Strawberries anyone? 2016 Hartford Strawberry Festival  a grand success!

By Nancy Albright

 The second Friday and Saturday in June found Hartford residents and visitors from nearby towns and villages dressed in summers most comfortable; sauntering around Ely Park and Hartford’s Main Street under clear blue skies and brilliant sun, enjoying the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of Hartford’s 2016 Strawberry Festival.  The park held not only flags waving in the cool breeze and shade from stately trees lush with summer green, but fair food, rides, games, music and more. Festival-goers filled up on elephant ears, Italian sausage, pizza, ribs, gooey cheesy fries, and strawberry tarts, sno-cones, ice cream and pies.  Children’s laughter resonated throughout the park as they enjoyed the bouncy house, rides, the climbing wall, the dunking machine and games of chance.

All hail the royals!

 Sirens blared and the kids threw candy to the crowd as they marched down the street in their very own Kiddie Parade to kick off the festival on Friday afternoon.  What followed was a very, merry band of 2016 royalty that regally crowned the younger set of 2016 majesties in front of a cheering crowd of proud parents, family and friends.  Miss Bexley Carlson, selected from a worthy lot of tiny opponents, was crowned Hartford’s 2016 Strawberry Baby. Bexley’s dad, Shayne Carlson, who was the Strawberry Prince in 1998, said of his 11 month-old daughter, “We’re so proud!”  Bexley’s mom Megan said, “She was already our princess. Now she has the crown to prove it.” And Jimmie Vassar, Bexley’s great-grandma said, “She’s our sweetest strawberry.” And that she was.  The people’s voices were heard as they elected four year-old Miss MacKenzie Mireles of Hartford as this year’s Strawberry Princess. According to Miss Mireles’ dad Lee, she is fourth generation Midwest Michigan royalty. Her great-grandmother Sandy Pratt won the title of Miss Baroda in 1961; grandmother Molly Chernugul was crowned Miss Hartford in 1984; and Aunt Hannah Moore won the title of Miss Hartford in 2009.   Lee said of his daughter, “Thanks to everyone who voted for her. She’s got big shoes to fill.”  Not to be outdone, four year-old Hunter Hartline, also of Hartford, was bestowed the honor of Strawberry Prince. Proud parents Jessica and John, cameras at the ready, cheered on their four year-old prince, who, crown askew, was all smiles.  The Strawberry Baby and Princess are not the only ones with royal blood running through their veins. Hunter’s older sister Emma was Strawberry Princess in 2015, and his other sister Mikayla was Strawberry Princess in 2014. Three years running for the Hartline family. Not bad. Not bad at all.

STRAWBERRY RUN WINNERS… Strawberry Run 1st Place finisher in the 5K Male Division was Nathan Blosser of Sodus, MI with a time of 18:02 (left) and 1st Place finisher in the 10K Female Division was Marron Brookes of Buchanan, MI with a time of 43:26. (Doug Swift photo)

And we’re off to the races!

