Sesquicentennial gets high marks as community celebrates 150 years of Tonganoxie
A sesquicentennial lasts a year, but organizers packed a bevy of entertainment and activities into a two-day event Friday and Saturday. After several months of planning, the event came together and the community joined together to celebrate the town’s 150th anniversary milestone. Tonganoxie’s first plat was made official in 1866.
Co-chair for the event and Council Member Curtis Oroke said feedback was positive during the festival, which covered three blocks along Fourth Street and two blocks along Main Street.
“Feedback from everyone was that they were glad to see something like this happen,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming.”
Visitors checked out vendor booths, roaming entertainers and two stages along Fourth Street on Friday and Saturday, while Gab Local.TV of Topeka and TV 25 of Kansas City did a live remote Saturday.
The library run went off Saturday morning, with the pancake feed to follow at Tonganoxie United Methodist Church. Down the street at the Ratliff Drug Store, historical society members were displaying DVDs of Tonganoxie’s history that were for sale, along with some other exhibits.
“We were pleased with the historical aspects of the event,” said Kris Roberts, Tonganoxie Community Historical Society president. “We enjoyed meeting people who came in to see the exhibits we had.”
Loralee Stevens, daughter of the late Dr. Phil Stevens, and her family opened up her father’s iconic office on Fourth Street for people to visit. She said close to 100 people visited the office.
“Some were former patients and some had only heard of Dad,” Stevens said. “It was incredible. Many knew their favorite flavor of safety sucker right away.” Phil Stevens always gave out suckers to youths when they visited.
She said many visitors captured photos of their baby pictures on the wall, while children weighed themselves on the scales.
“It was so great,” she said. “Some people cried a little.”
Loralee Stevens also celebrated her 30-year class reunion Friday night during Tonganoxie Sesquicentennial festivities. The class met at the Myers Hotel Bar, with about 35 of the class' 99 members being in attendance, she said. The bar had a bustling crowd inside and in its courtyard area both days, while children’s activities were a hot spot across the street to the south during the day Saturday. Big Jay, the Kansas University mascot, made an hour appearance at the event Saturday morning, while Willie Wildcat, the Kansas State University mascot, stopped by later in the afternoon.
Both mascots made the rounds of the festival grounds, garnering attention for high-fives, waves and, most frequently, photo opportunities. Both even posed for photos on the Chugga Chugga Chieftain, the trackless children’s train that stayed busy throughout the festival. It even had some adult passengers on occasion.
The Tonganoxie Community Band made its return with a concert Saturday afternoon at the Gallagher Park stage. That part of the grounds attracted crowds of families.
Organizers noted the nearby beer tent also was a popular spot, especially Saturday night.
Council Member Kara Reed and the committee’s other co-chair said she was most proud of the sense of community that the event brought.
“In my time in Tonganoxie, this is the best coming together of our community,” Reed said. “With everything from police and fire departments and public works to the teachers. It was just a real community event where people from all areas of the community came together to make it work. It was lovely.”
She commended the cross section of volunteers also pulling together to make the event a success and noted that the beer quota was made for selling in the beer garden. She also said food vendors also reported strong sales, while also having enough food to provide both days of the event.
Organizers will meet for another meeting in the coming days to discuss how the event went as a whole and what might be done going forward.
Oroke said he’d like the format to continue in the future, but perhaps condoning the area of the festival with Gallagher Park being the focal point.
He said the only downside the weekend was the high temperatures during the day.
The event concluded with barbecue contest winners being announced Sunday afternoon. For more from that competition and other results from the weekend, see next week’s print edition of The Mirror.