P.O. Box 1411 Englewood FL 34295              941.474.8700                  info@englewoodpioneerdays.com
Englewood Pioneer Days

Opt-Ed from the Sun Herald  Sept. 2016

Written by Chris Phelps

Chair of The Englewood Pioneer Days Parade  and Festival Committee

Englewood ROCKS!

It’s been nearly 2 weeks since the Englewood Pioneer Days Parade 2016. Lose ends have been tied up, tables put away, trash cans emptied and now what? The weather was front and center, everyone was worried our weekend would be ruined! Ah, but the weather Gods were good to us, keep the storm away from our wonderful town. Protecting us once again and allowing our time to happen. I can’t thank EVERYONE enough for the support and love the committee felt from YOU! It truly takes a village and over the last few months we saw exactly what Englewood can do! Losing one of our members was difficult but everyone stepped up and filled in the gaps. Overall every event was successful with the final word at the end of Parade day, we did it and it was the best one ever!

We got off to a great start with the Little Miss Englewood Pageant, this year being held at the Lemon Bay High School Auditorium. The place came alive thanks to Dianna Walston and her wonderful committee of volunteers. A total of 42 contestants over 150 people attending and 10 volunteers made this event a spectacular event. Boys will be added back next year as it will be the 45th year for the event.

Chalkfest was hosted by the Englewood Art Center, their first time participating with 10 volunteers, 110 chalkers, twice the number from last year and over 500 people attending the event. The Kids Shipwreck Dance was another huge hit partnering with Charlotte County Parks and Rec, 62 kids, 12 volunteers, and 22 pizzas thanks to Marcos Pizza who sent 4 employees to serve the kids. The DJ had them dancing along with a few of the parent chaperones.

The Art and History had several locations opened but the most notable was the Museum which had 54 people visit the center, 50% were first timers and one new member, another successful event which will grow next year.

Singalong was plagued by the storm which kept people home so a plan is being made to have an Encore in the near future. A few songs were written by the Little Band of Writers, Linda Lou Lewis and Cheryl Baker that were recorded at the Green St. Church by Chris Walker and were played during the festival.

The cardboard boar race had 22 boats entered, 8 volunteers not including the Coast Guard Auxiliary, and about 500 watching from the shore, another great day, perfect weather!

That evening everyone headed to Pioneer Park. The Englewood Drum Circle started the evening playing under the big oak tree as people made their way to the best party in town with 4 food trucks and about 20 volunteers. The music was incredible with Chris walker Band and Summer Survivors,  it was a magical night with over 2500 people enjoying the evening. It was by far the largest gathering of people in the Park everyone had ever seen.

Sunday got off to a great start with the 7th Annual Michael O’Donnell Memorial FishAThon at the Tom Adams Bridge, 115 kids dropped their lines in the water at 8am and had a great time, about 20 volunteers and ABC7 showed up to get some great video of the kids. Another wonderful success story.

Diaper Derby had a smaller crowd with 11 registered crawlers all staying for a tour once the races were completed. The Festival kicked off at Noon with music, vendors, food and the Rockin’ Kids Zone. The Kids area was created by Freedom Church with over 40 volunteers, they had over 300 kids in 2 days, painting, playing and interacting with each other. Over 200 kids participated in the scavenger hunt, each given a small prize for finding all of the images around Pioneer Park.  The evening wound down with Kettle of Fish on stage around 9:30, as they were one of 12 acts that performed over the 3 days.

The Parade went off without a hitch, a few out of order but that makes it fun. Many floats had music or were passing out water and candy. Once the last float passed it was time to kick off the festival with more great music. The 36 pie eaters and 30 watermelon eaters, kids and adults consumed more than 12 pies and watermelons and those bearded men enjoyed some nice prizes too! The photo contest which stated in July had 181 entries with the top 10 secretly selected and 210 votes were cast. And all were recognized on stage along with the winning photo.

This year the trophies were once again outstanding created by artists from The Art Alliance of Lemon Bay. Each one was unique and an incredible piece of art that each group with be proud to display. Overall comments were “best parade ever” “all events were great” “it was like a family union” “How can I get involved”

Overall we had over 200 volunteers, many local companies and people in the community supporting all of the events. We made it on TV and the Radio from Tampa to Naples, putting little Englewood in the spotlight once again.  We will have our wrap up meeting next week and then begin planning for next year.  Look for the return of Mayor for a Day as a part of the Parade and the EPD Committee will host along with a few other throwback events might go from an idea to reality.

As the Chair I can’t thank enough people personally for taking time to volunteer, attend, support or just saying good things about Pioneer Days. It has been an honor to serve and meet people along this journey, I look forward to next year. Thank you ENGLEWOOD! WE ROCK!


Board of Directors

Englewood Pioneer Days Parade and Festival Committee, Inc.

Chris Phelps

Karen Blackford

Jennifer Perry

Dave McFadyen

Laura Fishpaw

Diana Woodruff

Warren Fishpaw

Gary Nieskes

Alia Phelps

Steve Legg

Kelly Green

Pam Syx

Erin Taylor

Tom Wasilko

Sarah Garcia

Dianna Walston

Helen McClaskie

Jean Airey Honorary Member

Steven Varga Honorary Member

Originally the Englewood Pioneer Day Parade – and all its surrounding events – were managed by individuals and organizations in the Englewood community. Over the years the organization was assumed by just one group which finally found the job too much to handle and decided to retire. This decision put the whole event in jeopardy and only a grass-roots response by a wide variety of community members has brought it back. These community members have formed what is now called the Englewood Pioneer Day Parade Committee.

