Tuesday, September 22, 2009
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Personalities of the Week

National Railsplitting Festival will see 40th anniversary thanks to volunteers and business support

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[September 22, 2009]  The National Railsplitting Festival is now in the books, but board members and volunteers won't waste much time resting on their laurels.

RestaurantOn Oct. 18, less than a month from now, the group will gather to begin plans for next year's event. Already there are plans to make next year's 40th anniversary bigger and better than any previous. Geoff Ladd, director of Abraham Lincoln Tourism Bureau of Logan County, says many ideas are being proposed, and as soon as the current board decides on additions to next year's festival, they will advise the community.

The Railsplitting Festival began like so many other activities and festivals: "I have a crazy idea," as Daris Knauer admits telling tourism co-chairman LeRoy Buckheit in 1970. "LeRoy ran the burger place on Woodlawn, and I came in one day and told him of my idea to have a railsplitting festival. After all, Abe was a famous rail-splitter and I thought it was a chance to promote local tourism," Knauer recalled. He said LeRoy turned around with a burger on his spatula and said he agreed that Knauer's idea was crazy: a crazy idea that he and Daris and countless volunteers over the years have turned into one of the iconic events of the year in Lincoln.

The Railsplitting Festival has had several locations and faces over the years. It started at the fairgrounds, moved to the fields at Lincoln College and back to the fairgrounds. It also began as a celebration of early pioneer days, gravitated into a more modern commercial event and now has come full circle back to its roots as a celebration and education of what the early pioneer days in Logan County were like.

Throughout its four decades some special common elements have never changed: the efforts and interest of volunteers, which bring the festival to fruition; and the many businesses, who through their financial support have allowed the festival to remain viable and to flourish.

Geoff Ladd made it a point to say that the Railsplitting Festival wouldn't be still thriving if not for volunteers today as well as in the past. "There have been so many people over the years that have been involved with the festival," he said. "How can you mention some without leaving out or forgetting others?"

Ladd, who has been tourism's director for five of the festivals, did want to point out one family that he feels has been essential to the event. "We wouldn't be having the Railsplitting Festival if it wasn't for Darlene Begolka and the entire Begolka family," Ladd said on a radio interview on WLCN, Atlanta.

During that same interview, Darlene Begolka, currently the president of the association, begged to give praise to her board and all the other volunteers for keeping the festival going year after year.

Both also wanted to stress the important financial cooperation of area businesses that has been instrumental in keeping the festival going as well as keeping the festival inexpensive for families to participate in. "Area business support has just been tremendous," Ladd said with admiration in his voice.

Ladd also wanted to give credit to "the right-hand man and festival chairman, John Sutton." Both agreed that John and the festival's entire volunteer base are so committed to their tasks that both are assured that everything the volunteers are responsible for will be done well.

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Like many festivals there are many parts to the event, and having reliable dedicated volunteers is the only way that such events can go off smoothly.

Besides events at the fairgrounds, the festival also hosted a storytelling night at the Lincoln Park District. In addition, there was a trap shoot at Sportsman's Park. A Civil War Ball at the park district brought together young and old to enjoy an evening of mid-1800s music and dance.

The fairgrounds hosted a flea market and produce stands, concessions, and the pioneer village. Events included a tomahawk throw and crosscut sawing as well as amateur and professional railsplitting contests, all of which needed judges and support staff. All this and more means that many hands need to make sure that everything during railsplitting weekend goes off without a hitch -- save the weather.

And even when the weather turns afoul, volunteers make sure that the signature professional railsplitting event goes off as planned under the roof of the 4-H building: something that has happened the last two years.

With so many activities at the fairgrounds and the park district, it is only through careful and meticulous planning and volunteer support that the festival can be a success. It is this continuation of a legacy of support started four decades ago that makes the volunteers and business supporters of the National Railsplitting Festival this week's Personalities of the Week.

  • President: Darlene Begolka

  • First vice president: Daris Knauer

  • Second vice president: John Sutton

  • Recording secretary: Dave Boward

  • Corresponding secretary: Diana Pagel

  • Treasurer: Gwen Tibbs

  • Tourism liason: Geoff Ladd

  • Festival chairman: John Sutton

  • Food chairman: Gwen Tibbs

  • Working crafts: Dave Boward

  • Selling crafts: Diana Pagel

  • Antiques: Gwen Tibbs

  • Track events: Daris Knauer

  • Entertainment: Daris Knauer

  • Steam show: Rod Morgan

  • Antique tractors: Bob Presswood

  • Antique cars: Bill Howerton

  • Pioneer homestead: Nancy Vannoy and Judy Ballinger

  • Primitive lodges: Sam Schriber

  • Historical displays: Geoff Ladd

  • Flea market: Geoff Ladd and Joe Hackett

  • Judges: Bob Presswood, Gene Phillips, Bob Rankin,

  • Special help: the Rankin clan: Bob and Diane, Bobby, Heidi and Jennifer

  • The special ed class at Lincoln Community High School

Note: As with all lists of volunteers, individuals might have been left out. If you or anyone you know should be added to this list, please contact us at mikefak@lincolndailynews.com and we will be delighted to include the additional names.


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