Oregon Area Community Book's Blog

December 22, 2010

Making Summer Fest a Community—and Family—Tradition

Filed under: Uncategorized — oregonareacommbook @ 7:21 pm


In 1976, the Waterman Street neighborhood float featured a Bicentennial theme: “May Liberty Always Dwell in Our Country.”

With Dennis and Lynda Farrar

Oregon’s summer festival has been an exciting part of village life for as long as anyone can remember. An article on the history of Summer Fest that appeared in the Oregon Observer on June 22, 2006 mentioned a particularly memorable event for Oregon’s centennial in 1941. A pageant, rides, and a parade were highlights, as well as a raffle and food stands, organized by the local volunteer fire department and American Legion.

But 1941 was the last year that summer festival took place. “That December the United States entered World War II, and the festivals ceased for over 20 years,” the Observer article stated.

A new summer festival was initiated in 1965 by charter members of the Oregon Area Chamber of Commerce, founded the previous year. Dennis Farrar, former president of the Chamber of Commerce and a retired optometrist along with his wife Lynda, shortly after they arrived in Oregon in 1971.


The Farrar children enjoyed the rides at Summer Fest 1977.

According to Farrar, Dr. Milton “Bob” Wischhoff (whose optometry practice had brought the Farrars to Oregon) was responsible for defending the Summer Fest name against bigger rivals.

The name, and the annual date, tied to the start of summer, came out of the early planning sessions. No one is quite sure who suggested Summer Fest, or settled on the two-word spelling. But in 1967, Dr. Wischhoff received a phone call from the managers of Milwaukee’s summer lakefront music festival. The caller demanded Oregon change the name of its festival.

“Dr. Wischhoff told them Oregon spelled their celebration’s name differently, and had started two years before the Milwaukee festival,” Dennis recalled. “He suggested Milwaukee change their name. It took the caller by surprise and then he said, ‘Okay. Well I might get back to you.’ He never called back.” Milwaukee’s event is now known as Summerfest—one word.

The Oregon Summer Fests starting in 1965 were held in the “hitching post” area in Oregon’s downtown. “It had rides, a small carnival, and a beer tent among other things. Of course they moved all the parking out. That was a problem,” Dennis said.

“After a few years I became president of the Chamber. It struck me that there’s a massive amount of blacktop over at the school grounds. It’s the perfect setting for the Summer Fest.” Dennis contacted the superintendent of the Oregon School District, Phil Helgeson, who liked the idea but was concerned about holes in the blacktop from the tent stakes. That problem was quickly resolved with weights replacing stakes.

By law, no beer could be sold or consumed on school property. “That was no great problem–we just set up the tent on village property next to the school grounds,“ said Dennis. Since then, (about 1975 or ’76) Summer Fest has taken place on the high school grounds.

Reminiscing about his time as Chamber President and Parade Chairman, several highlights came to mind for Dennis.

One was the Summer Fest Parade. Businesses donated money in the name of participating groups, with the funds raised benefitting the Zor Shrine, (a charitable group known for funding children’s hospitals). Each year, Shriners would bring a camel from Madison’s Vilas Zoo for the parade chairman to ride. Dennis recalled, “I was Parade Chairman for some years, so we alternated riding the camel–Lynda one year and myself the next.”


Dennis Farrar rode the camel in 1973, an honor reserved for the Parade Chairman. In 1976, it was Lynda Farrar’s turn to ride the camel.

One of the chairman’s responsibilities was organizing the parade line-up. Dennis wanted marching bands from area schools, but that proved to be difficult. “The only band we could get was the Oregon band. Even Stoughton would not cooperate. They were dismantled for the summer,” Dennis said.

At first, Oregon paid drum and bugle corps from Chicago to come, but that became expensive. “So I got together with Mike Davis, Oregon High School Marching Band director at the time. He said, ‘The only way we can get bands to come is if we have some type of competition. Then we can get contestants to come and we can have them march in the parade.” From that conversation sprang the Parade of Bands Competition in Oregon, a field show held on Sunday nights, with the parade competition during the afternoon parade.

The winners of the parade competition were announced after all the bands performed. “We gave first, second, and third place trophies. The parents of the kids from all the bands were here. It was a big draw,” Dennis remembered.


OHS Marching Band drum line in 1988, with Erin Farrar. (see arrow on photo)

To this day, Oregon’s Summer Fest features competitions, midway rides, ball games and the popular Summer Fest Parade. The Farrar family has participated every year, as the 4.5 feet of shelves holding 26 family photo albums covering 1973 to 1990 attest.

In 2010, major sponsors included the Oregon Area Chamber of Commerce, Firefly Coffeehouse, Re/Max Preferred Real Estate, State Bank of Cross Plains, Oregon Community Bank and Trust, Frank Beer Distributors, and  Good Karma Broadcasting (105.9 Radio). Other sponsors included Academy of Sound, Adams Outdoor Advertising, Alliant Energy, American Family Insurance, American Transmission Co., Bank of Oregon, Bergey Jewelry, Calkins Midways, Conant Automotive, DLM Financial Solutions, Group Health Cooperative, M&I Bank, Milio’s Sandwiches, NAPA Auto Supply, Oak Bank, OCA Media, Oregon Family Dentistry, Oregon Mental Health Services, Ozee Cars, Pepsi Cola, Stoehr Automotive Center, Stoughton Trailers, Torhorst & Associates, US Cellular/Hanson Electronics, and Wisconsin Monuments & Vault Company.

Volunteer groups helping with many aspects of the event included Boy Scout Troop 50, Oregon Brooklyn Mighty Mites, Oregon Police Explorers, Delta Phi Sorority, Oregon High School PAC, and members of the Oregon Area Chamber of Commerce.


In 1985 the local Webelo troop carried the American Flag.


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