 473 participants took over the streets, highway and byways of Hartford, MI this year at the Hartford Lions Club’s 38th Annual Strawberry Run.  The mission of a Lions Club is “We Serve,” and the Hartford Lions Club certainly did serve up a lot of fun this year as runners and walkers of all ages took part in the races, entertaining spectators with a One Mile Fun Run, 5K Walk, 5K Run and a 10K Run.  Lions Club Member and Race Director Kim Sinclair has taken on the mammoth task of organizing the run for the last 10 years and again, Kim and approximately 100 volunteers helped make the fun event run smoothly. It went off without a hitch!  The event began with a bang as the Hartford Band Boosters were up early cooking and serving up the traditional pancake breakfast in the Hartford High School cafeteria to start off the event (maple syrup aplenty!).  Breakfast was followed by the One Mile Fun Run, made up 100 kids from local elementary schools. For the 77 Woodside Elementary Recess Runners – a club that helps kids be active and start to train for professional races when they’re older – this was their final event of the year.  Fun Runners received free t-shirts, special medals in the shape of a dog tag with the Running Strawberry logo imprinted on them, as well as a discounted rate to participate.  The Fun Run began at 8:00 a.m. this year, which allowed the kids to finish up at the point where the 5K and 10K races began at 8:30, so they were cheered on to the finish by the experienced runners.  Fun was had by all that participated in the 5K Walk, a non-competitive event designed to draw those who want to incorporate a bit of exercise into the day’s festivities. Moms and dads, kids, babies in strollers, and even some dogs, tails a-waggin’ took part in the walk.  A host of local sponsors helps the Lions keep entry fees affordable, and provides participants with a host of goodies to make the day even more fun. Race Director Kim Sinclair gives sponsors a lot of credit and commented “it’s extremely important that we all work together for the good of our community.”  The Band Boosters fed the masses; Hartford Schools donated their facilities for the day; the Hartford Fire Department, Hartford Sheriff’s Department and Medic One ambulance services donated their time, staff and equipment to help manage the race and provide emergency services to runners in distress; and local Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, the Hartford Girls on the Run club, and Hartford Federated Church members manned many water stations along the run route to help runners cool down on the hot summer day.  The top 10K Run finishers were Brad Heyman from Brooklyn, NY with an overall time of 42:00, Terrence Young of Benton Harbor, MI (42:40), Marron Brookes of Buchanan, MI (43:26), Page Eisbrenner of Watervliet, MI (44:08), Margaret Rivera of Chicago, IL (45:06), and Caleb Falcone of Eau Claire, MI (45:52).  The top finishers in the 5K Run were Nathan Blosser of Sodus, MI (18:02), Carter Finch of Grand Junction, MI (18:42), Rafael Lopez of Eau Claire, MI (19:19), Michele Carey of South Bend, IN (21:45), Sarah Saylor of Niles, MI (22:26), and Hartford’s own Mikaela Cowgill (23:04).  The top finishers in the 5K Walk were Mark Bingaman of Benton Harbor, MI with an overall time of 40:15, Bruce Gelbaugh of Plainwell, MI (41:51), and Dave Conklin of Stevensville, MI (43:59).  The races were timed by Everal Race Management. For a complete list of winners and times go to  Members of the Hartford Royalty bestowed each winner with a medal engraved with the Strawberry Run logo, and the top three winners in both races were presented with engraved plaques.  “What’s special about our race,” said Kim, “is that finishers also receive quarts of strawberries picked fresh at 5 a.m. the morning of the race. This year, local farmers at High Acres donated 104 quarts of berries. Kim added “You might think people want the plaques and medals, but what they really want is the fresh berries!”  The Lions Club commended the organizers on their Facebook page after the race: “The Hartford Strawberry Run was a huge success today. Just short of 500 people participated in the 10K Run, 5K Runs, 5K Walk, and the One Mile Fun Run. Thanks to Lions Kim and Scott Sinclair for all their efforts and pre-planning.  Also, thanks to Lions Nancy, John, Donna, Tad, and ALL the volunteers that helped make things run smoothly. Most of all, thanks to the participants and community for their support! It was a total success!”  The Lions Club is a non-profit organization and the Strawberry Run is the group’s major fundraiser each year. All proceeds from the event – hard-earned by organizers, volunteers and participants alike – are cycled back into local Lions Club projects.  Lastly, Ms. Sinclair commented that the Lions Club “always hears this is the best race in the area and we’re really proud of it.”  A colossal round of applause for all those who made the event a grand success!

Everyone loves a parade!

 A vintage Van Buren’s County Sheriff’s car followed modern cruisers to make Hartford’s Main Street safe for parade-goers to get the festival in gear early Saturday afternoon. Candy flew while onlookers happily scrambled to catch the sweet treats, and waited expectantly for each entry to pass them by on the parade route.  Not only was the parade well-attended, but well-stocked with a wide variety of attractions. The Hartford High School Band and the Hartford Full Gospel Assembly provided the music for floats created by Tri-City Royalty, and a shiny spectacle that honored the good old U.S. of A. Lady Liberty, flanked by a bald eagle and a sparkling replica of our own Stars and Stripes rolled by, followed by American War Veterans and Old Honest Abe himself, adding to the patriotic theme.  Fire trucks packed with firefighters and happy kids trumpeted sirens and sprayed the hot and sweaty crowd with welcome mists of water from their hoses (the garden variety of course, so as not to injure parade-goers).  There was even a massive snow plow, its giant blades painted with a Michigan winter scene, something people from these parts are all too familiar with.  Political candidates, Cruella DeVille of 101 Dalmations fame towing her collection of pups (of the stuffed kind) behind her golf cart, a tiny blond girl in a mini pink racer heading up a line of powerful competitive racecars, and a mint-condition 1960 Studebaker rounded out the parade. And speaking of wheels, no parade is complete without a band of Shriners on little motorbikes. Beep, beep!


 Magician extraordinaire John Dudley then took the stage, performing card tricks, dice tricks, balloon tricks, a circus trick, and even a Ghostbusters trick to amaze the crown and bring smiles and laugher to an audience of all ages.  John, who has been perfecting his art of magic since the seventh grade and considers himself “lucky enough to turn a junior high school hobby into a career,” then performed his signature optical allusion, the spiral trick.  John asked his audience to focus on the center of a rotating black and white disk, (“Look ONLY at the center!”) for 30 long seconds. (It’s not as easy as it sounds.). The magic man then counted backwards from five and told participants to “look at my face!” His head looked large and stretched out, but then quickly faded back to its normal size and shape. A quite satisfying trick indeed!  And, bonus, this trick is safe to try at home. Fire up your computer, Google “images for magic spiral,” print it out, glue it to a cardboard circle, make a hole in the center the width of a pencil, stick the pencil in the hole and spin! Fun at parties! Your friends will love it!  Mr. Dudley, who does almost 300 magic shows each year throughout the Midwest said, “It’s the best job that’s not a job.”

