WADSWORTH — Thousands of people, tons of candy, a cacophony of noise and one giant match.
This is the Blue Tip Festival in Wadsworth. It is the biggest, longest-running community event in a city known for celebrating its traditions.
Margaret Hollowell and her sister, Gloria Schilling, grew up in Wadsworth, both graduating from the high school. They attend the festival nearly every year, even though Margaret moved to Illinois in the 1990s.
They’re seated, smiling and laughing, on the hillside in Woodlawn Cemetery overlooking the parade going down College Street.
“It’s just nice to come back. It’s nice that it’s still here, Hollowell said. “This town is very, very special to us and I think it’s the hominess and a bonding we have with everyone here.”
The festival, which began Tuesday, is a five-day affair held in Memorial Park, just west of downtown. It is a classic, small-town festival complete with carnival rides, concessions and games.
“It’s about the heritage I think,” Schilling said. “It’s not that there was this match company and we all love it; it’s just a part of the history of the town. I hope it never goes away because it really is so important.”
The festival has been going strong since 1973 when it was held to recognize one of the areas largest employers, the Blue Tip Match Co. Although the company pulled up stakes in the early ’80s, the city continues host the festival every year.
“Yeah, it might seem weird,” Niki Weaver said. “That company’s been gone as long as I’ve been alive.”
Weaver, 20, works at Cool Bean Cafe on the town square. She’s lived in Wadsworth her whole life and has attended the festival as long as she can remember.
Some of her favorite memories are the times spent walking in the parade with her dad or the local softball team.
“It’s a huge part of the community,” she said. “It’s a huge part of why we’re even here because the factory helped keep the city going.”
The festival starts with a parade that includes the high school marching band, local organizations, politicians, businesses and emergency responders. A 20-foot-high, Blue Tip match is then lit on the city square.
Thousands of residents attend the parade, even going so far as to reserve spots along the parade route the night before by laying out blankets or lawn chairs.
“They don’t have parades like this where I grew up anymore,” said Susan Henry, who came to Wadsworth from Ashtabula. “I’ve been coming to this one forever and that’s one of the reasons.
“They still put on this parade and the festival and people can just leave their lawn chairs on the sidewalk the night before. It just reminds me of home — the way home used to be.”
Contact reporter Seth Breedlove at (330) 721-4065 or firstname.lastname@example.org.