A superhero reunion for nearly a quarter-million friends and family? That’s what happened Sept. 7-9 during the 119th annual Johnson County Old Settlers festival.
Held in downtown Olathe, the theme for this year’s festival was “Superheroes: Past and Present.” From costumed super people and dogs to the hundreds of volunteers who committed their time and energy to ensure the event was a success, superheroes were everywhere.
During the three-day event, more than 200,000 attendees celebrated together as they whirled around in high-flying carnival rides, took in headline concerts, watched a parade with over 150 entrants, gawked at antique cars, and much more.
The first Old Settlers was held in 1898.
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“It all started with a few families who came together for a picnic on the courthouse lawn, which was a park at that time.” said Sheila Reitmeyer, secretary of the Old Settlers organization and parade chairman. “The families kept coming back every year and Old Settlers just kept growing.”
Reitmeyer has been parade chairman for 30 years.
“I love the parade,” she said. “The concerts and arts and crafts are phenomenal too, and the people are so happy and friendly.”
However, big events like Old Settlers certainly can include glitches.
“You work so hard and you’re pulling your hair out with the glitches,” Reitmeyer said.”I throw my hands up in the air and say, ‘I will never do this again.’ Then, every time someone comes up to me, takes my hand, and says how much they love the event — and I’m ready to do it all again.”
Not only does she love the parade and concerts, Reitmeyer is also a big fan of Grange Pups: “You have to try one. They are really good.”
A street-food-on-a stick unique to Old Settlers, more than 11,000 grange pups were sold and devoured at this year’s festival.
In 1948, Alta Harra and Audrey Busch created Grange Pups as a fundraiser for Morning Grange, a non-profit community service group of 55 volunteers who serve the Olathe, Gardner, and Spring Hill school districts. There are many myths about how Harra and Busch came up with their “secret” recipe, which remains a mystery today, according to Morning Grange director and family member Lance Harra.
“Since we started, we have funded $100,000 in scholarships for nearly 70 students,” Harra said. “We also support the 4-H clubs in Johnson County.”
The group also runs the Dictionary Project and have donated more than 3,000 dictionaries to Spring Hill third-grade students.
Another big draw at the festival is the flower show.
Hosted by the Olathe Garden and Civic Club, the flower show has been an Old Settlers staple for 88 years and attracts hundreds of entrants who compete in categories from vegetables to herbs to fresh flowers.
“We also focus on education for young people here,” Gerry Buehler, the event’s coordinator, said. “This year, we’re teaching about bats and how important bats are for our environment.”
Buehler is hooked on bats and has her own bat house.
“Up to 60 bats can live in one bat house and each bat can consume up to 4,000 to 8,000 insects a day,” she said.
Although Old Settlers has grown over the years, the focus and heart of the festival has not changed.
“The spirit is same as it was when it started,” Reitmeyer said. “It’s a tradition of family and friends coming together each year to enjoy food, entertainment, and each other.”