Olathe & Southwest Joco

It all started as a ‘family reunion.’ These days, Old Settlers attracts thousands

Christian Garcia and Haley Trammell of Olathe take a ride on The Sizzler at Johnson County Old Settlers Sept. 6.
Christian Garcia and Haley Trammell of Olathe take a ride on The Sizzler at Johnson County Old Settlers Sept. 6. Special to The Olathe News

The carnival rides were spinning and the kettle corn was popping at the Johnson County Old Settlers festivities last weekend. The annual 121-year-old festival attracts thousands of people each year.

“It all started as basically like a family reunion. They had a little parade and games for the kids. They’d have pie-eating contests; they’d have people bringing fiddles,” said Sheila Newbanks, secretary of the Old Settlers Association and chairwoman of the parade.

Various local groups use the festival as a base for their own reunions, Newbanks said.

All the traditional activities were on the schedule — the parade, a flower show and the Miss Sweet Six contest. Attendees chowed down on turkey legs, tacos and, of course, Grange pups.

“A lot of people, they have to go have a Grange pup. It’s a hot dog on a stick, but don’t ever call it a corn dog,” Newbanks said. “It’s a secret recipe. It’s dipped in a batter, and nobody knows the recipe except a few people in the Grange.”

Another annual food tradition comes from the Gurdwara Nanak Darwar Sahib Sikh temple, whose members dish up free vegetarian Indian fare for all at Old Settlers.

The food is part of the reason people keep coming back to Old Settlers, but it’s not the full picture.

“We’ve been coming since we were kids. The atmosphere is always the same — good people, good food,” said Addy Turner of Kansas City, Kansas.

It’s all about the people for 12-year-old Jaylen Burnett.

“The whole town comes. You see friends you haven’t seen in ages,” said Jaylen, a student at Santa Fe Trail Middle School.

This year’s biggest change was the entertainment. Instead of having two acts each on Friday and Saturday, organizers opted for single higher-profile acts on both nights. Friday evening featured English rock group Foghat. Country singer John Michael Montgomery took the stage on Saturday.

Saturday night, rumors spread that there had been gunfire at the festival, but police say there was no gunfire. Olathe Police investigated, and it appears the panic may have started when a woman was injured in a fall.

It’s a somewhat sleepless labor of love for those who put on the festival.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is everyone that’s on the Johnson County Old Settlers committee and the people that put it on; they’re all volunteers,” Newbanks said.

Some of the 40 volunteers on the committee even take vacation days from their jobs to work a few 18-hour days getting everything set up and keeping it running smoothly.