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Onion Festival

Elba Volunteer Fire Department exploring money-making options, but Onion Festival is history

By Billie Owens

The nearly 80-year-old Onion Festival held in Elba every summer is already just a memory.

Proceeds from it helped pay for Elba's fire equipment and supplies. Now what?

"We are going to look at other money-making options," said Elba Fire Department President Ken Miller this morning. "But without rides, without a car raffle, can you call it the Onion Festival? We haven't decided 100 percent what we're going to do, what we can do. But the festival is done."

What, if anything, will take place there in mid-August has yet to be decided. Miller said the board of directors for the all-volunteer fire company will meet and discuss the situation in a couple of weeks.

More and more, ride operators are skipping the small-town events that last a couple days, like the one in Elba, and sticking with bigger venues where they can turn a profit after they pay for insurance, wages and others costs of doing business. The result for places like Elba is fewer attendees -- not enough to buy tickets, only sold locally, to raffle off a new car.

Other little fire companies are facing similar circumstances.

Assemblyman Steve Hawley has introduced legislation to allow charitable organizations holding raffles to accept checks and credit cards and to allow them to advertise raffle tickets online, thereby boosting sales and reaching more people. Hawley is also going to introduce a constitutional amendment to allow nonprofit organizations more fundraising flexibility.

No rides, no Mustang raffle for this year's Onion Festival in Elba

By Billie Owens

Lean times may lie ahead for the Elba Fire Department. It's biggest fundraiser of the year -- the Elba Onion Festival -- will not feature rides this year, nor will there be a raffle for a shiny new Ford Mustang.

Whatever other money-making options might be employed for the all-volunteer fire company will be discussed at its next meeting in two weeks. But the Onion Festival will still take place in mid-August, just as it has for the past 79 years. 

The decision not to have rides is actually the result of not being able to secure a company to provide them, said Elba Fire Department President Ken Miller.

"It comes down to money," he said. "The ride companies don't want to go to small-town events. Ours is just Friday and Saturday. After they get insurance and pay wages, there's not enough money in it for them."

Miller said the trend is hurting fundraising efforts for small, volunteer fire companies -- two or three in Monroe County have cancelled fundraisers featuring rides this year.

For at least the last 50 years, Elba has raffled off a car at the Onion Festival. They only sell tickets in Genesee County.

Elba not having a Mustang raffle in 2016 is the result of a trickle-down effect: No rides, fewer people, not enough money to buy the car.

It has nothing to do with Stafford Volunteer Fire Company, which had this year's Corvette raffle suspended by the State Gaming Commission because it had online raffle tickets ads posted last year in violation of the rules. (Refunds are being issued to Stafford raffle ticket buyers.)

Proceeds from the Onion Festival help pay for Elba's fire equipment and supplies.

"It hurts," Miller said. "It's a huge community deal. People come from all over. It's like a big family picnic. But things change."

Meanwhile, Assemblyman Steve Hawley is co-sponsoring two bills which would allow charitable organizations holding raffles to accept checks and credit cards and to allow them to advertise raffle tickets online, thereby boosting sales and reaching more people. Hawley said he will also be introducing a constitutional amendment to allow nonprofit organizations more latitude in their fundraising efforts.

Elba Fire Department's 79th Annual Onion Festival starts at 5 today

By Billie Owens

The 79th Annual Elba Fire Department Onion Festival starts this afternoon! Grounds open at 5 o'clock. The Firemen's Parade begins at 7.

There will be roast beef on weck available from the Ladies Auxiliary inside the Rec Hall at  6 p.m. and Buffalo Amusements will be providing rides from 7 to 11.

At 9 o'clock the band Blood Money performs inside the Beer Tent.

Take advantage of the chance to win a 2015 Ford Mustang or $20,000 cash, courtesy of Orleans Ford.

On Saturday, the fun continues will the Kiddie Parade, starting at noon in front of Dan's Pizza. Afterward, there will be a Kids' Tractor Pull at the Memorial Statue, and more beef on weck available from the Ladies' Auxiliary.

Also Saturday:

  • 1 to 5 p.m. -- Ride Specials
  • 4 p.m. -- Chicken BBQ inside the Rec Hall
  • 6 to 10 p.m. -- Ride Specials
  • 6 p.m. -- Mac & Company perform in the Beer Tent
  • 7 p.m. -- ***CROWNING OF THE ONION QUEEN*** -- by the Memorial Statue in front
  • 9 p.m. -- Savage Cabbage performs in the Beer Tent
  • 11 p.m. -- Grand Prize winner announced -- choice of 2015 Ford Mustang or $20,000 cash

Elba Onion Queen crowned

By Julia Ferrini

The 78th Elba Onion Queen, Alexandra Lacey, was crowned Saturday at the Elba Onion Festival grounds, among family, friends and community members. The Elba High School Senior’s college plans include a study in Social Work with a minor in Special Education. Lacey has narrowed down her college of choice to three: Houghton, Fredonia or Niagara University.

