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Shabbona kicks off annual Hometown Festival

SHABBONA – An American flag hanging from a Shabbona Fire Department ladder truck welcomed visitors to Purdy’s Lot in Shabbona on Saturday, where families enjoyed inflatables, games, craft and food vendors, a disc jockey and rides.

A parade kicked off the Shabbona Hometown Festival, which has been organized for the past 11 years by the Shabbona Hometown Events Committee.

For more than a decade, Pete and Denise Bakken enjoyed the Shabbona Hometown Festival parade that passes in front of their house. They consider the Fourth of July another holiday to recognize the country’s military men and women.

On Saturday, they wore patriotic T-shirts as they sat in lawn chairs in front of their home, which was lined with small American flags.

“My grandma always told me it was a day to celebrate our veterans,” Denise Bakken said.

“A lot of our relatives have served. We’re very proud of that,” said Pete Bakken, adding that their son, Army Capt. Ben Bakken, has served two tours in Afghanistan.

Laura Anderson of Shabbona watched her three children play on a bungee trampoline. She had just posted a picture of the parade to Facebook with the caption “Gotta love a small town festival.”

The best part is “the community. When you come here and you know at least half the people here,” she said.

Wednesday features an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast from 7 to 10 a.m. at the Shabbona Fire Department, and Lions Club Pork Chop Dinner from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Fireworks are at dusk at Shabbona Lake State Park.

Jamie Deutsch, president of the Shabbona Hometown Events Committee, said the festival was started 11 years ago because he and other people in the community wanted to give their kids something to do. Most of their children are now grown, but volunteers continue to support the festival that Deutsch said is a yearlong effort.

The committee depends on a number of sponsors and fundraising events to raise the approximately $5,000 to stage the festival each year.

It’s hard work, but Deutsch said it is worth the effort.

“I’ve lived here all my life. I’m a lifelong community member, and I’m on the fire department, and I’m a coach,” he said. “It’s just giving back to the community a little bit.”

This year’s theme was “community unity,” and Natasha Freund, 15, won the art contest for the festival’s T-shirts, which were sold Saturday. The design included an outline of the United States dotted with patriotic symbols. Freund also earned the right to carry the parade banner.

The eighth annual Shabbona Hometown Citizen Award was bestowed upon Gary Richardson. Deutsch said Richardson recently retired after 35 years as a coach and teacher.

“It’s always [awarded to] someone who bases everything they do off the community,” Deutsch said. “To us, it’s a big deal to nominate them.”

The Bakkens said they look forward to the Shabbona Fire Department’s pancake breakfast every year. They also find a spot on the seventh hole fairway at the nearby golf course to watch the fireworks over Shabbona Lake.

“For a small town, they do a phenomenal job,” Denise Bakken said.

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