RUSSIA — There is no better way to say goodbye to summer than to visit the village of Russia on Labor Day weekend. Thanks to the work of over 1,100 volunteers, the annual Russia Homecoming Festival is one of the biggest and best in the area.
In addition to the work of the volunteers, the Russia Homecoming brochure lists 57 businesses whose donations are key to the success of this annual event.
“The festival just has a special meaning to our community,” said Tonya Hammonds, chair of this year’s Russia Homecoming. “As a lifelong member of the community of Russia, I can say that the anticipation of the festival in the weeks prior was always very exciting. Especially in the kids’ eyes, when the rides pull in (usually the Sunday before), there is no feeling like it. I remember leaving school on Wednesday and seeing the tents going up and that was another level of excitement. Now as a mom, I can see this excitement through the eyes of my children.”
Back by popular demand for the second year is the Queen of Hearts drawing that will kick off the festival on Friday night, Aug. 30. One lucky person will take home the anticipated large jackpot. Ticket sales will be from 6:30 to 8:45 p.m. with the drawing starting at 9 p.m. Tickets are $5 each or five for $20. The winner who holds the lucky Queen of Hearts will get 75 percent of the pot with the other 25 percent going to St. Remy Church.
The usual Friday night Texas Hold ‘Em will also be held beginning at 6:45 p.m. Attendees on Friday can enjoy an open lunch stand (limited menu), select wines from The Winery at Versailles, and Moeller Brew Barn Craft Beer on tap as well as regular beer selections. Moeller will be on site for the entire weekend.
Activities begin at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning, Aug. 31, with a co-ed volleyball tournament in the village park. A corn-hole tournament for grades 3-6 will follow at 1 p.m. An outdoor Catholic Mass will be celebrated at 4:30 p.m. at the Grotto. After Mass, the festival will be in full swing with food, rides, and entertainment until 11 p.m. Saturday night fun for the younger set includes the Kid’s Straw Pile Hunt and Feel ‘N Lucky the Clown.
As part of the Shelby County Bicentennial celebration, there will be a flag presentation after the performance of the Russia High School Band at 6 p.m. The Bicentennial Historical Trailer will also be on the grounds on Saturday evening.
“There will be a new entertainer providing the music on Saturday night,” said Hammonds. “Jason Griffith, Tribute Artist, will perform the music of Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Elvis.”
Sunday’s festival kicks off with the annual Running Raider 5K at 9 a.m., followed by a One Mile Fun Run. Other competitive Sunday events include a co-ed volleyball tournament, dodge ball tournament, Bucket Brigade sponsored by the Russia Community Fire Company, Diaper Derby, Kiddie Tractor Pull, adult corn hole tournament, and a junior high/high school corn hole tournament. Details for registering for these events can be found on the festival website at www.russiahomecoming.com.
One competition that requires early entry is the Cutest Baby Contest. Applications are due by Wednesday, Aug. 28. Babies must be 0-12 months old and an 8-inch by 10-inch photo is required. Details can be found on the website.
Lunch and beer stands open Sunday at noon and like most festivals, there will be no lack of yummy food. The lunch stand at the Russia Festival has a long-standing tradition of great offerings, including homemade cooking and desserts. Barbecue chicken dinners will be available on Sunday for dine-in or carry-out beginning at 3 p.m. until sold out.
Those looking for entertainment on Sunday will not be disappointed. Danny Schneible will provide music starting at 12:45 p.m., followed by Crazy Craig Juggler at 2:30 p.m., the Lip Sync Contest at 3:30 p.m., acoustic music by The Goat Ropers (George Epperson and Mark Sherman) at 6 p.m., and music by KGB from 8 p.m. until the close of the festival at 11 p.m.
The Workforce STEM Trailer will have an exhibit for students on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.
C&S Amusements of Dayton will again provide the mechanical rides from 5:30 to 11 p.m. on Saturday and 2 to 10 p.m. on Sunday. Presale wristbands will be sold for $15 per day at Buscher’s Market until Saturday at noon. Individual ride tickets purchased at the festival are $1 each and wristbands are $20 per day. C&S will also provide carnival games and food trailers.
Popular favorites like the Bake Wheel, Hearty Mums sale, Fancy Stand, Raffle Table, Blackjack, Dice Game, and Fish Pond will be back. A 50-50 drawing will be held each evening.
“Twenty years ago, my mom, Barb Cordonnier, was on the committee and I saw the impact you can have representing this festival,” said Hammonds. “I knew at some point of my life I wanted to fulfill my civic duty and be a part of it. I never realized how each volunteer knows what to do to make this festival happen until I became a committee member four years ago. It is truly remarkable.”
Assisting Hammonds are Co-Chairs Jeff Hoehne and Brandi Phlipot, and Treasurer Jana Francis. For a complete schedule of events, signup details, a listing of sponsors, and more information, visit www.russiahomecoming.com.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.