By Conrad Dudderar
A spring tradition, Yukon’s family fun festival that celebrates all things children returns Saturday to a park near you.
Now in its 25th year, the City of Yukon’s Festival of the Child will be presented from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 1 at Yukon City Park, 2200 S Holly.
The outdoor celebration features more than 50 “areas of fun” presented by Yukon Parks & Recreation and 40-plus local organizations. Activities are geared toward children from toddler to 12 years.
“We’ve come a long way since 1996,” said longtime Yukon Parks & Recreation employee Joanne Oltmanns.
Oltmanns would know.
She’s the one who kick-started Yukon’s epic celebration of children 25 years ago.
“It started in October 1996,” OItmanns said. “I wanted to provide something special for the children of the community with lots of activities.
“A day where they could come out and just ‘be kids’. A day to celebrate our children.”
There was no budget to present that first festival, which began modestly with a handful of activities on the small hill beside the Yukon Community Center.
“That first year, attendance was about 500 people,” Oltmanns shared. “We (YPR staff) had to man most of the stations, with help from Children’s New World. They’ve been part of it from the beginning.”
There was a wood art station, storytelling, painting station, dirt pudding-making, drama/dress-up stage, and crafts.
“The kids got to make peanut-butter bird feeders and masks with feathers,” Oltmanns recalled.
Bracelets, $3 each, allowed children to enjoy all activities offered.
For the Festival of the Child’s second year, Oltmanns had a small budget and was able to add more activities with participation from several churches and groups.
Additions for 1997 included flower potting, hand-print shirts, pony rides, wood cut-out photo stations, and more entertainers.
That year, the Festival of the Child was moved to its traditional first-Saturday-in May date.
As the years passed, more activities were added – like a petting zoo, inflatables, fishing, book walk, miniature golf, and the Express Clydesdales. Snow cones and hot dogs were the first concessions.
“Each year, it grew a little more,” Oltmanns said. “We kept expanding.”
Other sponsors and volunteers joined YPR staff to present the popular spring event, making the day memorable for all children.
Oltmanns coordinated Yukon’s Festival of the Child through 2005, when she retired. She returned in May 2006 to help Jason Beal, who was festival coordinator through 2015.
Oltmanns later returned to work for the City of Yukon as Yukon Mobile Meals’ part-time director, a position she still holds.
FAST-FORWARD 25 YEARS
Yukon’s Festival of the Child was canceled in spring 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic but returns Saturday in all its glory.
“We missed last year,” Yukon Parks & Recreation Director Jan Scott said. “The last time we had the festival two years ago, we had about 1,000 kids plus all the parents.”
The 2021 Festival of the Child will “cover the whole city park area”, Scott added.
This is truly a day for children to shine.
The 50-plus areas of fun feature kayaking, pony rides, painting, inflatables, archery, petting zoo, stage performances, crafts and more.
Children’s New World continues as the presenting sponsor with help from several other sponsors.
Admission bracelets are $5 in advance and $7 the day of the event.
Adults are admitted free.
Scott, who has been YPR director since May 1999, has seen Yukon’s Festival of the Child become a staple of the city’s special event schedule.
“Joanne got it off the ground and made it a success,” Scott said. “It has become a tradition.”
Both Scott and Oltmanns encourage families to bring their children out May 1 to Yukon City Park.
“It’s going to be great,” Scott pledged.
Yukon Festival of the Child coordinator is Nick Rice, YPR special events supervisor; and assistant coordinator is Jessica Brodmerkel, YPR special events recreation coordinator.
“Nick and Jessica are very hard workers, very organized and pay attention to detail,” Scott said. “This is going to be a quality event.”
Many Yukon youths are ready to get out and enjoy spring, Oltmanns noted.
“It will be a nice, sunny day,” she forecasted. “Kids have been cooped up all winter and the last year has been hard on them.
“Parents can let their kids run from one event to the next, and still keep an eye on them.”
For more information on the 2021 Yukon Festival of the Child, call (405) 350-8937 or (405) 354-8442.