July 17, 2019
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Street Kings

For the full Fall Festival feature, pick up a copy of the September/October 2015 issue. Aerial photo by Jerry Butts.

As fall arrives in the Tri-state, the city buzzes with anticipation for the annual West Side Nut Club’s Fall Festival held this year Oct. 5-10 on Franklin Street. For the Nut Clubbers themselves, it’s time to watch the hard work and preparation come to fruition.

“We are amateurs putting on a professional event,” says Dennis Nettles, the 2015 Fall Festival publicity chairman and cemetery superintendent for Alexander Memorial Park Cemetery in Evansville. “I can tell you we’re already working on stuff for next year’s festival. That’s just kind of how it goes.”

The history of the West Side Nut Club dates back to 1921, when a group of 11 businessmen and merchants on Evansville’s West Side decided to form an organization to rally for the interests of their side of town. Their motto became “From small acorns, large oaks grow.”

“There was a grocer all the way to a doctor and a lawyer,” says Jeremy Melton, who is this year’s Final Clean Up chairman and works as a purchasing manager at Countrymark Refining and Logistics in Mount Vernon, Indiana. “They were already a melting pot when it started and really it’s stayed that way.”

Above, Rick Decker, Bill Evans (past Nut Club president), and Tim Mitsdarffer. Below, Dennis Nettles, 2015 Fall Fest Publicity Chairman.

Today, the club has 300 active members and around 75 lifetime members. Lifetime members are those who have been a part of the club for 25 years or more, says Melton. All active members serve on one of the 30-plus committees the club organizes to run the festival. Lifetime members are not required to volunteer, but Nettles says they still devote time to the festival.

“We couldn’t do a lot of stuff without those guys who come back and help as well,” he says.

Nettles explains the committees have a chairman, a co-chairman, and a second co-chairman. This method allows the co-chairmen to learn and prepare for when they will be chairman of the committee; the co-chairman will become chairman the next year and the second co-chairman will become chairman in two years.

“The great thing is this just comes together. It’s like organized chaos; it rolls and it goes,” says Nettles.

This year marks the club’s 94th festival; Nettles and Melton credit the longevity of the event to those who came before them.

“We don’t have it down to a science, all the people before us in the 93 years we’ve been doing this, they’re the ones,” says Melton. “We don’t reinvent the wheel each year because it’s already been done. You just try to come in and do just as good of a job as the person before you.”

Follow the Hats

By Bradie Gray • Photo by Heather Gray

West Side Nut Club members are notorious for their straw cowboy hats. Some are filled to the brim — literally — with buttons, ties, and anything that represents the Nut Club or that specific “Nut Clubber.” They can be seen all over the 94th annual Fall Festival, but where did they come from?

“The straw hats date back to the earliest festivals during the pioneer days. It just stuck since then and has become kind of a staple,” says 13-year West Side Nut Club member and Publicity Chairman Dennis Nettles.

Every year, members receive a new bolo tie for their participation in the Fall Festival — most can be seen layered on the straw hats.

“(The hats) also are a way for people to identify a Nut Clubber if there’s a situation, a problem, or if they’re lost,” says Nettles.

The hats assist with the Fall Festival’s “Find-A-Parent” program located on 11th and Franklin Street. Modeled after a system in place by Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana, the program was introduced in 2003. The Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office created the wristband plan for parents and guardians along with their children.

“The program is free,” says Nettles. “We give the kids a bracelet and put the parents’ names and phone numbers on the inside of it. If they get lost, they can find a sheriff or someone with a Nut Club hat on. We all know what to do in that situation.”

“I recommend that if you have children, make the ‘Find-A-Parent’ booth the first place you go when you get to the festival,” he says.

Booth Boost

Fall Festival serves as biggest fundraiser of the year for Cynthia Heights
By Emily Patton • Photos provided by the Cynthia Heights PTA

Below, the Donut Bank Sausage Slider, which can be found at the Cynthia Heights booth No. 76. 

The first full week in October is circled in pen on calendars throughout the Tri-State. The West Side Nut Club Fall Festival is a can’t-miss for the 200,000 attendees. It’s also an event that vendors anticipate possibly even more than those of us craving corn fritters and elephant ears.

Booth No. 76 Cynthia Heights Elementary School Parent Teacher Association, known for its Donut Bank Sausage Slider, a glazed donut with sausage, bacon, and cheese, and Fudge Puppies, a Belgian waffle on a stick dipped in chocolate syrup and whipped cream, earned about $12,000 in profit last year from the week alone. The festival is the organization’s “biggest fundraiser for the whole year,” says PTA member Michelle Hogan.

“Without it, there would be a lot we couldn’t do,” says Hogan, who lives in Evansville. The booth, which sits near St. Joseph Avenue, has been a staple at the festival for the last 16 years.

The proceeds from the Fall Festival help fund Cynthia Heights Elementary School’s events including its annual Celebration of Reading, a program that rewards children for reading as much as they can throughout the school year, and Passport Family Night, which allows the children to “visit” different countries by touring different restaurants in the area and learning about the culture.

“We also use that money to fund a scholarship for needy kids in our school,” says PTA Treasurer Kellie Clodfelter. “If they can’t get a graduation dress or they can’t pay for their fifth grade field trip, we have that money. We also buy Christmas presents for Secret Santa kids whose names weren’t drawn off the tree.”

The proceeds also helped pay for a walking track at Cynthia Heights, making it one of the few Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. elementary schools with a walking track.

“We couldn’t have built it without the Fall Festival,” says Clodfelter, also of Evansville.

The PTA uses 15 to 20 volunteers a day and breaks up the shifts into a few hours at a time. Last year, Cynthia Heights sold cotton candy, but a new product will be offered instead this year because of the manpower it requires making the fluffy candy treat.

Try the booth’s Grippos Flavored Popcorn and pair it with a Ski, a new combo at this year’s festival. Unlike many booths, Cynthia Heights accepts credit and debit cards.

“When we go to conferences for PTA, everyone’s just astounded by what we’re able to accomplish through this fundraiser,” says Clodfelter. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of satisfaction.”

For more information about Cynthia Heights Elementary School, call 812-435-8740 or visit edlinesites.net/pages/Cynthia_Heights_Elementary_Sch.


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