September’s cool, crisp days signal a host of LaPorte County celebrations that hail the season. In a region ripe with the earth’s bounty, you’ll find apples, pumpkins, sunflowers, and scarecrows each taking center stage at festivals where music, food, games and attractions are all part of the festivities. (Go to VisitMichiganCityLaPorte.com and click on “See and Do” and then “Arts and Events” for festival details.)
A longtime favorite is LaPorte’s annual Sunflower Fair on Saturday, September 16, complete with rides, live music, a 5K walk and run, the classic car show and the rib cook-off contest (stroll through that area and you may just be offered a delicious sample). And what would a Sunflower Fair be without sunflowers? Area farmers and home gardeners bring their best for the sunflower contest, where prizes are awarded in categories such as the tallest plant and the stalk with the most blossoms.
“It’s fascinating to see people walk in with these gigantic sunflowers,” says Thaddeus Cutler, Downtown Director for the City of LaPorte. “They’re the theme of the fair, which really is a celebration of the beginning of fall.” That autumn theme, and probably some sunflower touches too, are very likely to show up in a new event – the Jaycees’ scarecrow building contest.
The fair began 19 years ago as a bake sale to raise money for a local church group. Each year something new was added until today it encompasses 11 city blocks in LaPorte’s historic downtown, making it one of the largest fairs of its kind in the area. But unlike some festivals which have mushroomed into multi-day extravaganzas, the Sunflower Fair remains true to its hometown roots, a one-day event from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. filled with laid-back family fun that will keep you busy from beginning to end.
More than 100 craft and non-profit vendors spread out through the downtown, selling everything from hand-made quilted items and fine art to products from local businesses. Local churches and civic organizations provide lively offerings such as children’s games and face-painting.
“And the food is incredible with so much variety,” Cutler adds. “For example, you’ll find the Polish Roman Catholic Church selling pierogis and brats in a booth next to the Greek Orthodox congregation’s shish-kebobs. No one cooks like church cooks.””
Cutler credits much of the fair’s success to Phyllis Jones, who came up with the idea in the first place. “I’m blown away by how she stuck with her vision and how it has grown,” he said, adding that she still leads the fair committee.
She’s understandably proud of the fair. “It’s been my baby and a good thing for the town,” Jones says, noting that she’ll turn 90 on her next birthday. “People come back because they just enjoy it.”
For more information, visit www.sunflowerfair.com or contact LaPorte Chamber of Commerce at (219) 362-3178.
Photo compliments of Addie Acres