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Evansville
Sunday, October 2, 2022

Street Kings

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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Hot Spot

All good things must come with a wait.
By Emily Patton

During the 94th Annual West Side Nut Club Fall Festival on Franklin Street, 136 vendors will participate in booths selling delicious treats (some healthy, most not) for the Evansville community. While these organizations, nearly all charities, prepare for the festival, 80 to 100 organizations bide their time on the vendor waiting list. What makes the festival so desirable?

“I’ve been in for 13 years, and I’ve seen it go for years without adding a single booth to it. It’s so profitable for these booths — the only reason booths are leaving is because they’re having trouble getting the manpower to work it,” says Dennis Nettles, publicity chairman with the West Side Nut Club.

The fall festival added three booths this year, he says. Any new booths are required to be not-for-profit. In order to secure a spot on the waiting list, an organization must contact the West Side Nut Club through its website. The selection goes before a committee that judges which booth will be added, if space is available.

“We don’t necessarily put organizations on in the order we receive the request. We do that for a reason,” says Nettles.

“We look at the booth that’s going to come in. How are they going to benefit? Is this their only source of income? Food banks, or something like that, are going to take precedence. We just choose what we feel would fit best for our community and our street. That’s our goal — to help as many nonprofits as we can.”

There isn’t an expiration date regarding how long a booth will stay in the fall festival. “Once you’re in, you’re in,” says Nettles, who indicates with the number of booths and
little room to expand they are “about maxed out.”

Trash Talk

Final Clean Up Committee performs the dirty work
By Ian Heslinger • Photos provided by the West Side Nut Club

As we’re enjoying deep-fried Oreos and juicy tenderloins each night at the West Side Nut Club Fall Festival, clean up crews are waiting in the wings.

The club has two separate committees to handle this duty — Nightly Clean Up and Final Clean Up. The nightly team hauls away trash twice a day and cleans the streets every night. Final Clean Up is in charge of removing every booth and ride during an intense cleaning session on Sunday after the festival in order to make Franklin Street look like it did before the festivities.

“It takes us two days, Saturday and Sunday, to set up the festival, and we put it away in six hours,” says Jeremy Melton, this year’s Final Clean Up chairman. They start around 7 a.m. and finish in the early afternoon. “(The committee members) have done the same thing every year, over and over. They either run a blower, wash picnic tables, clean the storefronts, or gather trash. They were doing this before we were alive.”

Final Clean Up wouldn’t be able to do its job without help from other organizations, including those with booths at the festival. West Side high school football teams and Boy Scout troops have helped for years, and the Girl Scouts joined the fray this year. The club relies on those organizations to help clean the surrounding areas. They collect trash on the four blocks north from Franklin Street, south to and along the Lloyd Expressway, east to Fulton Avenue, and west to Pierre Funeral Home at 2601 W. Franklin St.

All committees clean their respective sections, making the process a little easier. Everyone gets involved — they search for trash in people’s yards, down alleys, and anywhere that comes to mind. “We throw away close to 50 tons of trash every year, and that’s what we know by the number of dumpsters we fill up and throw away,” says Melton. “We can’t even calculate what goes away in the trash truck, which comes twice a day for six days.”

The clean up crew also scrubs the windows of the businesses on Franklin Street and wipes the sidewalks with soap. After maximizing space for the number of booths, members put park benches and other items back where they originally sat. The crew plants new foliage in the area as well. Whatever is needed, the clean up crews get it done.

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Can’t Miss Events

Special Kids Day

With the help of Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. schools, children with special needs are transported to Franklin Street to enjoy the festival before it opens. Running from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, children have the opportunity to enjoy their favorite rides, games, and foods at no cost to them or their families. This event started in 1990, making this year its 25th anniversary. Nettles says roughly 300-350 kids are present, creating an unforgettable memory for everyone involved.

Lighthouse Parade

The Nut Club celebrates the 30th year of the Lighthouse Parade on Monday night after recreating a 1920s classic in 1985. Approximately 100 lighthouse floats are designed and built by children out of anything from wood to paper mache. They pull their creations down Franklin Street, starting at Old National Bank, on wagons and skateboards. The kids form the line around 5:45 p.m., the floats are judged at 6 p.m., and the parade begins at 7 p.m.

Amateur Hour

The West Side Nut Club Fall Festival hosts Amateur Hour every night. Some of the most talented young individuals from the Tri-State area perform their favorite songs, dances, and other acts. More than 100 performances were judged at Mater Dei High School prior to the festival; several competitors advance to compete throughout the week, and champions will be crowned Friday on the main stage. There’s not a better place you can attend for free entertainment.


Practical Pointers

For Fall Festival novices, or for those who want the smoothest experience on Franklin Street (despite the likelihood you still will get bumped into while eating a Pronto Pup), the West Side Nut Club offers these tips to maximize your experience.

Print a Munchie Map from nutclub.org and plan your route ahead of time. This will allow you to make it to your favorite booths in an efficient manner to satisfy all your cravings and still have time for rides.

Wear comfortable shoes to beat your friends to every booth.

Families with young children should locate the “Find-A-Parent” program upon first arriving. The Evansville Vanderburgh Sheriff’s Office provides bracelets to parents and children to help locate them if they’re lost.

Service animals always are welcome, but leave all other pets at home. You wouldn’t want leftover chocolate on the street to ruin a perfect evening.

With so many people coming and going, finding a premier parking space never is a guarantee. Allot plenty of time to park and walk to the festival so that your day doesn’t get cut short.

If it’s a rainy day at the Fall Festival, don’t worry, the event continues regardless of the amount of precipitation. Leave the umbrella at home and choose to wear a poncho or hooded coat. You’ll need both hands to better sample mass amounts.

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