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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Big Top Festival, a Cherished Community Tradition

by Kara Gebhart Uhl

Sunday, September 21 members of the Fort Thomas community will participate in a festival rich in tradition at Fort Thomas Public School’s Woodfill Elementary. From noon to 6pm everyone from the community is invited to the school’s annual Big Top Festival, featuring inflatables, a major raffle, a silent auction, food, a cake walk, games, prizes, a basket raffle, spiritwear and up for grabs. Proceeds from the festival are used to provide student services, such as the purchase of media and cultural arts programs, events such as Kentucky Kids Day, and new playground equipment. The PTO fundraiser also provides a college scholarship to a Highlands High School senior from Woodfill each year.

The festival, formerly called The Fall Festival, has been a longtime tradition in Fort Thomas.

“It was called The Fall Festival as long as I can remember,” says Rozellen Griggs, who started working at Woodfill Elementary in 1948 as a fifth grade teacher. “It was always an exciting time for the students and community. It was also a lot of work and planning for the PTA. There were games and sometimes pony rides. Prizes were given. Tents were put up for some activities. A delicious spaghetti [dinner] was served for a very reasonable price. The teachers helped, too.” Griggs, who now lives in Florida, retired from Woodfill in 1985.

Howard Fischer taught at Highlands High School during the 1960s, and at Fort Thomas’s three elementary schools from 1970 to 1974. He was principal at Woodfill Elementary 1974 to 1989, returning as interim principal in 1999. Although now retired, he says he has fond memories of Woodfill Elementary, particularly the festival.

“There were games like the fish pond, ring toss, cake walk and dunking booth,” Fischer says. “The first PTA meeting when I became principal they gave me a paddle that was imprinted ‘Bottoms Up,’” he says. “Then they talked me into being the first in the dunking booth. I wore an old suit and tie and held my paddle. The first one to dunk me was not a Woodfill student, but a neighbor kid that had given me some trouble.”

In addition to pony rides and inflatables, Fisher also remembers a game where children tossed Ping-Pong balls at small fish bowls filled with water. “If they won, they would get a goldfish in a plastic bag filled with water,” he says. “The kids always got a prize. If they didn’t get the bigger prize, they would get a small inexpensive prize.” 

Linda (Grimm) Brooks, who attended Woodfill Elementary in the late 1940s and early 1950s, remembers a very fair-like atmosphere, with games, prizes, the ever-popular dunking booth, and food such as popcorn, cotton candy and ice balls. As a Woodfill Elementary parent, she remembers making lots of fudge to sell.

As it is today, Big Top Festival wasn’t just a Woodfill event, but a community event. “Not only Woodfill students and parents attended, but some from Moyer and Johnson and neighborhood residents would come,” Fisher says. “The students were always excited about the festival and it always involved more parents than those that attended PTA meetings. The PTA had pride in it, for they used some of the money to buy gym equipment like mats and the first computer for the school.”

It is a tradition parents, teachers, students, community members and local businesses are honored to be a part of each new school year.

“It’s amazing to see how the Big Top Festival each year brings the whole school and the Fort Thomas community together,” says Tracy Barber, this year’s co-chair of the festival. “We are so grateful for the local business support and the Woodfill families who attend the festival year after year. As the school’s primary fundraiser, this event is key to ensuring new technology in the classrooms, and funding annual scholarships and many other projects within the school.”

Member of the community are also invited to a spaghetti dinner, Friday, September 19, from 5pm to 8pm. New games will be available to preview and play, with some special prizes available.

1 comment:

  1. Can't wait. Love this festival as a kid and now as a parent. I remember the days of Howard being in the dunk tank, it was so fun!