Zollinger honored as Grand Marshal
MILLERSPORT – Fred Zollinger planned to wait to be the Millersport Sweet Corn Festival parade’s Grand Marshal until his 100th birthday. But then, he received the call asking him to be the Grand Marshal this year. “I still have nine years,” he said, “but I figure I better take that opportunity while it’s available.” The 91-year-old has volunteered for all but two Sweet Corn Festivals since the festival began in 1947.
Zollinger remembers the early days when the festival did not have its own grounds like it does today, and consisted of vendor booths along Chautauqua Boulevard., having none of today’s rides, events, or entertainment. The booths were simply sheets covering 2’ x 4’ board frames. Zollinger said his first experience as a volunteer was with women from the Methodist Church who sold chicken and noodles. The food was prepared in the church and Zollinger’s job was to carry food from the church to the booth and return with the empty containers. “I just carried them back and forth,” he said, adding that the women sold plenty of chicken and noodles and it was a very busy job.
Zollinger said the Sweet Corn Festival has brought plenty of publicity to Millersport. “It was a lot of fun and the organizations could make money,” he said. From the beginning, the festival has been the Millersport Lions Club’s annual fundraiser.
In 1954, the Lions purchased five plots of land on the east edge of Millersport on Chautauqua Boulevard about 1/2 mile east of the original location, which became the festival’s permanent home. “After (the festival) moved, we had more room and the booths were permanent,” said Zollinger, who found himself working in several different booths in the following years. As a 4-H leader, he sold sodas from that organization’s booth, he volunteered in a PTO bingo booth, the American Legion booth as a WWII veteran, and today, as a 65-year member of the Masonic Lodge, he works the Masons’ Fellowcraft French fry booth, which can be pretty warm work on hot days, but that’s fine with him. “The success of the festival really depends on the weather,” said Zollinger. “There have been some hot days and nights, and some rainy ones.” Clearly, the festival is most successful on sunny, hot weekends, so standing in front of a fryer is no problem.
“I really enjoy the time at the festival,” said Zollinger, who added that he really can’t name one year that he thought was “better” or more fun than another. It’s impossible for him to choose. “It’s seeing all the people,” he said, “And, I enjoy meeting all the new people as far as that goes.”
Sweet Corn Festival Chairman Ron Keller said Zollinger is a wellknown local farmer, a successful businessman, a pillar in his church, a Masonic Lodge leader, and a veteran having served in World War II with the 101st Airborne Division in glider artillery. He is a past president of the Walnut Township Local School District serving many years on its board of education.
According to the Sweet Corn Festival’s history, the Hebron and Buckeye Lake Lions Clubs assisted in the first annual Millersport Lions’ Sweet Corn Festival in 1947. From the cooking of sweet corn in one butchering kettle, then two, the consumption of fresh sweet corn has grown to the point where fresh sweet corn is trucked in by the semi-trailer loads and boiled in 2,000 gallon propane heated vats during the four day event.
The Sweet Corn Festival is the major fund raising event for the Millersport Lions. The Lions support many projects, but its focus is on reducing blindness and the curing of diseases that cause blindness.
Many groups that include churches, fire departments, youth groups, scouts, schools, lodges, and practically all community organizations share in the benefits from the Sweet Corn Festival. The current group of over 80 non-profit charitable organizations come from an eight county area in Central Ohio. No private concessions permitted at the festival insuring that all profits are turned back into the various communities as civic improvements.