HAMPDEN – Local resident Beth Ellingwood remembers taking her nieces and nephews to the first Hampden Children’s Day.
That was 24 years ago, and she hasn’t missed the annual event since.
Now that she’s the mother of a 5-year-old boy, Ellingwood sees the event, which was held Saturday, as a celebration of town fellowship.
“I see him having a good time and it brings such a sense of community and togetherness to this town,” she said. “Seeing it through a child’s eyes is worth it.”
Ellingwood, 42, was born and raised in Hampden and she is now raising her 5-year-old son, Eric, in town.
“I brought him [to Children’s Day] last year. He liked the fishing and jumping in the fun house,” Ellingwood said. “He’s very social and he loves socializing with the other kids. As an adult, I’ve enjoyed it. I come every year. My mother’s 68 and she loves seeing other people from Hampden.”
Donna and Chris Pease of Winterport said they brought their two children, ages 3 and 4, to see what Children’s Day is all about.
“We live in the [school] district,” said Chris Pease, who grew up in Winterport. “They’re going to be meeting their future classmates here. That’s one of the reasons we’re here.”
This was the first time the Peases had attended Children’s Day events.
Volunteer Lori Matthews, who is a seventh- and eighth-grade teacher at the middle school in Hampden, said working at the event gives her a chance to meet her students before school starts.
“I’m a middle school teacher at Reeds Brook and I get to see who’s in my class because they all come tell me,” she said.
For a decade Matthews brought her own kids to the event, but that has changed this year.
“They were always in the parade and they danced in it. My daughter was a Girl Scout so she was always with the Scouts, and my son was a Boy Scout. They always rode their bikes,” she said. “My kids aren’t here [this year] because they’re teenagers and have jobs.”
The annual event is sponsored by the Hampden Children’s Day committee and is a partnership between the Hampden Kiwanis Club, the Whitcomb-Baker Veterans of Foreign Wars Post and Auxiliary and numerous area businesses.
The day started off with a Hampden Kiwanis Club pancake breakfast and then children from across the community gathered to decorate their bikes with help from representatives from the Kidspeace New England Treatment Foster Care Agency.
The parade route, which was lined with hundreds of spectators, started at the Reeds Brook Middle School and progressed to Graves supermarket. After the parade, which ended around noon, 300 to 400 people headed to George B. Weatherbee School for a multitude of children’s games and events.
Hungry participants could enjoy VFW Auxiliary strawberry shortcake, Hampden Garden Club blueberry pie, the Kiwanis lunch wagon or Children’s Day committee doughboys, fresh cut french fries and fresh squeezed lemonade.
“We do it just for the kids,” said John Alley, co-chair of Children’s Day. “It’s a blast.”
For dinner, Hampden Congregation Church cooked up a supper along with the VFW, which held a baked bean and casserole dinner. After dinner local announcer Chuck Foster played host to an all-hit video dance, and the day ended with fireworks.
Alley and his wife, Jane, have been instrumental in the event since 1990. This year his daughter, Marianne, and son, Paul, helped make and serve food at the committee booth. Alley said the only problem with the event was the need for volunteers.
“We’re really desperate for volunteer help,” he said. “The crowds are down [this year] but it’s not hot, so that’s good. Next year is the silver anniversary so we’ll really focus on volunteers.”
Arthur Benson, the other co-chair of Children’s Day, said the event is a true test of volunteerism.
“When you talk about a small town operation – this is it,” he said.