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Spirit Festival enjoys booming weekend attendance after weather-dampened start

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Despite a slow start in attendance because of inclement weather, Dearborn Heights' Spirit Festival finished the weekend with two days ranking the highest ever in attendance over June 8-12.

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Parks and Recreation Director Kenneth P. Grybel estimated that this year's event probably drew the fourth-largest-ever crowd over the event's 25-year history. Saturday had the largest crowd ever to turn out for a single day during the festival, Grybel said, and Sunday had the second-highest crowd ever to turn out on a day of Spirit.

“Unfortunately, the first three days we had problems with the weather, but we really rebounded the last two days to become the fourth-best attended Spirit Festival ever,” Grybel said. “Nothing you can do about the weather, but on the weekend, the event is still so strong that people all came out in very large numbers.”

On Wednesday, the planned Mayor's Walk was cut short from one mile to only a half mile because of the heat. Grybel addressed the sparse festival crowd by comparing the weather to Arizona, and strongly advising walkers to purchase water and gatorade from the festival venders. He noted Arizona was broiling with 31 percent humidity in 97 degrees, compared to Dearborn Heights' 92 degrees (which he expected to sink into the 80s by the time the walk kicked off).

The festival gave away extra-large, large, medium, small and children's sizes in the festival's official t-shirt (available free to those who walked). Grybel and the mayor noted the color of the shirts were meant to hearken back to the light blue color that all the city's DPW trucks and equipment were painted with, back at the time of the first festival.

Despite it being “darn hot,” Grybel said after the festival that the numbers were actually up for the Mayor's Walk, as all but 19 of the 150 shirts were given away. He credited the larger turn-out being due to the event moving from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., because it gave people more time to get off work and come down to the festival.

Despite the weak weekday turnouts from the heat wave transitioning Thursday to a coming rainstorm, Grybel said the Taste of the Heights was a tremendous success. He said the event has become well attended and received over the years, and seems to have settled down to a set number of customers. While a couple vendors failed to show up, he said this was beyond the city's control as Warren Valley's chef was ill, and Red Lobster had a shortage of personnel reporting to work.

But with Antonio 's and Al Shallal bringing a few more items when they learned of the situation, Grybel said “people didn't go away hungry and disappointed.” Grybel also felt that Johnny Ginger drew a pretty good crowd after the food fest was over.

Though Grybel believed the Pasta and Pizza Feast had few walk-in diners Friday because of the 54-degree evening temperatures, he said the Crestwood High School Cheerleaders did quite well with their pre-sale. He said the fifth annual event had more than 200 people coming out, “as well or better than any previous year.” The “Celebrate Our Seniors” luncheon and entertainment earlier that day had a sell-out because it also pre-sold its tickets, increased 250 over the last year's 200 (Grybel added that 255 actually came because “we didn't want to turn anybody away”).

With perfect weather on the weekend, Grybel said Steve King and the Dittilies “brought the house down” with the biggest attendance in the history of the Spirit Festival Saturday, so “those two days made up a lot of ground.” The most popular activity throughout the festival, he said, was the amusement rides of the midway.

Grybel believed the carnival probably has a greater number of customers because the midway is the biggest one in Dearborn Heights. With the current economy, he added, he knows that fewer people are making the trek to midways further away like Cedar Point or Michigan's Adventure.

Another event that drew well on Saturday, he said, was the show by Ronald McDonald in the children's tent around dinner time. He felt that drawing close to 100 children “was very good, especially in competition with the rides.” While the craft shop on Sunday did not draw a large crowd, Grybel said, the traffic through the children's tent was so steady those three hours, that eventually 150 crafts were made.

Also on Saturday was the festival's annual Salute to Our Veterans. The Ford Chorus sang patriotic tunes like “God Bless America," George M. Cohan 's “You're A Grand 'Ole Flag” and “I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy”, “America the Beautiful,” and a song written by some congressmen after visiting a cemetery in Normandy, “Blades of Grass and Pure White Stones.”

Besides singing the traditional armed forces medley of the official songs of the Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy; the Ford Chorus also sang the official songs of the Fighting Seabees and the Merchant Marine. In closing, the Ford Chorus followed the Beatles' “When I'm 64,” with a song set in the World War I-era, “Marguarita,” in recognition of the last World War I veteran dying in Australia this year.

In asking all veterans to stand, Margaret Horvath said that the ceremony was to honor them, and express to gratitude for their putting hopes and dreams on hold, and risking their lives for preserving the freedom and hopes and dreams of people back home. She recited the following reading:

“It is the veteran, not the preacher, who has given us freedom of religion. It is the veteran, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press. It was the veteran, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It is the veteran, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to assemble. It is the veteran, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial. It is the veteran, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote. To you, salute.”

While giving the invocation, St. Sabina Church Father Raymond Beaucan, a chaplain and colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, said if it got to the point that “God We Trust” is not on the coins, “our country's in trouble, but our country is not in trouble because we have veterans like those present here, and those serving overseas and serving the armed forces now.” Every American generation seems to have a war to remember, Mayor Daniel S. Paletko said, and it was the Vietnam War for his generation, recalling that three in his Crestwood High School graduating gave their lives in that conflict.

U.S. Rep. John D. Dingell (D-15th District) told the audience they are seeing “the veterans of my war are thinning out.” While most of the 60 million who went off to World War II came back, Dingell said, their number is now down to 4 million, and dying at the rate of about 1,000 a day.

“Our veterans want you to remember not just what we did, but why we did it,” Dingell said. “It's great to ask of other young Americans not just defend the country; but to see to it they protect the ideals and the purposes of this country that are so important; and see to it that they participate in these kinds of events with their fellow citizens to remind Americans of what we, all of the veterans, did in terms of serving and protecting the freedom that we have; which made us the greatest and happiest and strongest and freest nation in the world.”

The Dearborn Heights ROTC made the presentation of the colors, and the joint military honor guard of the Private John Lyskawa Post 7546, Veterans of Foreign Wars Department Michigan and the Carl E. Stitt Post 232, American Legion fired a 21-gun salute. Chris Killion, a veteran with three purple hearts,explained the source of the 21-gun salute.

Killion said a worldwide custom of early warriors would show peaceful intentions by pointing their weapons toward the ground, and the 21-gun salute originated from the 14th century because early devices could only fire one projectile, so once it was shot, it meant the soldier was not hostile. Though warships first fired the salute, he said, land batteries had a greater supply of guns and gunpowder, and could fire three times as many guns, so the salute became 21 guns on shore.

In 1810, the salute was defined as 17 guns, the number of states in the Union at the time, and was used to commemorate Independence Day or any visit by the President to a military installation. The presidential salute was formally established at 21 guns in 1842, Killian concluded, and is used today to honor veterans past and present.

Dearborn Heights Parks and Recreation Deputy Director Kim Constan directed the drawing of more than 30 prizes for veterans, collected by a couple of senior citizens from several businesses. The prizes included tickets to a Detroit Tigers game, a tatoo, gift certificate for an auto garage, golf course greens fees, certificates for restaurants and stores, a free haircut, car washes, and games of bowling.