This year Elba's 76th annual Onion Festival will be held outside the Firemen’s Recreation Hall on the edge of town rather than in its usual location in the village park.
Fire Department President Bill Hynes said the decision to move the festival stemmed from the aging demographics of members of the department.
“We don’t have as many firemen as we used to, and some of them are getting older,” Hynes said. “It just got to be too much to move everything from the rec hall down to the village park.”
Festival coordinator Barbie Starowitz says that though the location will be different, many of the same traditions will remain, such as the Ladies Auxiliary’s roast beef dinner and the ever-popular bingo game “Dart-O.” Both will be held inside the rec hall.
The crowning of the 2012 Onion Queen, which would normally take place in the park gazebo, will “tentatively” be held inside the hall as well, according to Hynes.
The relocation has received mixed reviews, according to Starowitz: “There’s good and there’s bad.”
One of the less-favorable reactions was voiced by Leon Watson, a retired longtime member of the fire department who believes that these changes are “driving people away.”
“I think they’re going to lose a bundle on this,” Watson said. “There’s no place to park, and it’s a hazard with two roads coming together right there. I’d like to see them move it back to the park."
Watson, who belonged to the fire department for “about 60 years,” has been attending Onion festivals since he was a small boy and the festival was held at the Four Corners in Elba. Shortly after the birth of “Field Day” in 1937, it was moved to the village park due to a lack of space at the Four Corners, and has been there ever since.
“We get a lot of graduates who come back just for the Onion Festival,” he said. “They like it at the park. There’s space and there’s shade.”
So has the Onion Festival found a new permanent home at the rec hall, or will it return to the park in 2013? Hynes says it’s too early to tell:
“There will be a vote of the department. We’ll just see what happens.”