A former Starliner remembers the first parade to becoming a board member

It’s so hard to believe 50 years have passed since the inception of the Festival of Grapes in Silver Creek! I have so many wonderful memories and believe they need sharing. Hopefully, this will prompt others to do the same.

I was a 10-year-old girl taking baton lessons from Irene Schwenkel through the Recreation Department in 1968. She and her husband, Elmer, thought it would be a great idea for a group of twirlers to participate in the first ever Festival of Grapes parade. The Silver Creek Starliners were born. We didn’t have much, just us twirlers with purple satiny outfits with silver rick rack. In addition to marching in the parade we also performed at halftime of the Grape Bowl high school football game. What a thrill for a 10 year old. To us it had Super Bowl quality!

During the parade we were judged by NYPENN judges and competed against some really great twirling groups. Brocton had a group that most always beat us. It didn’t matter. We marched, we twirled, we learned and we grew. Personally, I moved on to a more advanced group called the Twirling Kadettes from Dunkirk. Elmer and Irene ran that group, as well, and we marched not only in the festival parade but throughout Western New York, Pennsylvania and Canada.

As one of the MANY activities, the festival also held a twirling competition. Many of us competed for several years. Friendships were made with gals from around the area, including some from Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Thank you Elmer and Irene for bringing us all together. You were like family to me and I will forever cherish our memories.

Moving on, as the years progressed I would involve myself with participating in activities like working the Jaycee pretzel stand, building floats, and even adding a new children’s event first as a volunteer, the Bubble Yum Bubble Gum Blowing Contest! Back then the festival had a ton of activities for kids such as the bike rodeo and the pet parade, to mention a couple.

The festival sold $10 memberships to help raise money. People loved seeing their name in print, and they were given embroidered stick on grape bunches to wear to show they were members. Truly, it got you nothing … but pride!

My volunteering lead me to being elected onto the Board of Directors. I wore that hat with pride! I continued with the bubble gum event, and I assisted Jeff Beach with the operation of the parade. The board at that time was filled with strong community leaders such as Chuck Rose, Mary Richir, Barb Van Renselear, Tim Rocque, Penny Ehmke, Donna Baglia, Carol Maloney, Sundi Zanghi, Jeff Beach, Fran Hornburg… to name a few. At that time the festival had gone on for at least 15 years so it ran like clock work.

My family owned the Arlene/M’Arlene Bridal Shop at that time and donated gowns to the Grape Queens for many years. The Queen and her Court (King, Little Miss and Pentathlon Winner) were treated like royalty. The float alone was huge and regal. The King and Queen presided over the Grape Festival Ball. High school girls scrambled to participate in the pageant vying not only for the title, cape and crown, but also, scholarship money. Sadly, our economy no longer allows that to happen, and I believe as such, not as many girls want to participate. All that said, there are so many more wonderful memories to share.

It was an honor to serve on the Festival of Grapes Board! Congratulations on 50 great years! Thank you!

Karen Richardson, formerly of Silver Creek, now resides in Tucson, Arizona.