MCCARTYVILLE — When the 2018 St. Patrick’s Day festival opens Thursday, March 15, in McCartyville, it will be the 35th year of Irish fun there: sing-alongs, festival queens, parade floats, a fish fry, the Irish Jog and golf.
But the whole thing would not have started at all, had it not been for a friendly ultimatum in 1984 by a bartender in a nearby pub.
“Terry Fogt owned Tanker’s Bar,” said Larry Huecker, of McCartyville. Huecker and his friends would gather at the pub.
“We used to talk about having a party. Terry got tired of us talking, so he said, ‘Do it or be quiet.’ So we did it,” Huecker said. He’s one of 10 men who are still “doing it” 35 years later.
Pat Frilling, Alan Fogt, Ron Wolters, Jerry Schmitmeyer, Nick Schmitmeyer, Tom Reiss, Jim Seigle, Mark Buehler, all of McCartyville, and Mike Reickert, of Kettlersville, put the word out in 1984 that there would be a St. Patrick’s Day parade through the village at 2 p.m.
“Nobody believed us. Nobody thought it would happen,” Huecker said. Then, a story ran in the Sidney Daily News promoting the event.
“They saw it in the paper and knew it was real,” Huecker said. Even the organizers weren’t sure it would happen on parade day, however. They had not asked anyone to sign up in advance to join the procession, and no one was there when the parade was supposed to start.
“Then we heard Leo Buehler’s John Deere tractor coming down the road,” Huecker laughed. The parade has grown greatly since those humble beginnings. The committee still doesn’t ask for entries to register in advance.
“We never know. It’s always a great surprise. We get some really nice floats. The Boy Scouts, families, businesses,” he added. There are also horses, tractors, the Anna American Legion color guard and units from the Anna and Kettlersville fire and rescue squads slated to participate this year.
“We usually get about 20 to 25 floats. We never know ahead of time. It’s really pretty cool,” Huecker said. The 2018 parade steps off at 1:30 p.m., March 17, in “beautiful downtown McCartyville,” according to an event poster. Units can begin to line up in the parking lot of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, 9377 State Route 119, McCartyville, at 1 p.m.
What organizers are most excited about this year are the grand marshals: area Vietnam-era military veterans.
“Fifty years ago, many of the men and women of our area were called to serve their country due to the conflict in Vietnam,” Huecker said. “Many were drafted. Some enlisted. We want to thank all veterans for their service, but this weekend, we want to especially say thanks to the Vietnam-era vets no matter where they served. Our goal is to show the vets we are proud of their service.”
Some 50 vets responded to the committee’s call for grand marshals. A group from the Versailles VFW is providing Army trucks for the vets to ride in for the parade.
Although just about anything is welcomed to join the procession — there was a year when Leo Buehler had a live rooster perched on that John Deere tractor — one thing the parade has never had is a marching band. High school bands have been invited in years past, but the weather is always so iffy, Huecker said, that they have declined.
Just before the event in 1984, Nick Schmitmeyer pulled Huecker aside and said, “We need a queen.” Schmitmeyer selected Judy Baumer and he’s been choosing the festival queen every since. His reward: he gets a good-luck kiss from every one. He also chauffeurs them in the parade in his 1984 convertible.
These days, many of the former queens meet on the Friday evening of the festival to ride a bus to the home of the current year’s queen. They take her to Patrick’s Pub & Grill in McCartyville for a toast and then to the annual McCartyville Knights of Columbus Fish Fry at the Parish Activity Center here, where she is crowned.
The fish fry, March 16, will begin at 5 p.m. Meals cost $10 and are available for take-out as well as for dining in. The menu is fish, potato salad, applesauce and chips. Drinks, including six brands of beer, soft drinks and water, will be available for purchase.
“We start at 5 (p.m.) and in two and a half hours, it’s gone,” said fish fry chairman Ted Berning.
The toast to the queen, Amanda Meyer, of McCartyville, will be at 7 p.m. in the pub. The crowning and a recognition of the Vietnam-era veterans will be at 7:30 p.m. in the activity center as the fish fry ends. From 9 p.m. to midnight, a band, Ohio Mystery, will provide live music.
“This is the first year we’ve had a band,” Berning said.
The early years of the festival did not even include a fish fry. That started about five years later. In the first year, a sing-along of Irish songs followed the parade and was, in turn, followed by a jam session for area musicians.
Now the sing-along opens the festival on Thursday night. It’s at Patrick’s Pub and begins at 7 p.m. After the parade, March 17, there will be a reception, open to the public, honoring the Vietnam-era veterans at the activity center. A benefit putter golf outing for preregistered golfers also follows the parade. When the reception ends, local residents enjoy private house parties.
Before the parade, a 3-mile fun run, called the Irish Jog, has participants traveling from St. Patrick to McCartyville. Rides from McCartyville to the start of the jog leave from the Sacred Heart church parking lot at 10:30 a.m. The jog starts at 11 a.m. from the center of the village of St. Patrick.
“We do not make it an official 5K. We just keep it fun. (People) jog, walk, ride bikes, roller skate. Many families walk together. Groups of friends walk together,” Heucker said.
The parade has never had to deal with bad weather. Huecker admitted that it once rained until five minutes before the step-off. But the Irish Jog has been interrupted by lightning.
“People scampered to local houses and stayed under porch (roofs) until it stopped raining,” he added.
The committee is proud of being on the Dayton television news annually. And in the mid-1990s, the little festival made the national news: it was featured on a broadcast by Paul Harvey and in USA Today, as well as in a front-page story by the Columbus Dispatch.
“We’ve never had any problems,” Huecker said. “We police ourselves. We get help from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.” That help is particularly appreciated when it comes to stopping traffic on state routes 119 and 29 during parade times.
“I used to stop the traffic myself. I’d go out there in a green wig,” Heucker said.
The founding committee also appreciate that younger people are taking up the mantle to keep the festival alive. In the last three years, Marge Bruns, Jack Richards, Chris Albers, Michelle Bruns, Diane Reiss, Kate Hoying, Renee Axe and Derek Berning, all of McCartyville, have joined the St. Patrick’s Day committee.
“The history of (McCartyville and St. Patrick) is very interesting. As it was founded by the Irish, we are proud to celebrate our heritage,” Heucker said.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.