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Petunia Festival ‘owned by the community’

Dixon ready to celebrate event's 50th anniversary

DIXON – Much has changed in the 50 years since the first Petunia Festival in Dixon.

Dave Johnson, vice president of operations for the festival, said any big milestone gives people a reason to look back and recognize those who have helped keeping the event alive over the years.

“When you discuss the Petunia Fest, it is owned by the community,” Johnson said. “We’re just the caretakers.”

Setup is expected to start today in Page Park, with the festival area at the riverfront starting to come together on Monday, when the music stage is expected to arrive, said Dixon Main Street Executive Director Josh Albrecht.

River Street, from Peoria Avenue to Galena Avenues, will be closed Monday, he said, adding that Hennepin Avenue will be closed from First Street to River Street starting on Tuesday.

The bulk of the riverfront festival setup will occur Wednesday, Albrecht said, with the area opening at 5 p.m.

In early years, the parade and the drum and bugle corps shows were the biggest draws to the annual event, said Bill Reigle, 84, of Dixon. He served as president of the festival in 1968 and 1969.

“We lost money on [the drum and bugle show] every year, but it was an entertaining thing,” he said. “We had some of the best in country.”

This year, the drum show will be brought back, one of a handful of events aimed at connecting the 50th festival and the first. The drum show will be Sunday, July 6, at the Dixon High School football field.

The festvial’s early roots have grown into someting much larger, with two festival areas – Page Park and the riverfront – to go along with 5 days, 10 food vendors, and more than 15 bands on two stages.

In the early years, Reigle said, there was no food, and the idea of a beer garden wouldn’t have gone over too well.

“It was just something getting started at that time and we were just trying to get something for families and give people a reason to stay [for the Fourth of July],” he said.

His years as president brought a Miss America and a Miss Canada to the festival, Reigle said, and the Petunia Festival float, which was included in the parade, also traveled to other parades in the area.

And many of the early Petunia Festival parades, which were a highlight of the festival, Reigle said, went on despite heavy rains and flooding.

“We never did cancel any of them,” he said. “But we had to sweat it out.”

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