It seems every weekend in Wisconsin involves some sort of community festival. But our own Good Neighbor Fest is one of the oldest, and certainly one of the best. The Fest has been held the last weekend of August since 1964 at Firemen’s Park in Middleton. This year’s Fest is August 23-25.
The inaugural Good Neighbor Fest was the brainchild of Amos Colby, President of the Middleton Chamber of Commerce. Colby recruited friend and neighbor Keith Hinsman, and the two men worked with local community groups to put on the first festival. Both Hinsman and Colby remained involved with the Fest for many years, both serving on the Board of Trustees.
There have been many changes over the years, and some activities have gone by the wayside. For example, the first several Fests featured a Festival Queen – a tradition gone by the early 1970s. The Jaycees Horse Show and Fiddling Contest have been lost to time as well.
One publicity stunt definitely unlikely to return? “Kidnapping” an out of state couple, and making them honored guests of the festival. In 1964, John and Elaine Skrinskus, a couple from Illinois, were stopped on Highway 12 by Middleton Police Chief Harold Wille, on the pretense of a speeding ticket. Instead, the couple was invited to be the guests of the City of Middleton for an all-expense paid weekend. They were given a room at the Midview Motel, and then Chief Wille escorted the couple to the Optimists Chicken Barbeque.
There was no theme for the first Festival, but that changed in 1965 when the theme was the Gay 90’s. Many creative themes were adopted through the years: Roaring Twenties (1966), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1969), Golden School Days (1979), On With the Show (1985), Hot Fun in the Summertime (1996), Rock Around the Clock (2005), Magic Moments (2012) and Mardi Gras in Middleton (2018) are just some of the themes that have made each year’s Fest a fun and unique experience.
The Good Neighbor Award was introduced in 1980, and has been awarded to dozens of individuals in the community who have made a difference in the Middleton community, and embody what it means to be a Good Neighbor. The tradition continues in 2019 with Good Neighbor Award winners Paul Braun, Tom Gilbert, Perry Hibner and Mathiam Mbow.
The Sunday parade is also a long-standing tradition, bringing entertainment to thousands who have attended and participated in the parade over the years. The route has varied somewhat, using Hubbard Avenue in some years. But these days, these days the route begins on University Avenue and Maple Street, traveling west to Parmenter, then heading north to the parade grounds. After a hiatus, parade awards were brought back in 2018, and will continue in 2019.
The Festival was run exclusively by volunteers in the beginning, and that also has not changed. Various community groups work together to put on the Festival, raising money for their non-profit causes. The original trustee groups were American Legion, Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, Middleton Development Corporation, Optimists, Sertoma, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Middleton Volunteer Fire Department. Today, the Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, Optimists and the VFW continue as trustees, joined by Boy Scout Troop 140, Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District Education Foundation, Middleton Jaycees, Middleton Lions Club, Middleton Youth Hockey and the Rotary Club of West Towne-Middleton. Board members from these groups devote hundreds of hours to putting on the Festival each year.
This Good Neighbor Fest is the 56th Festival – and the current Board hopes to continue the tradition for many years to come! Sponsors have also been key to the Festival. The presenting sponsor of the 2019 Festival is Willy Street Co-op, and many other businesses have generously signed on to other sponsorship levels. See them all at the Festival website at goodneighborfestival.com.
Hope to see you on August 23-25!