Celebrating people, history

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WILMINGTON — Every decade, a large number of folks come to celebrate Old Home Week.

"Because they know everyone's going to be here," said Nicki Steel, chairwoman of the Old Home Week Committee. "It's like a class reunion on steroids."

The event is attended by local families, families who have moved away, new residents, visitors and everyone in between. The next such event will take place from July 30 to Aug. 2, 2020, during the second week of the annual Blueberry Festival.

In 2010, the youngest attendee was 10 days old and the eldest had been 97. The person who traveled the farthest came from the Galapagos Islands.

More than 265 members of the Boyd family, which owns a farm in town, showed up in 2010. Steel said the Boyds promised to have more family come next year.

The nine-member committee has been meeting just about every month since last September. The group is made up of people of different ages and relationships to the town.

Some members grew up in Wilmington. Others moved to town later. Another member splits time here and somewhere else. Each has committee work assignments, which entail research and phone calls.

"Our charge is to put on a really good party, the party of the decade we call it," Steel said. "And gosh, we need a party."

The first order of business was setting dates and securing some money. The town provided $30,000 from a fund holding local 1 percent option tax revenue, which is specifically earmarked for economic and community development.

The first time Wilmington held a reunion of this kind was in 1890. The name Old Home Week came in 1900 and expanded to a week.

It is believed that the New England tradition, which Rockingham and Whitingham also keep, might have started in Wilmington. Steel said the idea originally had been to host reunions "but then a lot of towns were like, 'Come back and see how modern we got, and maybe move back and buy one of the farms.'"

Registration will happen Thursday, July 30, allowing organizers to know how far away attendees have come and for the opportunity for memorabilia to be purchased. It is anticipated that a Blueberry Festival event also will be scheduled that day.

A "memory wall" inside Floral Hall by the Old School Enrichment Center will include photos of people who were born, died or moved here in the last 10 years. The project began last year and is not limited to certain life events.

"Last time, the Lake Raponda Association did a really fascinating display of the original development of Lake Raponda," said Steel, who hopes someone will put together something on Tropical Storm Irene which hit the area hard in August 2011. "We try to leave enough freedom that people can step forward."

Just like in 2010, Friday will feature a party in the downtown village. It will be combined with the Blueberry Block Party and see South Main Street temporarily closed down.

Saturday features a parade, which has been tradition from the beginning. Steel said Route 9 gets shut down for about two hours.

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The committee is in the process of hiring bands for next year. Steel said five are already lined up and she hopes to have more.

Her neighborhood won an award for its float at the 2010 Old Home Week. The Boyds had five floats.

Classes, families and the community will have their pictures taken after the parade at the field by the Old School Enrichment Center. Steel expects the Wilmington Fire Department will be organizing some sort of contest. In the late afternoon, there will be a chicken barbecue.

Meg Streeter, a real estate agent, will host a house tour.

"Last time, she had different houses from different decades," Steel said. "So it wasn't just fancy houses. There was a 1960s ski chalet."

Plans for a Sunday breakfast are being developed. Steel expects some hikes also will be scheduled.

The committee is looking for sponsors and more volunteers. Steel compares the event to a potluck dinner, where her group is the main organizer and other people bring things or help in various ways.

"Sometimes you go to a festival and everything is done for you," she said. "It's a different mood. It's: This is a town we love, let's think of how we can all contribute to the celebration."

The committee is still working on what memorabilia will be available and opting to buy locally or regionally whenever possible. It already committed to buying t-shirts from Cronin Creations LLC in West Dover.

Groups will share the same color shirts if ordered in bulk. The Boyds have already laid claim to red.

Decals were made in Bennington. Steel has been asking people to post photos of the decals next to license plates from different places.

Proceeds from a silent auction of memorabilia and products from local artists and craftspeople will help defray the cost of the event as will the chicken barbecue.

Steel said the Historical Society of Wilmington "plays a huge role" in putting on the event and helps with registration.

"They're just really important to the success of Old Home Week," she said.

A draft schedule and more information can be found at wilmingtonohw2020.com. The Facebook page is named Wilmington Old Home Week 2020.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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