Marion’s Kiwanis club has backed out of sponsoring Old Settlers Day events on COVID-19 concerns.
A Marion businesswoman is attempting a scaled-down celebration, but specific events or sponsors have not been lined up.
Kiwanis has no objection to the effort but it is unclear whether the city will sign off, and local health officials continue to discourage gatherings of large groups.
Still, Tammy Ensey, co-owner of the Historic Elgin Hotel, says she is determined to go forward in honor of the 55th high school reunion of her father-in-law, Larry Ensey.
“It’s kind of an important year to him,” she said. “He graduated in 1965. It’s crazy how time flies, right?”
Marion Kiwanis dropped sponsorship of the parade, meal at Central Park and games, this past Wednesday after the city axed Art in the Park to protect the public from COVID-19.
Two days later, Ensey, an organizer of Marion Merchants, announced her intention to organize Old Settlers activities — which included an ice cream social, a treasure hunt for children, and a ‘downtown drag’ similar to the cruise events in Hillsboro — in an email to members.
“You are a stud,” messaged Andy Hansen, the Elgin’s project and facility manager, at the news, prompting Ensey to reply “Well someone has to be amidst all these pussys.”
Ensey promptly apologized “for using that kind of language,” saying it has become very hard for small businesses in Marion to stay open.
“I feel frustrated with the decisions that are being made out of fear,” she said, adding Mike Beneke’s closing of Edwards this past week is an example of the tough climate.
“Mike and his staff have poured their heart and soul into giving our community another choice to dine. I pass along a big thanks to Mike and his team and wish them well!” she said.
Roger Schroeder, a Kiwanis board member, said he was not offended.
He explained Kiwanis’ decision was an attempt to find “middle ground” between total cancelation of class reunions and allowing large gatherings.
Class reunions, which it does not sponsor, can go forward.
“The Kiwanis Club did not feel that promoting a large event such as OSD was in our best interest from a PR standpoint, especially with the city of Marion squashing Art in the Park,” he said.
“This was not a decision made to cancel OSD weekend, but simply back away from promoting some of the activities that go along with the weekend in hopes that Marion and/or the Marion County Health Department would not insert themselves and make a decision for everyone.”
Chris Mercer, Kiwanis president, was comfortable with Ensey’s approach.
“I don’t know that it is a bad idea,” he said, adding that Kiwanis made “a 100% tough decision” by canceling a beloved event.
“However, we just want to be smart about it,” he said. “I personally am glad people will come to town still… I would like to see how that will all come out.”
City councilman Ruth Herbel said the issue of having events at the park probably will come up at the next city council meeting.
Herbel was “very much in support,” of the Kiwanis decision to drop its sponsorship.
Councilman Chris Costello said the city council has not approved large public gatherings on city property since the outbreak of COVID-19.
“At this point it would surprise me if we changed course regarding public gatherings,” he said. “I think this is a common sentiment among the council when the issue has come up before.”
County health consultant Don Hodson and county health administrator Diedre Serene discouraged both Art in the Park and Old Settlers Day celebrations in an email to city administrator Roger Holter.
“Everybody knows how I feel about it, so I am not going to comment further,” Hodson said.
“There is no legal mandate, so people can pretty much do what they think is right, and if it turns out not to be right, that is on them.”
Ensey said she is in talks with other businesses and will release details of their plans “as things firm up.”