The primary goal of the Englewood Pioneer Days Committee is to ensure the continuation of the Englewood Pioneer Days Parade.

In analyzing the history of the Pioneer Days Parade and its surrounding events over the years, the Committee believes a factor critical in ensuring the continuation of this event is that the organization and obligation is shouldered by the whole of the community as opposed to a single community group or organization.

Membership on the Englewood Pioneer Days Parade Committee is open to any individual or an organization sending an authorized representative. Participation on the Englewood Pioneer Days Parade Committee asks that the individual or representative, in all discussions and decisions, keep the goal of continuation of the Englewood Pioneer Days Parade as their priority.

All individuals and organizations will be equally encouraged and allowed opportunities to participate in the Englewood Pioneer Days Parade and any other activities surrounding it.

The Englewood Pioneer Days Parade and any events sponsored by or introduced by the Englewood Pioneer Days Committee will operate under a “balanced budget” philosophy and adhere to the spirit of the Englewood Pioneer Days celebration, that being; affordable and inclusive of all.

Pioneer Days     By Englewood, for Englewood


An Op-Ed piece by Erick Phelps published in the Englewood SUN in 2014

Six years ago I picked up the Sun and read Pioneer Days was being canceled. I couldn't believe it. My wife, Chris, goaded me saying, "Do something about it". I called Ken Kensey at WENG, Tom Newton at the Review, Lang Capasso at the Sun and Bill Truex. and asked if they'd support my effort. They all said yes and I start blasting emails to everyone I could think of. Debbie Marks of the CRA set up the first meeting. I didn't know a thing about Parades or the history of Pioneer days. I'd been in it twice, that was it. I later realized half the people at that meeting knew more than I did.

After the email smoke cleared, the people who showed up at a later meeting (and the next and the next) got tagged, the motley crew, because none of us knew each other. We were just Englewood people who wanted to make sure the Parade continued.

We all agreed the most important thing was to ensure the parade never be cancelled again. We'd read it was cancelled because of a pull-out of business sponsors and shortage of volunteers. It was the recession and, as every organization knows, there's always a shortage of volunteers. We decided in place of sponsors we'd have small fees and as many people, businesses and organizations involved, each to shoulder much smaller loads and we wouldn't spend one unnecessary dime. To this day if one of us wants a booth, we pay. Be in the Parade, we pay. This year we splurged. We bought a dozen t shirts and spray painted STAFF on them.

In a very short time the support started pouring in. We got donations for practically every expense. Even with that, the following year we did our budget based on paying for everything, expecting increasing costs and not counting on donations. We banked those Participant and Vendor fees to have a literal "Rainy Day" fund. Even if we were rained out, we'd still have to pay for permits, insurance and the Police. But the Parade would still go on the following year. If we came in over budget, we'd reinvest in things that would lower the following year’s expenses, namely tents, tables and such, knowing other expenses would go up. They did.

After a month or so the crew knew the parade was going to happen and added another goal. If we have thousands of people on Dearborn, why not have a festival to give people something else to do and give local businesses the opportunity to showcase themselves, which were the goals of Pioneer days in the first place, and help expose Dearborn Street to people, which was and is undergoing a revitalization effort?

In the end, the model worked.

Some events we put on; The parade, festival and Shipwreck Dance. Others we started and handed off to others; The Kids Shipwreck Dance and Chalkfest. Some started as the historic idea of Pioneer Days took hold: The Michael O’Donnell Memorial Fish-A-Thon, the Diaper Derby. Others, Capt’n Ricks Cardboard Boat Race, Lil' Miss/ Mr Englewood, Mayor for a Day were already going on. For some of these we do as little as promote them on the web site and in press releases, and others, we cover under our insurance policy. All in the idea that all of us working together generates better results than we would working separately.  

Along the way the "real" world intruded on Pioneer Days. While none of us wanted to, in order to open a bank account and get insurance, we had to become a "Business Entity". This went on to a need to incorporated as a formal non-profit organization, The Englewood Pioneer Days Committee.

The few however, can never take away from the great people I've worked with; Jean Airey, Cathy and Roger Redman, Jennifer Perry, Bart Tracy, Laura and Warren Fishpaw, my wife Chris and past crew members; Elaine and Bruce Schweitzer, Wendy and James Ullery, Toni Hopper, Bret Clark and last but not least Tammy Birdsong who showed me the real community of Englewood.

On Saturday night during the Shipwreck Dance, there was a group of people sitting on the bench in front of Pioneer Park. They were dressed for the costume contest. Talking to them, a girl sitting on the ground told us that she was little Miss Englewood in 1989. By the way she said it, half embarrassed, half proud, I could tell her friends didn't know that about her. I had to smile, I've heard a similar story a thousand times over the past 6 years.

Maybe it's because I came from a larger city, but after 6 years of seeing the heart of this community, I think I've seen clearly what a community really is.

A community is more than just a geographic area, it's an place where people, businesses and organizations feel a connection and, most importantly, a responsibility to other people, businesses and organizations they don't know or aren't members of.

Thank you people of Englewood, for showing me something that most people, unfortunately, don't think exists anymore