New owners keep old-fashioned fun at Sonny Acres Farm
The new era at Sonny Acres Farm in West Chicago looked a lot like the old one Sunday.
Families still took hay rides on a wagon pulled by a vintage John Deere tractor; rode a train; visited a haunted barn; fed goats, baby cows and other animals in the petting zoo; sank their teeth in juicy taffy apples; munched on funnel cakes; and posed for pictures in a pumpkin patch.
Larry Scott and his family left the farm happy, pulling a haul of five plump pumpkins in a red Radio Flyer wagon.
He said they will have their work cut out for them carving the huge pumpkins.
The Glen Ellyn resident, who visited with wife Sandy and sons Andrew, 5, and Joshua, 2, said he has been coming to Sonny Acres for 30 years, since he was 6 years old.
"It has been a tradition," he said. "We were worried when they transferred ownership, for sure. I heard rumors they weren't going to keep it a pumpkin farm, but we're pretty glad that they did."
In fact, he said the experience is better, with updated rides and nicer bathrooms, although Sandy said the prices of the rides have increased a little.
Another longtime customer, Joe Kerin, a Melrose Park resident who grew up in Addison, said he has been coming to Sonny Acres since he was a Cub Scout.
Kerin said he brought his 5-year-old daughter Eva to have the same experience he savored as a kid.
Mike Fontana, who, with his business partner Chris Joyaux, bought the 22-acre property from the children of the late Ramona Feltes, was pleased with the turnout on a sunny Sunday, a day after rain spoiled Saturday's festivities.
"We fixed it up quite a bit. We invested a lot into it," including gutting, rebuilding and repopulating the haunted barn with the help of a firm called Psychosis, said Fontana, who founded American Litho, a Carol Stream-based commercial printing, packaging and analytics company with Joyaux. He said he introduced a new attraction for children, the Jumping Pillow, installed a large screen so Bears fans could keep up with their team, and offered live entertainment on weekends, courtesy of 17-year-old singer/songwriter Isabella Marie, who served up a mixture of country, rock, pop and R & B.
Fontana said other improvements can be expected at the farm, which will feature weddings and Christmas tree sales and position itself as a year-round venue.
With the changes, though, there was still plenty of continuity, including St. Charles resident Lee Etchason, the man behind the wheel of the two-cylinder 1949 John Deere Johnny Popper tractor used for the hay rides.
The former longtime Illinois Department of Corrections employee, who said he has been driving the tractor for at least 20 years, praised the new ownership.
"They're great people to work for," he said.
He said, "I do it in October on weekends. I get to play farmer for a month. I like the people. I like the kids. I don't do it for the money."