Downtown Olathe will soon fill with crowds of people, drawn by the smell of delicious food, the bright lights of carnival rides and the sound of live music. Johnson County Old Settlers is set to return for its 118th year on Sept. 8, 9 and 10.
The three-day festival draws nearly 200,000 people every year. It includes a craft show, carnival, parade and three nights of live music.
Sheila Reitmeyer is the secretary of the Johnson County Old Settlers Association and has been volunteering with the event since 1986. She said over the years, the event has become something of an institution to Olathe residents, even drawing those who moved away back to town every September.
“Anybody that has grown up in Olathe knows what Old Settlers is about,” Reitmeyer said. “There are so many people that use Old Settlers as a focal point for their family reunions and their class reunions, so it’s really touted as a family event.”
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When it comes to food, one of the biggest draws by far at Old Settlers is the grange pup, a hot dog wrapped in a pancake-type batter.
One year, the festival sold nearly 25,000 grange pups in three days. The fried treat with a cult-like following is sold by one of the 25 nonprofit groups that operate the food booths at the festival.
“We do that for a reason,” volunteer Jay Lang said. “That money those groups raise will stay in our community. This way there is an extra benefit to the community. For most of these organizations, this is the largest fundraiser they do.”
The festival is organized every year by the Johnson County Old Settlers Association, a nonprofit organization. And while the money made from the event doesn’t go directly back to the city, it does make a significant economic impact.
“We have vendors that come from all over the United States and they are using our hotels and our restaurants,” Lang said. “And they are buying gasoline in our city.”
The festival features around 95 arts and crafts vendors and 97 commercial vendors. There will be live music each night of the festival. Thursday night will feature Christian music performers. On Friday night, country music recording artist Mark Wills takes to the stage and on Saturday night, concert goers will be treated to Satisfaction, a Rolling Stones tribute band.
Then of course, there’s the carnival. This year the carnival will feature a new ride called The Freakout. This ride will require riders to purchase a wristband and two additional tickets. Wristbands will be sold for $25 at the carnival and they include unlimited rides for a five-hour session.
On Saturday, the largest parade in Kansas takes place in downtown Olathe at 10 a.m.
More than 60,000 people typically turn out for the event, which features 160 parade entries.
If it all sounds like a bunch of good old-fashioned fun, then you would be right. That’s what organizers say is their goal every year. They want a family-friendly festival where you would be comfortable taking your newborn or your grandmother.
Organizers say they are trying to carry on the family atmosphere that was started way back in 1898, when residents first started gathering downtown for a community picnic that included a band, bubble gum blowing contests, watermelon seed spitting contests and sack races.
Though the events may have changed over the years, the sense of community that the Old Settlers festival brings to Olathe has not. Volunteers say that’s what keeps bringing them back year after year to help put on the event.
“I love seeing the happy faces,” Reitmeyer said. “The young kids mesmerized by the lights of the carnival rides and the older people remembering the past.”
Reitmeyer even has her own yearly tradition that she has no plans to change.
“Every year, my best friend and I meet on Thursday night and we go get a grange pup,” Reitmeyer said. “That’s all part of the hometown relationship thing.”
6:30 p.m.: Bearing Armor
8 p.m.: Kerrie Roberts
6:30 p.m.: Last Chance Flight
8 p.m.: Mark Wills
6:30 p.m.: The Rippers
8 p.m.: Satisfaction, a tribute to the Rolling Stones