First runner-up went to Haley Brown. This high school senior will be going to college for a business major and is looking into St. John Fischer.

Second runner-up went to Jennifer Pedro, also a Senior at Elba. Her college plans include counseling or social work.

Elba Onion Festival celebrates 78 years

By Julia Ferrini

The 78th Elba Onion Festival kicked off Friday with the opening of the carnival and evening parade. The festival is one of the largest fundraisers for the Elba Fire Department.

Just up the road a bit from the festival is the Elba Muckland; there, red, white and yellow onions grow, which gives the festival its name. 

One bit of trivia: Onions are one of the largest vegetable crops in the United States.

The festival continues throughout the day today.

Mark your calendar for Elba's Onion Festival Aug. 8 and 9

By Billie Owens

The annual Onion Festival will be on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 8th and 9th at the Elba Firemen's Rec Hall, located at 7143 Oak Orchard Road. Lots of food, fun, friends and music. Bring the whole family to Elba's biggest event of the year!

Friday's hours are 5 p.m. 'til 2 a.m. and the main parade starts at 7 p.m. The parade route will be starting on West Avenue going south down Route 98 and ending at the Elba Rec Hall.

Saturday's festivities start at noon with the Kiddie Parade, and also end at 2 a.m. The Kiddie Parade begins at the corner of Ford Road and Route 98 and goes to the rec hall. All kids are welcome to attend. They can walk, ride a bike, drive a battery-operated four-wheeler or Jeep or whatever it may be, or be pulled in a wagon by mom or dad.

The crowning of the Onion Queen will be at 7 p.m. Saturday.

The drawing of the 2014 Ford Mustang (Courtesy of Orleans Ford), or $20,000 cash, will be at 11 p.m. on Saturday.

There will be ride specials both Friday night (7-11) and Saturday (1-5).

Savage Cabbage will be playing in the beer tent from 9 p.m. 'til 1 a.m. on Friday night.

Then Mac and Company will be playing in the beer tent from on Saturday starting at 6 p.m. and later, from 9 p.m. 'til 1 a.m., the Mercury Blues Band performs.


Photos: Elba Onion Queen crowned

By Howard B. Owens

Kayla Casper, center, is the new Elba Onion Queen. She's joined by her court, Joyce Tristan and Katie Horton.

To purchase prints of these photos, click here.

Photos: Elba Onion Festival Parade 2013

By Howard B. Owens

The 77th Elba Onion Festival kicked off Friday evening with the big opening event being the annual parade.

Here's tomorrow's list of events for the festival:

  • 12Noon - Kiddie Parade (starting at Dan's Pizza)
  • 12Noon - Kiddie Tractor Pull (by Memorial Statue in front)
  • 12Noon - Ladies Aux. Roast Beef on Weck (inside of Rec. Hall)
  • 1:00pm - Ride Special Main Events
  • 5:00pm - Chicken Barbeque (inside the Rec. Hall)
  • 6:00pm - Mac & Company (in the beer tent)
  • 7:00pm - Crowning of the Onion Queen (by Memorial Statue in front)
  • 9:00pm - Black Widow (in the beer tent)
  • Midnight - Award winners of grand prize!
    Choice of 2013 Ford Mustang or $20,000 Cash!

To purchase prints of photos, click here.

Elba tweeks tradition with move of Onion Festival to Firemen's rec hall

By Gretel Kauffman

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.”

Photos: Elba Onion Festival

By Howard B. Owens

The sun was out and the humidity down, making for perfect weather conditions at the Elba Onion Festival. Hundreds of people were there by mid-afternoon. Several people mentioned to me how much they especially enjoy the Onion Festival. I saw people there from all over Genesee County and met one family from Erie County who said they come to the festival every year.

More pictures after the jump:

Float in Elba Onion Festival parade gives a 'FIRST' look at LEGO League

By Daniel Crofts

Elba resident Chantal Zambito and her family will be parading through Elba this weekend at the Elba Onion Festival. Their vehicle: a LEGO float promoting the town's FIRST LEGO League team.

FIRST ("For Inspiration and Recognition in Science & Technology") LEGO League is an international organization that partners with experts in the fields of science and technology to get kids ages 9 to 14 involved in working with robotics and engineering.

The float will showcase robots made by the kids in Elba's FIRST team, which Zambito coaches along with Evelyn Hunt. These 'bots are connected with very simple tools and can be made to move by being hooked up to laptop computers.

Zambito says her goal is not only to promote Elba's team, but also to encourage other kids to join the leagues and form their own teams -- which can be associated with towns, local organizations, etc.

Zambito has been working closely with Genesee County communities and school districts for this purpose.

