PrairieFest is a fun time. Who doesn’t love carnival food, rides, games, and music?
I moved to Oswego around May of 1999, and if memory serves, we actually skipped our first PrairieFest because my family didn’t really know it was a thing. But once we figured out what PrairieFest was, my family was all for it.
While I’ve never been a big fan of rides (I have never been on The Zipper and I never will); I enjoyed playing the carnival games even though almost 100 percent of the time I was beyond terrible, going in that “Grease”-style fun house, and repeatedly riding down the big slide. As I got older my friends would try and make me ride actual rides; on one memorable occasion, I rode the Gravitron - that big UFO shaped attraction where the force of gravity pins you to the interior wall while the ride spins obscenely fast. That was the closest I’ve ever been in years to vomiting up my organs. Watching people on the ride take advantage of the pull of gravity and spin themselves around didn’t help either. Thankfully, my friends got the picture and let me be.
As I grew out of carnival rides and games and approached the age where I needed to start giving back to my community to get credit for things at school, I became a volunteer at PrairieFest with the Oswegoland Park District. Over a few years of working PrairieFest, I served on the grounds crew making sure that everything was clean and sanitary for guests, and on parking duty directing traffic at Oswego High School.
I really enjoyed working with the park district. I liked the thought of giving back to my community during this celebration, and the enthusiasm of park district employees like Kristie Vest made the hours of picking up garbage in the hot sun pretty enjoyable. I also really enjoyed traffic duty, because I got to spend a few hours not talking to anybody and working up a pretty good farmer’s tan. Despite what in retrospect were pretty cynical teenage reasons for doing something for my community, I really did enjoy working at PrairieFest because I gained a whole new appreciation for what it took to make the festival work so well. I also appreciated the enthusiasm that every volunteer and park district employee had for what they were doing, even when they were being yelled at by somebody who violated the beer garden rules.
As I got older and graduated from high school, PrairieFest took on a different meaning for me; as a miniature class reunion. After we graduated and went our separate ways, PrairieFest became a way for some of us to see close friends for the first time in years. But as we continue to age, get jobs, have kids, and move around, these reunions become smaller and smaller, but much more precious.
And then there’s the parade. The cap to the four-day extravaganza of PrairieFest, it’s a time for the entire town (and some people from some other towns, too) to come together and celebrate everything that makes up Oswego. Bands perform, community groups and businesses are on display, and we all get to celebrate what makes us a great community.
We’ve even had special guests in the past, like former Speaker of the House and current parolee Dennis Hastert. On one occasion, when Hastert walked in the parade - surrounded by Secret Service agents - my mom got so excited about the prospect of being so close to the Speaker that she basically dove into the middle of the street to get a photo and was about an inch away from getting trampled by federal agents.
Good times, good times.
This year, I’ll be experiencing PrairieFest from behind a camera and with a recorder in my hand, but that doesn’t mean that I’ll be any less excited to spend time in my community, celebrating my community. It’s just another new way for me to look at things.