Community efforts to resurrect the O’Fallon Homecoming continue to move forward.
A third meeting on the possibility of bringing back a city-wide picnic or festival next August will take place on Tuesday, Oct. 3, at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.
The first city-sponsored meeting Aug. 10 drew more than 25 residents, and the second one on Sept. 6 had more people show up.
Mayor Herb Roach, City Clerk Jerry Mouser and Alderman Ross Rosenberg have met with residents during those meetings.
Rosenberg thinks the Homecoming is one aspect of community living that defines O’Fallon.
“It boils down to why I decided to come back and retire in O’Fallon. It is all about family, this tight community. It doesn’t matter if you live on the million-dollar side of town or the $50,000 side of town, if your car broke down and you had to pull over, people would come out and help you. That’s just the way people are here,” he said. “This sense of community is still going on, and is synonymous with O’Fallon. It’s ingrained in who we really are, and the Homecoming was important for the people.”
That’s why he supports its return. Rosenberg thinks the committee will address the concerns that caused the Homecoming’s demise after the last one in 2008.
“I think the problems can be resolved. With an open event, you still can get some troublemakers, but I think we can make it more of a family event, and minimize it. We can circumvent those issues if we do it right,” Rosenberg said.
Several people have stepped up, volunteering for key positions to keep plans in motion, although nothing is official yet.
Mayor Roach has stressed the meetings are in the discussion phase.
“We’re going to see what the direction the community wants to go. What would it take to have a successful event again. All those in attendance were in favor of moving forward with plans as soon as next year, if possible,” Roach said
He said volunteers are needed, and encouraged further input and discussion at the city-sponsored meetings.
A former alderman, Roach had included the return of city festivals into his campaign platform when he ran for mayor this spring.
“O’Fallon was once known for its city-wide festivals, picnics, and homecomings,” the mayor said. “During my campaign, as I walked through O’Fallon and visited over 6,000 homes, I was often asked why O’Fallon no longer hosts a city-sponsored festival. Many residents expressed to me that our neighboring communities all have one or two such events, annually. While O’Fallon is fortunate to have many organizations, churches, and groups that host annual events, the city itself does not host or sponsor one,” the mayor said in a recent column.
Mouser, a former longtime alderman and current city clerk, has been an advocate for the event’s return.
“I hope we can work things out again — something like a parade downtown, have rides for kids, a wholesome community event. It’s good for the soul of the city,” he said.
Mouser recalled how popular the event used to be.
“It was a family environment. Kids can see how the world used to be. It’s important to have it in the park and have people participate. You develop a sense of community. People see their neighbors. It’s a bonding situation. I think that’s important. Then, they look out for each other. It’s also a fun thing to do,” he said.
The 89th Homecoming in 2008 was the last official one. Originally started as a welcome home party for soldiers returning from World War I, the event became a fundraiser for the city’s park system. Held over three days, it featured a parade, the Miss O’Fallon Contest, and bands.
Many of the details are yet to be decided, Roach said, but the discussion so far has selected the third weekend of August as a possible date, and the Community Park as the location.
The O’Fallon Community Park was originally purchased by the O’Fallon Homecoming Association and given to the city of O’Fallon in 1946 for the enjoyment of the citizens, Roach said.
“There would be many activities including a car show, sports tournaments, bingo, children’s games, food stands, rides, live music, and a parade on Saturday,” Roach said.
The Homecoming Association sponsored a parade at holiday time, but has not been active in planning another festival. A separate group previously sponsored a Heritage Festival in 2012. Whether that committee is revived has yet to be determined.
Rosenberg said one of his concerns with how the event will be funded. He does not want the city to be the sole sponsor.
“My biggest concern is the city financing part of it. We need to get more businesses involved. During the last election, people were concerned about the city debt. Our credibility is at stake,” he said.
As for funding, the mayor said the city will look into having some of the funds from the revenue received from the electronic gambling machines placed into next year’s budget to help with getting the event started.
“We would also need to have local companies, organizations, restaurants and families help sponsor various activities, put together floats, operate stands, and provide help in other ways during the homecoming event,” Roach said.
Discussion on what to do about the proceeds included a suggestion that the part of the profit should be saved for start-up costs for the next year’s event, while another portion could be donated to a charitable organization, such as Special Olympics or The BackStoppers, the mayor said.
“There are already several individuals that have agreed to volunteer their time and energy towards helping organize this event, but more are needed,” Roach said. “We are open to more input and will definitely need many more volunteers to step up if this event is to become a reality.”
Aldermen Dan Witt and Robert Kueker have volunteered to chair the committee deciding what direction to go in for Homecoming.