The decision was made on Thursday night, July 23 as Park Fete committee members met virtually. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the group to finally announce that there will be no Park Fete in 2020.
Organizers were keeping options open, hopeful for a fall celebration of some sort but circumstances finally, ultimately, made the decision for them.
“It was getting pretty obvious,” admitted Lions Club member and Escalon Mayor Robert Swift, one of those on the planning committee. “There can be no big gatherings, whether it be the Miss Escalon pageant, Senior Mr. and Mrs. Escalon, the parade … unfortunately, it doesn’t make sense.”
Even the committee meeting couldn’t be held in person, members having to check in on Zoom to have the discussion.
Traditionally held in July, the Park Fete for 2020 was originally postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Organizers at first were not willing to outright cancel it, anticipating a loosening of restrictions later this summer and into fall. But cases in San Joaquin County – along with those in neighboring Stanislaus – have risen dramatically, putting both counties on the state’s monitoring list. That, in turn, has meant more stringent restrictions on activities and also has prompted the enactment of distance learning for all San Joaquin County schools to begin the new school year in August.
Faced with that information, along with other factors, Swift said it didn’t seem feasible to move forward with planning a 2020 Fete.
“Just like that, a 75-year run of Park Fete is ended,” he said, noting that Park Fete had been going strong ever since missing a few years during World War II.
Planning committee member Paula Rocha explained that Park Fete was cancelled due to the war from 1942 to 1945.
Personally, Rocha said, she has only missed one Park Fete in all the years she has lived in Escalon.
“I was born in February and I was at Park Fete in July,” she said of attending her very first one more than 60 years ago. The one she missed, in 1976, she was recuperating from surgery. Other than that, Rocha said, it has been something she had attended and enjoyed every year.
She pointed out that, in the summers of her youth, she and her friends didn’t have cell phones and would ride their bicycles to town, meeting up with classmates and friends they hadn’t seen all summer. The fete used to be the last weekend in July.
“Going to Park Fete was a big thing,” she shared. “You got to see your friends and just have fun. It’s very sad (to cancel) but we have to do what we have to do. We have to get this country healed … hopefully we can make 2021 the best Park Fete ever.”
Swift said financial considerations also played a part.
He pointed out that, with the Lions Club as the sponsoring organization, it is their beer booth that brings in much of the revenue needed to put on the overall event.
“This is largely funded by the Lions and we can’t get an ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) license right now,” Swift explained of not being able to obtain the permits required to host a beer booth, another impact of COVID-19. “How are you going to put on an event and not be able to pay for it?”
A summer tradition, and touted each year as a ‘reunion’ for many former Escalon residents, the Park Fete brings friends back together for a day of fun in and around Main Street Park. Festivities open up on Friday afternoon with the carnival area for kids, vendor booths, music on stage and more. Saturday is a full day with the annual Park Fete Run, music, food, vendors, rides, games, special activities for kids, along with competitions and an open house at the Escalon Museum. This year, even with the hoped-for revised edition, organizers wanted to pack as much as they could into a smaller time frame. The thought was to possibly pair it with a downtown wine stroll or maybe host it on the Saturday of Homecoming Weekend.
But with schools going into distance learning mode and no sports until December at the earliest, there won’t even be a Homecoming this fall.
“A lot of people would love to see it,” Swift admitted of those still wanting Park Fete to go on somehow, in some fashion.
But organizers were also cognizant of the county and state directives aimed at getting the pandemic under control and said there’s no way to plan a celebration with such uncertainty.
“The whole gathering thing is just frowned upon so much,” added Swift. “The whole committee, we just came to the conclusion, it doesn’t make sense to have a Park Fete this year.”