Although Mother Nature tried her best to dampen the ground as well as spirits last Sunday, Sept.28, she couldn't keep the folks of Brookings-Harbor from enjoying a picnic at Azalea Park.
The fifth annual Community Picnic, co-hosted by Kiwanis and the city of Brookings, was a hit again this year. The crowd enjoyed hot dogs, soda, watermelon and ice cream. They ran races outfitted in firefighter attire, splattered each other with water balloons, hula-hooped, decorated rocks, and had their faces painted.
Lead organizer and Kiwanis member Lorraine Kuhn co-emceed the event with Kiwanis President Mike Birks. Thrilled with the outcome of the event, she remarked, "I think it went absolutely wonderfully. Everyone had so much fun, and I think the most important part was all of the smiles."
The primary purpose of the get-together, she said, is to have a safe, family environment for children and their parents to enjoy each other, together with friends and neighbors.
"School has started, and we're preparing to go into the winter months. It's like the last hurrah of summer," Kuhn said.
Brookings-Harbor High School Key Club President Melissa Chen said she was happy to lend a hand to the faces of the community's children. She and her compadre from the club, 18-year-old Kati Beyer, were the last volunteers to pack up on Sunday, after making sure every child who wanted a face painting, received one.
"We have a really good time, and it's a fun thing for the kids to do," Chen sad.
Nine-year-old Andrew Exline agreed with Chen that the picnic is fun, and a way to bring the community together, but feels the importance of the picnic extends farther than what meets the eye.
"It's important for kids to spend time with their parents," he said.
Of course, no party is complete without a piata, and Chetco Federal Credit Union provided several for entertainment and as prizes. Each child took a turn at bat, trying to smash open the prizes' package. Finally, with a whack delivered by Brent Staples, the piata was pierced and a free-for-all ensued.
Winners of the hula hoop competition were 8-year-old Amanda Fraser and 17-year-old Taleah Bruner. The balloon toss was won by mother and son team, Lu and 7-year-old Izak Ehlers.
"It's nice that they do this. We need this sense of community," said Carla Doan, who was helping her 3 year-old son, Jed, up onto the seat of a 1924 Stutz Fire Engine, displayed by the Harbor Fire Department.
Once behind the wheel, the little boy shouted out, "I'm going to protect the city."
Volunteers from the department organized firefighter races and outfitted participants of all ages in authentic firefighter uniforms that looked like they weighed a ton.
More than a few helpless stragglers had to be rescued by volunteers who picked them up like sacks of potatoes, threw them over their shoulders, and carried them over the finish line.
For 6-year-old Robert Hartsough, it took a whole team of people to help him finish the race. After donning the heavy costume, Hartsough found he couldn't move a step without assistance. It took three big guys and two smaller ones to drag him across the field, laughing all the way.
His father, James Hartsough (one of the draggers), recently moved his family to Brookings from Yuma, Ariz. He said he couldn't be happier with the tight-knit community he had found.
"It's great! We're having a lot of fun," he laughed. "You'd never see something like this in Yuma."
Brookings Police Officer Marvin Parker visited with picnickers while distributing safety and other educational material. He also made use of the opportunity to generate support for various programs the department is involved in.
"We're bringing some of our goals and projects we are working on to the community," Parker said. "It gives us an opportunity to make positive contact with the community and get their input on the programs, as well.
"I get to hear their input, and complaints."
The officer spent the afternoon educating visitors on programs such as Volunteers in Police Service, Neighborhood Watch, Safety City, and bicycle and skating safety programs that provide free helmets and safety gear to those who qualify.
Phil Cox, president of the local chapter of the Brookings Harbor Lions Club, picked up and threw away garbage others left behind, helping to maintain the park's spotless condition.
"Our business is picking up!" Cox joked.
Kuhn said many volunteers made the day a success. She added that she would like to see more businesses and organizations become involved next time around. As the picnic becomes more popular every year, the need for donations, creative games and activities is expected to increase.
Participating businesses and groups this year included Kiwanis, city of Brookings, Key Club, Lions, Rotary, Umpqua Bank, Chetco Federal Credit Union, Brookings Police Department, Harbor Fire Department, Chetco Senior Center, Wild Rivers Pizza, Pepsi, Price 'n' Pride, and Slugs 'n' Stones 'n' Ice Cream Cones.
"We had a great time, and it's very gratifying," Kuhn said. "The picnic is something that will be in the works every year."