PHOENIX - Even with a spring that’s kept Central New York guessing – temperatures and precipitation rolling all over the spectrum – come heaven or high water, those summer days are rising bright on the horizon ahead. As the community gets more active with boaters and de-hibernation, those moments of cherished relaxation by the river, grilling in the backyard, or time with family and friends come ripe with anticipation, marked in Phoenix by two of the community’s most delicious and sparkling traditions.

Friday, June 28, sets the ruby-red inspiration, serving up the sweetest of strawberry dreams and delectable delights at the 19th annual Strawberry Festival. Once satisfied by that Main Street corner of food, fruit and fun, patrons often take with anticipation, moving down and around the village as the sun sets, towards a big blast of summer at the phenomenal Phoenix fireworks down by the river.

The annual Strawberry Festival hosted by St. Stephen’s Church gets underway that Friday beginning at 4 p.m. with activities until 8 p.m. - kicking off the kind of community festivity everyone enjoys. With 19 years now of fruity refinement, the event gets better, and more well attended each and every year.

Although it takes place on just one day a year, “it is months and months of preparation,” says Sue Shatrau, one of the organizers. From donations to volunteers who cook, and serve, to food preparation, including pickers and cleaners for 150 quarts of fresh picked strawberries, “The number of people it takes to put this on is amazing,” she adds. Another thing many don’t realize, she explains, is that all the food “is fresh and local”.

Strawberry Festival fun for the whole family presents a variety of children’s games, Putt-Putt golf, and face painting by Leeann Chapman. Chapman will offer her designs from small to large at $1, $3, and $6.

Games of chance are available in many forms. The dessert wheel and basket raffle are also among the featured favorites at the festival. Placing a quarter on a number on the dessert wheel can win a choice of desserts from pies, to cakes, to cookies to brownies. Dozens of people and businesses have contributed to the basket raffle, which allows participants to consider their interest and place tickets appropriately to try to win bountiful basket collections.

Newer this year is the grocery game. This involves rolling dice multiple times, hoping that one’s number will come up multiple times. Every time it does, numbers get added together for a certain number of rolls. Whichever set of rolls total closest to $5, can win a $10 bag of groceries or a grocery store gift card.

“We’ve probably collected 25-35 bags of grocery items,” Shatrau says.

There is also a silent auction with it’s own set of donations, and a chance to try one’s luck on major individual raffle items. These items include New York Yankee tickets (Box seat – food and parking too), $400 cash, a 40” Sceptre Flatscreen television, a Keurig single cup coffee machine, or $100 cash.

This year, another specific raffle has been added to the mix at $5 per chance, courtesy of Father Joseph Scardella – currently serving both Phoenix and Fulton. Father Scardella has donated a ‘dinner prepared/served for six people’. According to Shatrau, Father will be conducting a demonstration at the festival, cooking on-site what he will be serving to whoever wins the dinner.

Entertainment fun is expected to include musical entertainment, the spinning of tap and tunes from dancers with Colleen’s School of Dance and demonstrations from Phoenix Martial Arts and Fitness and the Phoenix Pop Warner cheerleaders.

Mealtime choices from the food booth in St. Stephen’s parking lot include fresh chicken dinners, hamburger patties fresh from Nichols, Hofmann hot dogs, pulled pork, Gianelli sausage sandwiches, French fries, fried dough and more. The highlighted sweet concoctions are, of course, the favorite strawberry shortcake and famously fabulous strawberry frulattes (smoothies) for dessert.

With all the opportunities that pop up in this planning process, Shatrau wants people to know the strong local support they receive, in hopes those supports get the attention of community residents as well. A variety of local businesses and organizations, from Cam’s with fried dough to a full range of shops and services, donate gifts, items, gift cards, and food, as well as their time. “The stores and businesses around here do a lot for this community,” says Shatrau, “We really want them to know how much we appreciate it.”

All together, what the Strawberry Festival offers is a chance for their riverfront community to turn the key towards the wild and wonderful summer ride ahead. “Come and enjoy a wonderful fun filled family event,” Shatrau says, “There is something for everyone!”

As the afternoon sun begins to dip down towards the horizon, and evening appetites begin to abate and turn to adventure, crowds gather and grow, quickly spreading down State Street towards and across Henley Park in anticipation of what the night will bring. Families arrive with lawn chairs, coolers and blankets to claim their spot and visit with friends, old and new, until darkness falls, hoping for a starry, starry night of sparkling delight. Children laugh and play amid ice cream cone chaos, wielding wild sparklers and neon lights along their way, as throngs of people settle in for an afternoon into evening of hometown music enjoyment from the Nite Life Band before those annual fireworks light the night sky as darkness falls.

The peaceful water too will begin to come alive with free floating boating spectators and, along the docks, as boats line up double parked in anticipation of the dazzling waterfront show, everyone looks up to find what they are looking for as one of the biggest and best fireworks displays in the county lights up the sky. Organized by the Phoenix Community and Youth Council, the fireworks spectacular in Phoenix starbursts sparks high overhead, reflected in the mirror of a watery backdrop, bringing on cheers, applause, and childlike summer wonder once again.

The start-of-summer June 28 Strawberry Festival and fireworks is a special event not to be missed, marking the last weekend in June as one that sets the standard for summer celebration, and new beginnings around Phoenix. It not only marks joyful community traditions over sumptuous servings of strawberry and cream delight for family and friends, but also, welcomes what lies ahead, lifting off the season in bursts and bottle-rockets of celebration style!!

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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