The 103rd annual Jackson Homecomers is set for July 26 through July 30 in Jackson's uptown square.
Months of planning go into making sure each night is well staffed with prepared volunteers who can handle crowds numbering in the thousands and nightly stage events. This year, Penzel won't worry so much about one night, she said. Wednesday night's events, which include a Senior Idol competition and a gospel music show, will be sponsored by Montgomery Bank. Penzel said she is hoping the bank's sponsorship can set an example for other businesses who may want to sponsor a night in the future. When the bank sponsors, Penzel said, they will essentially host the night.
Penzel has been working to mentor bank employee and Jackson resident Wendy Hayes on how to organize the event in the hope Hayes can take over some duties in the future. Penzel said she has been trying again this year to recruit a younger generation of volunteers, people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, who can make sure the event can continue in years to come.
Sponsorships and plenty of people willing to volunteer will make sure the event doesn't come to an end, Penzel said. Grants fund the events, but Penzel believes the ability to obtain them could be ending because of the state of the economy.
One aspect of Homecomers isn't hurting for participation this year. Larry Koehler, American Legion Homecomers chairman, said all the space for food vendors is filled, while he is still receiving inquiries three or four times a day. Food vendors are allowed to keep all of their profits aside from the cost to rent space.
This year's event will have a patriotic theme by kicking off each night with the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem, Penzel said. The patriotic theme is a salute to military men and women and veterans. The queen contest, held Tuesday night, will also feature patriotic clothing.
The theme fits well with a band Penzel has worked for two years to schedule. Saturday night, the 45-member 312th Army Band out of Lawrence, Kan., will perform. According to its website, the band schedules between 15 and 25 performance each year, and has performed for large audiences at the games of the Kansas City Royals, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland A's, as well as at the National Boy Scout Jamboree and for the Kansas Music Educator's Association, the Texas Bandmasters Association and the National Convention of the Association of the United States Army.
Organizers are hoping for an attendance of between 12,000 and 15,000 people. In 2008, more than 20,000 people attended for the event's 100th anniversary. Penzel said events like the talent show, scheduled this year for Thursday and Friday nights, are a good draw for out-of-towners. The winner of the 13-to-21 age group will be invited to the Mid-South Fair in Memphis, Tenn., for a youth talent contest. A representative from the fair will attend Friday night and may invite additional participants to the fair's contest.
Rides open at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday night. A complete schedule of events can be found online at www.jacksonhomecomers.com. Entry forms for events and competitions can also be found on the site or on the Jackson Chamber of Commerce website, www.jacksonmochamber.org. To volunteer, contact Penzel at 979-1112.