The more carefree men, women, and children waved their arms wildly and tossed the blue, yellow, and pink cornstarch into the air. Others just stood and laughed as they were doused with a sudden rainbow of colors. It was 8 a.m. on Saturday, April 20, 2013 — also known as Earth Day — and 1,300 people were standing in a thick, scattered line near the Gerst Haus, waiting for the first annual Franklin Street Color Me Fun 5K Run to begin.
Amy Word co-founded the non-profit Franklin Street Events Association with Leah Spivey, Fred Hillenbrand, and John Bugg in December 2012. While Bugg later left the organization, Word, Spivey, and Hillenbrand helped organize the Fun 5K race that had runners and walkers overtaking Franklin Street that morning. Their goal? To foster creative endeavors throughout the community and to once more position Franklin Street as a leading center for art, culture, and entertainment.
“People want something fun to have pride behind,” Word says. “The branding and the idea behind it — people have latched on to it. This truly has been a grassroots movement in every sense of the word. I think Franklin Street is who we want to become as Evansville, and who we want to be.”
So far, the organization has succeeded because of the support of Franklin Street businesses. In its first year, the Franklin Street Events Association organized and held the Mardi Gras Franklin Crawl, the Earth Day Fun Run and Art Crawl, the summer movie series, and the Halloween Zombie Pub Crawl.
What makes Franklin Street so special? Word says it’s the sense of community. “For so many of the businesses, the owners are right behind the counter when you walk in,” she says. “You get a sense of the past, and where you’ve come from. You don’t get that everywhere, you know? I think downtown Newburgh, Ind. — they have a sense of that.”
An Evansville native, Word purchased Lamasco Bar and Grill, 1331 W. Franklin St., five years ago, buying it from her aunt. “It’s been here since July 10, 1934,” she says of what she says was the first bar on Franklin Street and one of the oldest bars in the county after the end of Prohibition.
Her family has strong Evansville connections. Her mother is Sandra Vezzoso-Andrews, and her great-uncle John Vezzoso ran the Board of Public Works for many years. Her uncle Joe Vezzoso was at one time the president of the Evansville Convention and Visitors Bureau and is now the general manager of the French Lick Casino and Hotel. Her grandfather, Joe Vezzoso Sr., owned Allied Steel, a large Midwest construction company that was located on Franklin Street in the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s. “So I have some of my own personal history on Franklin,” she says. “And then, being able to see what an iconic street it is in town, I had a vision for it, as well.”
The Franklin Street Events Association has garnered such community buzz that Word says more events are scheduled in the future. A large gumbo cook-off is planned on Feb. 22. For $10 per ticket, participants can sample all the gumbos, she says, and all proceeds will benefit non-profits. Tickets are for sale at businesses on Franklin Street.
The next Mardi Gras Franklin Crawl will take place on Feb. 28. On March 1, the Franklin Street Events Association will have its first-ever grand parade at 4 p.m. from the Wabash Avenue of Flags to St. Joseph Avenue. It will follow the exact same route as the West Side Nut Club Festival Parade.
“The West Side Nut Club has been such a great group to model after, in some ways,” Word says. “I love that concept of putting private and public enterprises together for the benefit of everybody.”
More volunteers are needed to help make these events a success. “Sometimes, plugging in and helping in your community is the greatest thing you can do,” she says. “It is hard to preach it if you haven’t done it before.”
For more information about the Franklin Street Events Association, visit its Facebook page.