Amid the contented grumble of bellies full of fried goodies and cheers of revelers enjoying carnival rides, the West Side Nut Club’s annual Fall Festival rakes in money for local civic organizations and non-profits. Although a yearly celebration and one of the best ways Evansville sets itself apart from other cities, the festival is, at its core, a fundraiser.
Each booth — more than 100 line West Franklin Street this year — pulls out the stops to bring in funds for school uniforms, student scholarships, civic programs, building maintenance, and operational costs. For many groups, their Fall Festival booth is their largest annual fundraiser — for some, profits are so good that it’s their only fundraiser — and in 2021, local organizations are looking forward to making up for a year’s worth of budget woes related to COVID-19 closures and cancellations.
The groups’ funding recipients are as unique as their menus. Evansville Living interviewed five set up at this year’s Fall Festival and found out what their proceeds are planned for.
Perry Heights Middle School Parent Teacher Student Association
Across Franklin Street from the Fall Festival’s myriad of spinning, twisting carnival rides, Holly Wildt hands over a crisply grilled sandwich with American cheese and Texas toast crusted in flaky barbecue Grippos. It’s a new concoction for the Perry Heights Middle School Parent Teacher Student Association’s largest annual fundraiser. The PTSA uses the proceeds to add to and maintain the school’s playground equipment, sponsor student dances, and provide monthly lunches for staff.
Extensive water damage was discovered in the school in June 2021, necessitating emergency replacement of the booth’s roof and ceiling. Wildt, the PTSA’s president, says other repairs and improvements are on the docket.
“This year, we’re raising money to make our booth better,” she says.
Wildt says Perry Heights’ PTSA has had a booth at the Fall Festival for about 25 years. With this year’s new crop of volunteers comes a revamped festival menu. Instead of chowing down on Aloha balls and Hawaiian sandwiches, visitors to Booth #9 are now treated to caramel apple cider slushies, push pops from 3 Chicks Fudgery, and those savory grilled cheeses — 352 were sold this year on Day 1 alone.
Twin Towers, Inc.
For civic organization Twin Towers, proceeds from the Fall Festival are vital to keeping the private family club going and a fundraiser that the club has relied on for around 40 years.
“We have no employees, no equipment. This money helps us keep the electricity on, the water paid, and the doors open,” says treasurer and director John Schiff. “Everything we make goes back into the club.”
Members have access to the group’s private facilities, including a banquet hall and 13 acres of outdoor space. Festival funds help maintain the building and grounds, including the club’s playground.
“It takes a lot to keep a club open,” Schiff says. “It takes money to do that, and (membership) dues are not enough.”
Its booth at the Fall Festival — which offers dry dumplings, hot grilled ham and cheese, hot dogs, and more — is the biggest annual fundraiser for Twin Towers, which gets its name from the spires atop nearby St. Boniface Catholic Church.
West Terrace Elementary School Booster Club
Since the 1990s, the West Terrace Elementary School’s booster club has banked on the Fall Festival to bring in bucks for the school’s baseball and softball programs.
This year, the “West Cider Kings” have a total of around 85 people volunteering to sell the group’s strombolis, “super” dogs, and apple and cherry cider.
Its Fall Festival booth is the West Terrace booster club’s only fundraiser, netting the group an average annual profit between $12,000 and $15,000.
“We rely heavily on this,” says Chris Logan, the booster club’s president. “Not having (income from the Fall Festival) last year made it really hard on us. We were watching every penny.”
Sigma Tau Gamma, University of Southern Indiana
To aid its philanthropic efforts, members of the University of Southern Indiana’s Sigma Tau Gamma have perched at the Fall Festival for longer than many of the fraternity’s current members have been alive.
The group’s booth benefits the Indiana Special Olympics. Sigma Tau volunteers participate in the annual Polar Plunge and man their booth at the Fall Festival to raise funds.
Aside from selling filling fair food, the booth has a stationary bicycle parked beside it on Franklin Street. As Fall Festival revelers walk by (and likely gawk a bit), a fraternity member pedals away, encouraging passersby to chip money into a plastic bucket hanging off one of the bicycle’s handlebars.
“For every $1 donated, we ride one mile,” says member Cade Prechtel. Monday’s bike fundraiser brought in about $300 dollars, and “all those donations go straight to the Special Olympics,” says Prechtel.
Tuesday morning, member Trent Zimmerman had ridden six miles in less than a half hour, and he grinned as I added another dollar — and another mile — to Sigma Tau’s cause.
Reitz Memorial High School Wrestling Program
Parking lot on the southeast corner of Michigan and 11th streets
Not every organization is raising funds by serving tasty treats and slinging slushies. Some, like the Reitz Memorial High School wrestling program, are selling a valuable Fall Festival commodity: priority parking.
For a few dollars per spot, volunteer Bret McBride says visitors can keep their vehicles close to the action on Franklin Street, rather than schlepping several blocks to and from street parking.
“It’s close, for one thing,” he says. “After walking down the festival and back, you don’t want to have to walk far back to your car.”
Besides the convenience, paying for parking benefits the wrestling program’s booth by bringing in funds for supplies, equipment, uniforms, and other needs.
This year is the wrestling program’s first time raising money at the Fall Festival, and its parking spot sales are the group’s only fundraiser this year. Organizers don’t have any particular financial goal in mind for this week, emphasizing that every dollar helps.
“We’re happy to get whatever we get,” McBride says.