"Right now I think there are only three teams in Genesee County," she said. "I'd like to see at least six to eight teams -- that way we'll have enough teams that we can build a Genesee County Region section for the leagues."

At this time, Genesee County teams need to go to Monroe County -- which has 72 teams -- in order to compete.

"I hope to change that," Zambito said.

Zambito has been in talks with technology personnel at GCC, and they are very interested in doing this in conjunction with their Tech Wars program for high schoolers.

Each year, a different challenge is issued to the teams in terms of building their robots. This year's challenge is called "Body Forward" and will have the kids exploring the world of biomedical engineering.

Zambito and her family will be handing out informational brochures as the float passes along the parade. These brochures will include contact information.

The LEGO float will be featured in Friday night's parade -- which starts around 7 p.m. at Oak Orchard Road and lasts until about 8:30. It will also be in Saturday's "Kiddie Parade," which starts at noon on Maple Avenue and lasts about a half-hour.

Photos submitted by Chantal Zambito

Williamsville woman wins Mustang raffle

By Gretel Kauffman

Nancy Crane of Williamsville was the lucky winner of this year's Elba Volunteer Fire Department's annual Mustang raffle. Crane chose the $18,000 cash prize over the car. 

Approximately $8,000 was raised in ticket sales, with all profit going to the fire department.

Onion Festival celebrates new and old traditions

By Gretel Kauffman

The first Onion Festival, also known as Field Day, was on Saturday, Aug. 14, 1937.  Almost 5,000 people gathered at the Four Corners (Main, Chapel and Mechanic streets) to take part in the parade and other festivities such as bicycle races, dancing, tire-racing, water fights and a pie-eating contest.

Barbie Ognibene, who is the chairman of the festival, says that it was originally planned to celebrate the harvest.

"The farmers wanted everyone to get together for harvest time, when they were all harvesting their crops," says Ognibene, who has been involved in the planning of the festival for 21 years.

Today, the two-day event is held at the Elba Park, and most of the original activities, such as rolling-pin throwing and the soap-box derby, have been replaced by carnival rides and games.

However, many of the old traditions, such as the crowning of the Onion Queen and the Elba Volunteer Fire Department’s car raffle, still remain, and of course the "onion spirit" is still alive. Onion soup, rings, and petals will be available, as well as bags of Elba onions. The parade, another beloved tradition, will kick off the festivities at 7 p.m. on Friday.

Ognibene says that to many native Elbans, the Onion Festival is more than just a carnival:

“A lot of people plan their vacations around this weekend. There's going to be a high school class reunion, two weddings and several family reunions."

Ognibene says that although all the profit from the festival goes to the Volunteer Fire Department, the event is really more about keeping a fun tradition alive than fundraising. 

"It's really more of a service act," she says. "The fire department gets one-hundred percent of the profits, and that's put towards serving the community."

Win money or Mustang

By Gretel Kauffman

The Onion Festival in Elba is this Friday and Saturday, and along with the rides and all things onions comes the chance to win a 2009 Mustang (pictured above) or $18,000, courtesy of the Elba Fire Department.

The winning ticket will be drawn Saturday night at the festival, and the winner will have the choice of the car or money. Tickets are $1.

Art lovers will also have their chance to get lucky, with the Republican Party raffling off an original painting by Bernice Yunker. Tickets are $1 each, or 3 for $2, or 15 for $10. They can be purchased from the Republican booth at the festival.  


News roundup: A queen, a rodeo, a barbecue and a birthday

By Philip Anselmo

There was no lack of entertainment in Genesee County this past weekend. And it seems that Daily News reporter Roger Muehlig got a little taste of it all. Muehlig was in Attica Sunday for the 51st annual Attica Rodeo that drew more than 7,000 spectators over the weekend. Says Waterport resident Carl Miller of the rodeo: "We like it."

Muehlig was also at the Elba Onion Festival Saturday for the crowning of the Onion Queen. Seventeen-year-old Nicole Heffle received the honor. "It's always (been) like my dream to be Onion Queen," she said.

As if those two grand events weren't enough for one tireless reporter, Muehlig got over to the Toys for Kids chicken barbecue fundraiser Saturday outside T-Shirts Inc.'s new location at 438 East Main St. All proceeds from the barbecue will benefit Don Carroll's Toys for Kids campaign for Christmas.

I hope Muehlig is home taking a day off today.

The one place Muehlig wasn't to be found this weekend was at the town of Murray's bicentennial celebration. No matter, Tom Rivers was on hand to cover the festivities that culminated in a bocce tournament Sunday.

For more on these and other stories, pick up a copy of the Daily News. Or, better yet, subscribe at

Photo Journal: Elba Onion Festival

By Philip Anselmo

Thanks again to Steve Ognibene for getting us some great photos of a local event. This time, Steve was at the opening night parade for the Elba Onion Festival. Seen in the first picture (below) is Steven Bezon with his two children, Leah and Ashton.

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