Santa Maria Festival shakes up downtown Dayton

DAYTON -- Wearing dark sunglasses, a Dayton Volunteer Fire Department shirt, and a pair of jeans, Chief Scott Firestone raced up Pike Street at 1 p.m. Saturday. Santa Maria Day in Dayton was swinging.

With 18-year residents Eleanor and Lysander Brann comfortable on their white lawn chairs on the porch of the community center, Mia's Swiss Restaurant selling bratwurst, the searing sun hot as the 100-degree dickens, the town parade was about to start.

Firestone was chasing a funeral procession that was about to be sent down the same street as the parade. He quickly redirected the funeral procession and then took off down Pike Street, welcoming some relaxation, he said, after the parade.

Santa Maria Day is an Italian festival that began several hundred years ago in celebration of Saint Mary. According to Firestone, many Italians lived in the Dayton area and started a similar feast. In 1974, when it died out, the Dayton Volunteer Fire Department took over, and has held it every year since. There have been just two years, including last year when Firestone tried to circumvent some planning problems but couldn't, when the Santa Maria Festival was canceled.

Money made at the parade helps purchase equipment for the 12 volunteers. The volunteer fire department, founded in 1863, usually makes upwards of a few thousand dollars at the festival, according to Firestone. In their best year, they brought in $6,000.

Even with advance advertising on KOZZ 105.7 and a green sign with white letters pointing the way to the festival from Route 50, Firestone was still worried the extended Hot August Nights Festival in Reno might keep some away from Dayton.

"I hope it brings down some people who want to get away from the crowd," he said.

But it did not keep residents of Dayton away. Deanna Soukup and her son, 9-year-old Shane, have a house right along Pike Street. Soukup, who moved to Dayton 2-1/2 years ago, was looking at knives on a table. Shane was obviously interested, but mostly said he likes skating.

"It's interesting to see what everybody has," his mom said, mentioning the suspender booth close to Mia's, where extra wide suspenders boasting measuring sticks or American flag patterns were for sale.

Not only were suspenders and crafts for sale, but organizations were present as well. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, 4-H Club, Kiwanis, and even Electrolux had a booth. New, this year, was the Wild Horse Preservation League that sold T-shirts and promoted education and awareness of the more than 1,000 wild horses in the area.

Firestone said he hopes to bump up membership in the volunteer fire department. And he wanted to thank "Do More For Dayton" for their hard work.

Right before the parade started, which was right before the outhouse races, which came right before the evening of bands, 9-year-old Stormie Atkinson pulled a red Toys-R-Us wagon filled with goodies up the street. She was there with her brother, Dylan, 5, and her parents, Rob and Debbie.

"It's a community thing," Rob said. "We like to contribute to the community."


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