Spirit Fest celebrates 25th anniversary this week

By DANIEL HERATY
Times-Herald Newspapers

HEIGHTS — A city tradition will celebrate its silver anniversary this year.

Officials at the Parks and Recreation Department have been getting ready for 25th annual Spirit Festival, opening Wednesday and running through June Sunday on the grounds of Canfield Community Center, 1801 N. Beech Daly.

This year, the festival will feature the best of past events, Entertainment Chair Gerry Willemse said. He added that about 35,000 people are expected to come to the festival this year, weather permitting.

“We’ve been very fortunate to have excellent weather conditions,” Willemse said. “Regardless of the weather, we put on a show.”

Wednesday kicks off with Community Night, and will feature performances from middle and high schools beginning at 5 p.m. Jazz bands from Crestwood, Divine Child and Annapolis high schools; the Divine Child pom-pon squad; Crestwood High School cheerleaders; and the choruses from Riverside Middle and Annapolis High schools will perform.

Mayor Daniel Paletko will lead the Mayor’s Walk at 7 p.m. The walk has been part of the festival from the beginning, with a goal of promoting walking as a form of non-competitive exercise.

“The program is the same idea as the governor’s Mackinac Bridge Labor Day walk,” Parks and Recreation Director Ken Grybel said.

Thursday will feature the Taste of the Heights, where 12 local restaurants – including Antonio’s Cucina Italiana Restaurant and Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill and Bar – will offer meal samples.

A classic rock band, the Phenomenals, will perform from 6 to 10 p.m. Also on Thursday, standup comedian Johnny Ginger, who was on the television show “Curtain Time Theater” in the 1960s, will perform from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., and should be a familiar face to many, Willemse said.

“He was (on TV) with Soupy Sales,” Willemse said. “He’s well known to Detroit audiences.”

On Friday, a celebration for seniors, which was first featured last year, will get under way from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Bingo and a comedy play will be featured. This year, 250 people are expected. Coffee and danish will be provided, as will lunch from Helena’s Catering in Dearborn.

The seniors event drew 200 people last year, and 250 are expected this year, Willemse said.

“They seemed to like it (last year), so we we’re continuing it this year,” he said.

Senior Program Coordinator Diane Sanders said the comedy play, titled “Sabotage at Sea: The Case of the Corrupt Crew,” will feature Dearborn resident Ellen Chene performing skits which include the audience, and will be completely ad-libbed.

“No one knows what will come out of anyone’s mouth,” Sanders said.

Chene added that the interaction with the crowd is the key to the plays’ success.

“(The audience) has so much fun because they’re a part of it,’ she said.

The weekend will feature a salute to veterans and performances by the Big Daddy Lakowski Polka Band, and Steve King and The Dittilies on Saturday, and performances by the Dixiecrat Banjo Band and an Elvis tribute on Sunday.

The festival will close with a performance by The Beat Club, a Beatles cover band who performed at the festival in 2000 and 2004. They will be perform from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Festival planners are optimistic that a good time will be had by all, Grybel said.

(Daniel Heraty can be reached at dheraty@bewickpublications.com.)