the Kiwanis Club, businesses, organizations from church. The Kiwanis Club got it. They took over and made this thing really work,” Bornhorst said.
Winner visited the Sidney Daily News, Wednesday, June 6, to share his memories of the early days.
“I was president of the youth organization in Fort Loramie at the time. Clem Bender said the place was available, so we decided to do something. We contacted all the organizations in town. They all got it started. I visited the organizations. They were ready,” he said.
In that first year, according to Bornhorst, the Kiwanis Club cooked chickens, the high school junior class had a food stand, the band mothers ran a bingo game, the American Legion sold hamburgers, the Catholic Ladies of Columbia had a cake stand and the St. Anne’s Sodality of St. Michael’s Catholic Church had what was called a fancy stand, selling crocheted items. “Whistle” Romie’s orchestra marched in the parade and then stayed on the festival grounds, playing music.
No one was prepared for the crowd that showed up.
“We had more people in town than we ever dreamed about to begin with,” Bornhorst said. In a report by the Sidney Daily News, it was estimated that 10,000 people converged on the village to help it celebrate Independence Day.
“We were overwhelmed with the crowd that we had at the park after the parade. We weren’t quite prepared for that many people at that time,” Bornhorst added.
“People were lined up three deep along the parade route,” said Mike Bollheimer, who will serve as master of ceremonies for this year’s procession. There will be things in the parade that will bring back memories to those who were a part of those initial celebrations.
“We’re trying to make that generation gap smaller,” Snider added. The theme of the parade is “The Start of It All,” giving a nod back to the 1968 event.
Back then, local businesses competed with each other to build the grandest floats.
“There were a lot of homemade floats. People seemed to enjoy getting together and working on them,” said Bornhorst’s wife, Carol. “The BT Ball Club were the jokers for the parade. They came up with funny themes. They weren’t against spraying water on people.”
Puthoff, by phone from Florida, Wednesday, recalled that the night before the first festival, he realized that the restroom building in Bender’s park would not be sufficient. He and his cousin, visiting from Cleveland, spent the night building latrines to provide more restrooms.
“We put it as far away from everything else as we could get it,” Bornhorst, who helped, said. “We dug a hole in the ground and built up wood around it.”
He remembered that cleaning up the park after the event was a big job. Someone got an idea to use Bornhorst’s farm truck as the recepticle for pop cans. A clown face with a hole in it was attached to the back of the truck. People discarded their pop cans by tossing them through the hole in the clown’s face, and the cans landed in Bornhorst’s truck.
The next day, he drove the very full truck to the landfill. Recycling was a practice still decades away down the future. As he was emptying the truck of its large load of cans, the landfill manager, eyes wide, said, “Boy, you must have had some party!”
One of Winner’s favorite activities in the early years was a water ball fight between fire department teams. Dressed in their fire gear, each team would direct the fire hoses at a large ball suspended from a crane, trying to get the ball to the other team’s side. Winner was a volunteer firefighter at the time.
Puthoff remembered that the whole festival was planned in just five meetings of representatives of the dozen or so organizations that participated.
“I think it taught people to work together. It sort of integrated farm with city people. I think it made a stronger community. Mel and Les really worked hard to get this going,” Bornhorst said.
All three men feel honored to serve as 2018 grand marshals. Although none of them thought in 1968 that he was creating an event for the ages, each is pleased that his efforts built a foundation for a festival that has brought joy to participants for half a century.
They look forward to the upcoming parade.
“It ought to be fun,” Winner said.