Amber Nance walks alongside her daughter, Grace Nance, 3, as she rides the ponies during the Uniopolis Jamboree on Saturday.
UNIOPOLIS — Every summer the Hall family returns to Uniopolis for the annual Uniopolis Firemen’s Jamboree to benefit the village’s fire department.
Josh Hall grew up in the rural Auglaize County village and his parents still live in town. For years, he has been bringing his wife, Shonda, and their three children back to enjoy the festival he grew up attending every year as a child.
“We come every single year,” Shonda Hall said.
Loading water balloons into a giant sling shot with his mom to aim at his dad, 4-year-old Elijah Hall couldn’t contain his excitement or wait to try again. Another time he took aim slinging the balloons with his dad and aiming at his mom, hoping to have more luck.
Shonda Hall said what makes the event so special is all the activities for the children that families can enjoy together.
“We don’t miss it,” Shonda Hall said. “It’s part of our summer plans every year and the first thing the kids ask about when we talk about what we are going to do for the summer.”
Sally Routt, of Wapakoneta, also doesn’t miss the Uniopolis Jamboree each year, but she comes out for a different reason — the homemade cakes she wins placing her bets on the cake wheel.
This year, she won six cakes before 6 p.m. Saturday and planned to take them with her to a big party later that night as her grandson heads off to the U.S. Navy.
“These will come in handy,” Routt said as she handed off her latest cake winnings to her grandchildren, who often help her play the cake wheel.
Like many others, she said the nice family atmosphere makes the jamboree enjoyable for everyone.
Edna Robenalt, of Wapakoneta, also brings her grandchildren each year to the festival, which she began attending almost 40 years ago and used to bring her own children.
“We always come, but it’s more fun when we can bring them along,” Robenalt said of her grandchildren, Andres Panos, 8, and Aliyah Panos, 5, of Lewis Center, as they picked out stuffed animals for prizes in the children’s game tent.
She said that and riding the ponies are the girls’ favorite parts of the jamboree.
Ashley Courtney’s children come to support their father, who serves on the volunteer fire department, and said after playing the games and jumping in the bouncies, they enjoy eating the food offered at the festival. This year, they are especially partial to the hot dogs.
“It’s nice to be able to support the fire department and for the small community to come together,” Courtney said.
The jamboree, in its 69th year, is always held the last Saturday of July and serves as one of the main fundraisers for the volunteer fire department each year. Friday night before there is a car show in front of the fire department.
Popular attractions that people come for year after year include the cake wheel, raffles, bingo, tenderloin sandwiches and homemade waffles.
“A lot of what we do is primarily for the kids — games, inflatables, ponies, sand art,” said firefighter and EMT Sam Blank, who like so many others also remembers growing up and coming to the festival each year with his family.
His grandfather served as fire chief of the department and his father also was a firefighter there when Blank was a child.
“The community really comes out for the event to support the fire department and have fun,” Blank said.
Milder temperatures and some partially cloudy skies also helped add up to success for the jamboree this year.
“It’s nice to get everybody together, to see people you haven’t seen all year,” Blank said about what he looks forward to now about the festival, which mirrors a lot of what he liked about it when he was younger, too.
The jamboree helps cover general costs for the department throughout the year, paying for new equipment or medical supplies as needed.
“Cost of operations are always increasing and there are always the unexpected expenses,” Blank said.
He thanked the community not only for coming out and supporting the jamboree each year but for donating prizes and cakes and their time.
“A lot of people not affiliated with the fire department help make this possible,” Blank said.