Memories hold that the bandstand had a storage room that sheltered a piano, and no one could figure out, after the summer's heat and winter's freeze, how it could retain its tone from year to year.
Until finally it couldn't. So a group went to the
"It never quite sounded the same after that,"
As a curiosity of branding, long before branding became a thing, the annual event at
"People always ask, 'Haven't you got that opened yet?'" says
No matter its name, the Park Opening hangs on as a vestige of small-town America, an act of community in an age where people's interests get increasingly spread to the winds. It reminds folks that a high-tech world still has room for a cakewalk and a dunking booth and maybe a conversation with someone they haven't seen in a while.
The festival goes on because people like it. And, by legal caveat, it goes on because it has to.
To understand this, a person needs a short history lesson about
A romantic, perhaps,
(It is pronounced He-LEE-na, not like the capital city of
A parcel of land got set aside for a town park, but a stipulation came with the deal. A yearly public function would have to be held, the money raised to go for park upkeep. Failing this, the land would revert to the Webster heirs.
"So we're afraid not to do it," Mrs. Clark laughs.
Though Mrs. Dishman adds, "We don't know if there are any heirs left."
That first event brought a large crowd to
It has survived hot days and rainy days, has spanned periods of war and Depression. Even local tragedy. In the 1920s, the town doctor,
Mrs. Dishman remembers her first time at the festival in 1964. Married to a local guy just a couple of weeks before, she got the question from her mother-in-law about her planned attire. It's a park, she figured, so slacks seem about right.
"Not to the Park Opening," her mother-in-law said right away. Mrs. Dishman discovered the decorum of the time called for dresses.
Mrs. Clark, also not a
"They didn't win," she says, then laughing, "although I thought they should have."
She would eventually oversee the demolition of the old bandstand and the construction of the new concrete stage, which serves as a hub of activities for the festival. Along with others, Mrs. Clark also helped put out the call to replace the deteriorating wooden benches where people sat to watch the entertainment.
Donations came in, and new, all-weather benches now stretch out from the stage front. The design work was done pro bono, and the concrete got poured by volunteers. Money has been raised to replace some of the picnic tables.
"When people see a need, they do it," Mrs. Clark says.
But modern life pulls against such festivals. The town no longer has a convenience store or a gas station. Locals spend more time on the road for work. If their kids or grandchildren have activities, and they always do, that's a trip here and there.
"Every year, there are more things to take people away," Mrs. Dishman says.
If the coordination of volunteers becomes more complicated, the Park Opening remains a durable part of the calendar. Maybe it's the
The Park Opening seems set to keep opening.
History plays a role. Locals love their years of investment.
"We've talked about changing the name," Mrs. Clark says, "but the response is always, 'Don't even think about it.'"
The 105th Helena Park Opening will be held Saturday from
(c)2014 the St. Joseph News-Press (St. Joseph, Mo.)
Visit the St. Joseph News-Press (St. Joseph, Mo.) at www.newspressnow.com/index.html
Distributed by MCT Information Services