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Old Shawnee Days let the good times roll

Emerson Ilten, 2, was in bliss during a carousel ride with her father, Chase, on Friday evening at Old Shawnee Days. Related story and photos, Page 3
Emerson Ilten, 2, was in bliss during a carousel ride with her father, Chase, on Friday evening at Old Shawnee Days. Related story and photos, Page 3 Special to The Star

Imagine a baking contest where each judge has to sample more than 100 desserts — in just over two hours. This is exactly what happened at the first Old Shawnee Days’ baking contest in 2007.

“Our baking contest has come a long way since that first year,” event chairwoam Tanya Lecuru said. “We had an inexperienced organizer who’d never judged a baking contest before. She decided that, to make it fair, every judge was required to taste every entry.

“We had 100-plus entries. By the time it was over, there were judges in tears. I didn’t eat sugar for a year. But, we made it through — and we all still joke about it to this day.”

Along with outstanding weather, food, and the annual baking contest, Old Shawnee Days served up endless fun and entertainment for every one of this year’s 90,000-plus attendees. From June 1 to June 4, events and activities included the annual parade, a carnival, airborne Frisbee dogs, games and contests, and more than 150 vendors, including nearly two dozen food trucks. Turkey legs, hotdogs, Italian ices, and funnel cakes were all-around best-sellers.

From the main stage to the bandstand, musicians sang and played everything from country to rock. The main stage headliner June 3 was ’80s rock ’n’ roll band Night Ranger. Still rocking it after 35 years, these high-energy musicians played to a packed crowd of all ages.

A team of 25 year-round volunteers, along with 200 additional volunteers during the event, made this year’s Old Shawnee Days a success.

Planning and preparation for 2018’s event starts soon.

“In a couple of weeks, we’ll recap and start making plans for next year,” Lecuru said, adding that now that the event is in its 51st year, people who came to the event as newlyweds now attend with their grandchildren.

Many attendees, however, were taking in this year’s Old Shawnee Days for the first time.

“This is a lot bigger than I expected,” said Cole Mayer, while watching Saturday’s parade with his wife and children. Mayer and his family moved to Shawnee from Denver in April.

The theme of this year’s parade was “Let the Good Times Roll,” with Grand Marshall Charles Jean-Baptiste leading more than 100 entrants.

Raised on a sharecropper’s farm in Louisiana, Jean-Baptiste lived his life working for justice, education, and community — and his contributions to the state of Kansas and its residents are momentous. A past president of the Johnson County NAACP and mediator for the Topeka Center for Peace and Justice, some of his many awards and honors include the Kansas Governor’s Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award, the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development’s Community Service Award, and the NAACP Distinguished Service Award.

One of the parade highlights was a recognition for Korean War Veterans. As they waved from their three-vehicle convoy that included a military cargo truck, jeep and Humvee, distinguished veterans were loudly applauded all along the parade route.

The Shawnee Garden Club took the Mayor’s Award for best overall entry with their imaginative rolling clock float, constructed from thousands of vibrant plants and flowers. The Grand Marshall’s prize was awarded to Crossroads Christian Church.