Labor woes fail to derail LaborFest and its spirit, organizers say

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008
— What happens to a huge Labor Day celebration in a community whose labor force is suffering from layoffs, more layoffs and probable future layoffs?

Nothing, say organizers of Janesville's LaborFest, the annual celebration that includes the massive Labor Day parade.

LaborFest will be the same as it's been in recent years, said Bert Brookens, president of the Labor Fest Committee. There have been no cutbacks on entertainment.

Some might think the hits taken by local union members would have an impact.

"Lots of people think it's a union festival or even a UAW festival, but it's not," Brookens said.

"It's a coalition of labor," Brookens continued. "Everybody is labor."

When thousands throng downtown streets Monday, they'll see a parade on a par with recent years, said organizer Bonnie Arnson.

The parade had 109 units signed up as of Monday, which is normal, Arnson said. The Shriners' cars, stilt walkers, horses, camels, clowns and nine marching bands are all ready.

Marv Wopat, a longtime organizer of community events and recent GM retiree, will be driving his 1970 Oldsmobile convertible in the parade.

Wopat worries that the annual UAW-GM food drive may die out, because it relied so heavily on the donations of UAW-represented employees at GM and Lear. But Wopat said the parade is different.

"I think Bert's right with LaborFest, because you have a lot of different organizations involved with it, not just GM," Wopat said.

Just look in the LaborFest booklet, which is full of sponsorship ads from local businesses and other organizations, as well as unions, Brookens said.

LaborFest is a lot of people from all walks of life volunteering for a good cause, Brookens said. The cause is to celebrate workers' contributions while providing family entertainment.

The fest, on the UAW grounds on Janesville's south side, has no entry fee.

"We want to make this a family event, so it doesn't cost you an arm and leg," Brookens said.

It costs $13,000 to $18,000 to put on the three-day fest. Much of that comes from sponsorships, a raffle and food sales, Brookens said. Perhaps the biggest costs are paid in the form of donated labor. LaborFest has a solid organization, which is why it's in good shape, Brookens said.

Finding volunteers is a problem, but that's always been the case, Brookens said.

LaborFest is on good financial footing, Brookens said, so he has no fears about the 2009 LaborFest.

Wopat will be driving Parade Marshal Tim Cullen who, coincidentally, is one of the leaders of the effort to convince General Motors to locate a new product at the Janesville plant after production of the large SUVs ends here.

The choice of Cullen as parade marshal may seem significant, but Cullen was chosen long before Gov. Doyle appointed him and UAW Local 95 President Brad Dutcher to lead the save-the-plant effort, Cullen said.

The LaborFest theme should also ring a bell with those smarting from the layoffs. It's "America's Jobs are in Your Hands—Vote!"

But that slogan was chosen last winter, Brookens said.

Mike Sheridan, the former Local 95 president, hopes LaborFest will be an opportunity to celebrate workers, especially and in spite of the recent bad news.

"Probably more than ever, you hope the community will come out and support Labor in these trying times," Sheridan said. "It's been a tough year, but we're not giving up yet."

LaborFest 2008

Admission to the LaborFest grounds on the UAW Local 95 grounds, 1795 Lafayette St., Janesville, is free. Schedule of events (all on the UAW grounds except Monday's parade):


Noon—Grounds open. Teen mud volleyball and deejay.

Noon-6 p.m.—Adventure Rock, the rock-climbing wall, and games.

1-5 p.m.—Pony rides and petting zoo.

1-5 p.m.—Roger Crary, in the beer garden.

2-6 p.m.—TT the Clown and Pockets the Clown.

7-11 p.m. Knee Deep, main stage.


8-10 a.m.—Breakfast available.

8 a.m.-all day—Co-ed mud volleyball.

9 a.m.-5 p.m.—Hutt the DJ, in the mud volleyball area.

10 a.m.-6 p.m.—Games, Adventure Rock, pony rides, petting zoo.

1 p.m.—Steve Bernards & Friends, family entertainment.

1-5 p.m.—Elvis Presley tribute artist Jesse Aron, in the beer garden.

2-4 p.m.—Fire engine display.

2:30-5 p.m.—TT the Clown and Pockets the Clown.

3 p.m.—Karate America demonstration.

7-11 p.m.—Little Vito and the Torpedoes, main stage.


8 a.m.—Grounds open, coffee and rolls available.

10 a.m. Car display; sandwiches available.

12:30-4 p.m.—Bel Cats, beer garden.

1 p.m.—"Largest Parade in the Midwest," downtown Janesville.

2-5 p.m.—Northern Illinois Raptor Rehab and Education with live birds.

2-6 p.m.—Pony rides, petting zoo, games.

3 p.m.—Camel rides, Pickett's Circus Wagon.

4-8 p.m.—X51, main stage.

6 p.m.—Trivia drawing.

8 p.m.—Raffle ticket drawing for $7,500 cash and other prizes.

9 p.m.—Grounds close.

For more information, call (608) 755-5120, Ext. 122, or access www.laborfest.org.

Last updated: 9:56 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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