Grandwood Park celebrates the 50th anniversary of Summerfest

What started out as a backyard neighborhood barbecue 50 years ago in a small, unincorporated area near Gurnee, has grown into a popular festival residents call Summerfest.

Located near Grandwood Park, 36753 N. Hutchins Road, Summerfest celebrates the half-century mark on Friday, July 13, through Saturday, July 14.

Nancy Carlson, Grandwood Park Park District president and treasurer for the Grandwood Park Civic Association, still remembers the years before entertainment vendors.

“We did our own games, our own everything,” said Carlson, a resident of Grandwood Park for more than 20 years. “It was kind of like, ‘let’s put on a Broadway show’; everything was hand-painted and made out of plywood.”

This year, the carnival lacks only a Ferris wheel, and the predicted attendance for the weekend is around 4,000 to 5,000. The Grandwood Park Civic Association, which organized the event, added amusement park rides, interactive video games, and more fireworks.

“We’re growing. We’re looking into things we hadn’t before,” said Bill Reil, president of Grandwood Park Civic Association.

Reil said the festival used to be located near a lake in Grandwood Lake Park, 36801 N. Grandwood Drive, but was moved a few years ago in order to expand.

“We didn’t outgrow (that location), but moved for the opportunity to do more things,” he said. “We’ve been doing more and more over the last couple years.”

Although the attendance has risen and vendors are expanding, residents said the fest will always maintain its family-oriented atmosphere.

“It’s very noncommercial, it still has the small town festival feel,” Carlson said.

Katie LeClair, assistant teacher at Grandwood Park Preschool, said the festival will still have some of her favorite family games, such as the watermelon eating and seed spitting contest and a bags tournament.

The festival will have the theme “Twisting the Night Way,” to commemorate the 1960s, the decade of the first Summerfest. There will also be a Battle of the Bands competition, a 5k, bike and wagon parade, petting zoo, and other exhibits at the festival.

“It’s like a little slice of yesteryear,” Carlson said. “You just don’t see this type of community anymore.”

  Parents applaud the Grandwood Park Summerfest bike parade. GEORGE LECLAIRE/, 2009
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