And the Hartford Bed Race is on!

 The competition was fast, fun and furious as the two-time defending champion Arrowhead Bar racing team squared off with Hartford Royalty to compete for the title of 2016 Bed Race Champions.  “Ready, Set, Go!” and the beds on wheels were off, racing up and down Main Street through a dizzying obstacle course of orange cones. The winner was based on the best two out of three, but the royal team cleaned it up in the first two heats.  This was an historical race, as this is the first time the royals have won! The Hartford Royalty team thanks Wightman & Associates for sponsoring this year’s team.

READY, SET, GO!… Hartford Royalty won the Bed Races this year, but the two-time defend-ing champions Arrowhead Bar team were good sports as this was the Royals first win. The winners: Sitting on the bed are Ally Sinclair and Annabelle Hernandez, and standing from left to right are Dekota Diaz, Devin Oldham, Cintia Hernan-dez, Paige Doyle, Johnny Chan-cellor and Samuel Shank. The good sports: Phyllis Rasmussen is sitting on the bed and she is surrounded by her teammates Taylor Sawyer, son of the own-er of the Arrowhead Bar, Ni-cholas Bowlby, Justin Halgren and Fernando Rodriguez. (TCR photo by Nancy Albright)

Even though the royals took the title away from the Arrowhead team, racers Phyllis Rasmussen, Taylor Sawyer, Nicholas Bowlby, Justin Halgren and Fernando Rodriguez had fun all the same. “Good thing the course is pot-hole free!” said Phyllis. Good thing indeed. She was the one riding in the bed!

Look mom no hands!

 Strawberry pies made by long-time Hartford baker Vicki McFarland, who “just wants everyone to enjoy pie!” were the center of attention for contestants of all ages when faced with the task of eating an entire pie off a table with no hands in order to win this year’s Strawberry Pie Eating Contest.  The key to winning a pie eating contest is to FIRST flip the flaky confection out of the pie pan at lightning speed, THEN bury your face in the center of the gooey treat to gulp it up (and then down the hatch to make room for more).  And the winners did just that in front of a dense and enthusiastic crowd under the pavilion on Saturday afternoon.  Landon McFarland (12 and under crowd), Descenya Rodarte (Junior Division), Taylor Soulard, Chairperson and Vice President of the Hartford Pageant Organization (Adult Division), and Samuel Shank (Royalty Division) emerged victorious amidst tough classes of competitors; all it seemed without fear of messing up their hair, crowns and, if appropriate, makeup.  The competition, punctuated by the theme song from the long-running game show Jeopardy, was fierce at times, and there were a few instances of dead heats, but the fastest and most-skilled heartily prevailed.  Each winner received a “Champion” medal and a large wad of paper towels to complete the scene. And, all the winners were happy to pose for photos; pink, sticky faces still smeared with the spoils of victory: STRAWBERRY PIE!

SPORTING A HARD-WON MEDAL… Landon McFarland, Strawberry Pie Eater in the Kids Division, quickly took the lead in this year’s contest and was the clear winner by a mile! (TCR photo by Nancy Albright)

And the winners are…

 There was plenty of talent to go around at the Strawberry Idol Contest, which closed out the festival on Saturday afternoon.  There were many voices heard, all sweet to the ear, and the judges were hard-pressed to choose the winners. But choose they did. Contestant Miss Madison Bradley won the title in the 17 and under division, and Miss Veronica Uvalle won in the 18+ division.  Congratulations to the winners and kudos to all the others who participated in the fun event! The other sweet crooners were Marissa Kemp, Grace Weber, Eric Blocker, Logan Hawley, Hannah Hawley, Antiaria Pate-Hackney, Antonio Pate-Hackney, Serenity Pate-Hackney, Meaa Vargas, Catera Hawley, Tyjah Covington, Brenda Para, Alyssa Pennels, Dustin Ellis, Jennifer Peterson, Samantha Snow, Darrell King, and Gareth MacMillan.  Assistant Prosecutor Mike McKay, candidate for 7th District Court Judge in Van Buren County, Johnathon Grosvenor, running back for Olivet Nazarene University and lead singer of The New Covenant, and singer/songwriter and 2008 Hartford High School graduate Chas Burtchett were kind enough to donate their time to judge the contest. Thanks to all!  And last, but certainly not least, many thanks to the Hartford Chamber of Commerce for sponsoring yet another successful Strawberry Festival. Look forward to seeing you all next year!


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