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Only Oswego

Letter: PrairieFest Celebrates the Spirit of Oswego

May 28, 2015 02:00PM ● By Steven Jack

Photo courtesy of the PrairieFest Facebook page

This Spring, I spent some time explaining PrairieFest to a national television network. 

In their terms, the unique selling proposition is that PrairieFest is a community event. It’s more than marketing gobblygook to me. It’s the pure truth at the heart of next month’s big weekend, June 18-21.

PrairieFest celebrates the spirit of our community and shares all that with the outside world for four days. In the middle of ferris wheels and funnel cakes, parades, and petting zoos, we still use those four days to show who we are. 

We are civic-minded and strong-hearted, engaged, and present. We are parents, children, friends, and neighbors, and co-workers.  And we are together. With blood drives, corn roasts, duck races, parade food drives, and pet rescues, much of our celebration still showcases how we care for one another.

In July I am going to be sending out a lot of Thank You letters to the hundreds of people who put on PrairieFest. But before the Tilt A Whirl even begins to spin, I want to send my sincere appreciation to this community.

I love this village. I didn’t grow up here. While other schools claim me as an alum, I have been rooting for Panthers and Wolves for years now. It’s hard not too these days. I coached some of those soccer players back when their shin guards went past their knees, and goals were hard to come by, even without a goalie. 

I cheered so many of them on when they were picking daisies on the ball fields. Now I am proudly raising my own Panther, and I have a soft, loyal heart for the Wolves too.  Oswego is my hometown in the same way the players answered in the 1980 Olympics Hockey movie, Miracle on Ice. Who do I play for? Oswego.

I have been watching Oswego grow along with my children. I am entertained, charmed, and proud. I see the growing pains. I hear so much passion from our citizens. Channeling that into effort and energy, this town is headed in a great direction.

My first job at PrairieFest was coordinating the volunteers. Year after year I have been so impressed with how many people contribute. Hundreds of adults, teens, and children give three hours to help host the community festival. 

They pick up trash, drive courtesy shuttles for their fellow citizens, raise money for their community groups, find homes for pets, and that is just a small window at PrairieFest Saturday. 

Volunteers  open the festival when they welcome families to Me Too@PrairieFest and they guide runners on Father’s Day, PrairieFest’s last day. Those days of summer fun are surrounded by folks making sure it happens for their friends, family, and classmates. 

People show up and help out in this village all year long. Every October we fill over 100 volunteer spots with 13 – 18 year olds for the younger kid’s at Monster Mash Bash. Whether it is coaching youth sports every season or stopping by Culvers to support a fundraiser on a weekday night, citizens in this area find a place to make this community stronger.

Like my children, sometimes I worry. Then I remember we aren’t defined by online comments or the police reports, we are better represented by those volunteers. We are more accurately characterized by groups like the Rotary Club, the Optimist Club, the Junior Women’s Club of Oswego, and the Oswego Senior Center.  

We are the Home and School Associations, and the Boosters. We are the hard work of the Eco Commission, and busy enthusiasm of the Chamber of Commerce. We are the Oswego Police Officers who will spend this Friday on the roof at Dunkin’ Donuts to raise money for Special Olympics. We are the Crosstown Challenge, the Memorial Day Parade and the Christmas Walk. From Inspiring Women of Oswego to Celebrate Differences, we support each other. That is who we are.

28 years ago, the community selected the name PrairieFest in homage to our beginnings.  This land was once 90% open prairie.  The town was the land of Pottawatomie Americans, and encompassed the northern tip of the Grand Prairie of Illinois. Prairies are unique in all the world because you find the most diverse habitat, a resiliency in the face of harsh season change, and hearty but beautiful plants that can adapt.  These conditions create the richest soil.  That’s my hometown.

Thank you for helping the Oswegoland Park District host next month’s PrairieFest. If you are looking for a spot to help, consider seeing what shifts are still available the weekend of June 18-21 at

It is going to be a great year. We will be filmed by The Food Network, who likes PrairieFest’s unique selling proposition. My kids are excited for the Zipper. My husband wants to see how Loverboy sounds. The neighbors behind me will be at their spot roasting corn for the Optimist Club. I have coworkers ready to cheer their babies on to the finish in the Diaper Derby.  My favorite part will be seeing them, and all of you, at PrairieFest - together.

Kristie Vest, Special Events Supervisor, Oswegoland Park District