When strawberries rule the springs
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” The last time Ellen Quigley, 94, waited for the famed berries and ice cream at Strawberry Days, the crowd was a little bigger than she remembered.
“The line was from here to Timbuktu!” she exclaimed.
But, as she sees it, not much more has changed since she first started going, sometime in the 1940s.
This weekend, 111-year-old celebration boasts carnival rides, food, art and entertainment of all varieties. Saturday morning, like always, a parade will roll through downtown and will be followed by the traditional, free offering of strawberries and ice cream. Ask anyone, and they’ll say that this thing is “timeless” or it’s “Glenwood’s premier event” or “a place to have fun.”
Dig a bit deeper, and they might just tell you their favorite Strawberry memories, too.
Glenwood native Bob Zanella, 70, has been going for as long as he can remember. He recalled the excitement of being a kid, when all the festivities were right downtown. Back then, the area surrounding Glenwood was chock full of real cowboys and ranchers, and so many of them would ride into town for the big shindig.
“It was just a reason for people to get together,” he said.
His strongest memory stems from sometime back in the 60s or 70s, when he was one of a handful of volunteers helping put the bash on (he was even the chairman from ’74 to ’79). At some point, they held a beard growing fundraiser for the festival ” complete with a kangaroo court jailing clean shaven fellows. Zanella is still proudly sporting that facial hair.
“I didn’t take it off. I just shaped it up,” he said. “I wore it ever since.”
For Tonya Nieslanik, 40, her fondest memory is definitely not competing in the Miss Strawberry Days Queen competition in 1989. It wasn’t her thing, she said, and she was pushed into it. Instead, what really sticks out to her are thoughts of being a teenager and living near Sayre park, close to all the action. It was just a good time, being off school, seeing everyone she knew. These days, that warm, social interaction still brings her out every year.
“When I think of summertime in Glenwood, I think of Strawberry Days,” she said.
Though she’s been in the parade more times than she wanted to count, Quigley only laughed over the notion of winning the festival’s beauty contest herself.
“I never was a beauty queen. If I was in the parade, as a beauty queen, I’d probably remember it,” she said, with a hoot.
Instead, what she loved about the festival was bringing her two daughters to the parade when they were little. Years ago, she used to watch her late husband, Dean, in the procession, too. Nowadays, she still gets a bang out of it, seeing the floats and bands and “the little ol’ cars,” she said.
“It’s still fun, but it’s a lot bigger than it was in the olden days,” she added.
Marianne Virgili, 60, the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association president and chief executive officer, agreed with pretty much all these sentiments. A veteran of the event for more than 20 years, she still sounded excited about this one.
“I think that it’s historical. It’s a real homecoming,” she said.
She ran down this year’s features, from the collection of bands set to play, to the car show, now in its second year. This time around, the parade’s grand marshall is Gayle Mortell, the Glenwood Springs Center for the Arts director. Virgili painted a mental image of her traveling down the parade route with Glenwood Springs Dance Academy dancers shimmying around her. This year’s parade will also include several government officials on bikes, paying homage to the opening of the new Rio Grande bike trail.
But more than these new additions, Virgili focused on what was staying the same. Like always, Strawberry Days is a place for folks to come together. Recently, this quest for community has brought out about 50,000 attendees each year to the events.
“The main thing about the festival is the people,” she concluded.
And that’s not changing anytime soon.
Contact Stina Sieg: 384-9111
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