Festival Rolls On By

More than 12 sternwheel boats floated along Wheeling’s Heritage Port Saturday during the final day of the three-day Wheeling Heritage Port Sternwheel Festival. Though rain dampened events Friday evening, the festival went ahead as planned Saturday.

Vic Exner is a member of the Sternwheel Committee and head of the vendors committee.

“We have more vendors this year than we’ve had for several years,” said Exner. “The events were hurt by rain last night, but we’re off to a flying start today.”

Chairman of the Sternwheel Committee Jim Arritt also said that the festival’s success always depends on the weather. In fact, in 11 years of existence the festival was canceled once due to flooding.

“So far, the turnout has been about average,” said Arritt. The average amount of visitors, he said, tends to be between 70,000-75,000 people. While rain did dampen things Friday, Arritt said that there was still a full house of audience members present for the KISS Tribute Band Friday night..

“Saturday’s always our best day,” said Dan Nameth, supervisor of alcohol sales and festival beermeister.

“It’s beautiful today, so the crowd came back.”

Nameth said that beer is being sold differently this year, using the beer garden method to give people more choices and make beer easier to buy.

The festival is entirely non-profit. According to Nameth, all his beer tents were staffed with volunteers and everybody involved in planning the festival is volunteer as well.

According to Arritt, all proceeds from the festival go back to the community. For example, the festival gives $10,000 each year to high school students in the area to attend classes at West Liberty University. Each student chosen is awarded a $2,500 scholarship for use in their freshman year.

This year’s scholarship winners were Dalas Wilkerson from John Marshall High School, Alexandria Neidhardt from Wheeling Central High School, and Paige Smearman and Darian Owen from Oak Glen High School.

Some of the sternwheel boats owners have frequented the festival every year, such as Jack and Kathy Bedeck, owners of the Jenny 2.

“We’ve been doing this for 35 years,” Kathy Bedeck observed.

“When we started, we had a boat built on oil drums,” said Jack Bedeck. “We started little, then bigger, then biggest.”

Both Bedecks enjoy setting up their boat and showing it to people while they live on it. “It’s like camping on water,” said Jack Bedeck.

Among community performers entertaining the audience Saturday was the Arielette Competition Team from Glen Dale. Instructor Aaron Kuhn said that the academy is currently between competitions.

“The routines we performed today are last year’s competitive routines. We won numerous awards all over the country with these,” said Kuhn. We took the summer off. Starting next week, we will be starting work on new routines for 2013.” When asked why the academy participates in the festival, Kuhn said it was one of many opportunities to perform in the community. “It’s just one of the community things we get to do,” he said.

Fireworks capped the night Saturday.