By Cheryl Weiss
The scent of smoking ribs, the laughter of children jumping on inflatables, and the excitement of all the sights of Summerfest filled the Oak Park Community Center parking lot and grounds on Saturday, July 29, 2017.
Everyone in attendance had at least one favorite activity, but one little girl, five year-old Leighton Stamper-Sibula, was enthralled with the monarch butterfly house in the Kidz Zone. She saw it as she arrived with her grandparents, and stayed in the butterfly house for two hours, playing with butterflies. Leighton delighted in watching them flutter and fly around her and loved it when they landed on her. She would hold one, then another, and watched the butterflies gather around the flowers. The bounce houses, craft activities, and other offerings of the day did not entice her to leave. “What a cool thing for the kids!” grandmother Michele Sibula enthused. “It’s been fun to watch them.” Leighton even learned how to tell if a monarch butterfly is male or female by looking at the dots on its wings, and she taught other kids and adults nearby. Eventually, after two hours passed, she was ready to take her grandparents’ hands and explore the rest of Summerfest.
Also in the Kidz Zone was the Bat Zone. Education Specialist Ian Ableson brought some bats and a screech owl to show attendees. One bat he held and showed the crowd was a twenty-two year old African Bat. “I never saw a bat before!” visitors exclaimed, as they moved in to get a closer look at him. Another member of the Bat Zone was Mortimer the screech owl. Mortimer is small, but full grown at about five years old. He has an eye injury, so he stays at Bat Zone, along with 200 bats, 2 skunks, a sloth, more owls, and 5 flying squirrels. Abelson explained that all the animals in the Bat Zone are unable to be released to the wild, so they are lifelong residents. They have just moved from Cranbrook to Pontiac, where they have a larger facility and can offer public tours on weekends as well as provide educational programs for libraries, schools, and events such as Summerfest.
While people were checking out the butterflies, bats, and owl, the music of DJ Soul, Reeferman, and Larry Lee and Back In the Day entertained the crowd. The family friendly Mini-Pub was nearby, with beer and wine available for adults 21 and over with identification. A food court offered barbecue, hot dogs, French fries, kabobs, sausage, lemonade, elephant ears, snow cones, and more. Cheryl Daniel came to Summerfest with her daughter and granddaughter. “It’s nice, a beautiful day for it. The band is good!” she said. Renee Grisham was also there with her grandkids, and she said her favorite part of Summerfest is the activities for her grandchildren.
Smiles were on the faces of kids and adults all day. Marie Dell of Royal Oak said, “I’m loving it!” She was invited to come to Summerfest by a friend who works for the City of Oak Park. Dell used to live in Oak Park and work in Oak Park.
Mindy Fitzgerald stopped by before getting ready for her 40th Oak Park High School reunion. She was looking forward to seeing her former Oak Park classmates in the evening, but she “wanted to see what our city has to offer at Summerfest.”
Meanwhile, back at the Kidz Zone, Brandon Bowman, Oak Park Library Director, led children in painting rocks to create pet rocks. Eliana Loomer of Oak Park was there with her two daughters, Shoshana, who was celebrating her tenth birthday, and Arielle, eight years old. Arielle’s favorite activity at Summerfest was making pet rocks. Shoshana’s favorite activity was the butterfly tent, especially because she had butterflies land on her and took nectar from her. Eliana said, “It’s fun! Every year we come and have a great time!”
Detroit Imagination Works presented two activities at Summerfest. One was a spin art activity that drew participation from kids of all ages. A large sheet of paper was taped to a turntable, and as it spun, kids poured paint on it, creating colorful spin art designs. At the table next to spin art was a sock puppet creation activity, which many children enjoyed throughout the day.
All day, the tantalizing scent of barbecued ribs filled the air. The Oakland County Parks 7th Annual BBQ Battle, with $1,500 in prizes up for grabs, began early in the morning. There were nineteen teams, from nineteen different communities. Participants set up, had the meat inspected, then got busy creating their secret recipes. The set-ups varied from traditional large grills to smokers, to a huge new smoker that a participant just got after he drove to South Carolina for it this week. Some participants were willing to share a barbecue tip with others. According to Three Dudes, “It’s all in the taste. The rub is what matters. Not too sweet, not too spicy…just right.” Carl Johnson of Up-South BBQ believes it’s all about “slow and low”.
According to Jeremy Brown, Assistant Park Superintendent of Waterford Oaks, who created the BBQ Battle, the judges base their decision on three criteria: taste, tenderness, and appearance, in that order. This year, they had a tough time determining the winner. After the scores were totaled, two teams were tied for first place; Quefella’s BBQ and Hoot’N Holler BBQ. To determine a winner, they went back to see who had the highest score for taste. Both teams were tied. Then, they looked at scores for tenderness. Again, they were tied. Finally, they looked at scores for appearance, and by a slim margin, there was a winner: Hoot ‘N Holler BBQ, , Ron Hamrick and Wendi Hamrick of Lorraine, Ohio. They were awarded $500 and a plaque. “I didn’t expect all this,” Ron said. “We came to get a break and have fun; it turned out well for us. It was a great day; we met a lot of nice people.” Hamrick has been barbecuing for many years, and his secret is “authentic, wood, slow.” Second place went to Quefella’s BBQ, and they won $400 and a plaque. The third place winner with $300 and a plaque was Hiltzy BBQ. Booman Baby Back Rib came in fourth place and received $200. Finally, Smokey Joes won fifth place and received $100.
This was the first year that Oak Park Summerfest hosted the BBQ Battle, and according to Brown, “it will stay here for a while.” He encourages even more teams to participate next year. “Come out and do the best you can, learn from the guys around you. Everyone’s family….BBQ is a unifying thing.” It’s not too early to start planning for Summerfest 2018.