Karnival for Kids

Art Nordhoff helped Chloe McCracken, 6, both of Jasper, fish for toys during the Kiwanis Kiddie Karnival on Wednesday at Jaycee Park in Jasper. Children snagged a bit of everything — bubbles, silly masks, Ring-Pops and play dough. Nordhoff was at the first Kiddie Karnival 66 years ago when the event took place in Jasper resident David Held’s back yard.

Story by Hannah Fleace
Photos by Heather Rousseau

The wagon creaked and bowed under the weight of the wood. A small group of boys wound through Jasper, collecting scraps from factories to add to their growing stockpile. They unloaded the loot in Dave Held’s backyard at the roots of a massive tree. Days later, 15 feet off the ground with a wiry rope dangling toward the grass, the masterpiece was finished. Dave climbed the rope while Larry Haas and his little brother, William, climbed to the roof of the Helds’ home and jumped into the tree house. The theme from “Woody Woodpecker” cartoon crackled on the radio.

This June 9, 1972, Herald photo shows the first-place winners in the four categories of the pet parade. Also pictured are event chairman Dave Buehler, left, and longtime Kiwanis member Frank Ebenkamp, who was wearing his clown suit. From left are Keith Schneider, Jan Schroeder, Nancy Uland and John Crutchfield.

“That’s our neighborhood,” Haas recalled. “We had free reign. We’d hop on our bikes and go wherever we wanted to go.”

The group of five houses at the intersection of Mill Street and East 15th acted as the stage, arena, field and stomping grounds for the group of 16, whom Dave dubbed the KI-YO-TEE kids.

“I remember Dave said, ‘No other neighborhood has got a name, but we should,’” Haas said.

They dug baseballs out of the neighbor’s gardens, pulled glowing Labor Day boxes (decorated shoe boxes with candles inside) down the streets, once or twice hosted boxing matches and one evening, on a whim, began a tradition that’s spanned 66 years.  

Dave was the ringleader of the outfit and the Kiddie Karnival was his brain child. The traditional one-day summer fair for children began in 1948 and marked its 66th year Wednesday next to the city pool at Jaycee Park along Bartley Street in Jasper.  

Dave’s father, Dr. George Held, suggested the funds from the carnival go toward Memorial Hospital, which had been planned but not yet built. The event was set for July 26 and 27 in Dave’s backyard.

“He just decided to do it,” Haas said. “We all joined in and thought we’d have some games and food.”

The kids began advertising, pinning fliers on telephone poles and inviting pals from surrounding neighborhoods. They planned games — ring toss, penny pitch, a fish pond — and encouraged children to bring their pets. In days just before the event, the kids tugged their wagons to local drugs stores to collect donations and toys the shops weren’t selling anymore.

“Once our parents saw how this thing was developing, they got involved,” Haas said. “They set up a stand with hot dogs, lemonade and cookies.”

The first morning of the carnival, games and food packed the Helds’ yard and space grew scarce as nearly 60 kids invaded.

“Everyone there did something,” Haas explained, “Jim Loechte was the tattoo man.”

The kids covered every visible inch of Loechte in 200 temporary tattoos.

Hudson McCune, 11, and his cousin Jake Rose, 10, both of Jasper waited for contestants to try the ring toss. Players who successfully landed rings around the neck of soda bottle got to choose a drink as their prize. Wednesday marked McCune’s third year volunteering at the event.

“That night, he tried to get them off,” Haas laughed. “The next morning he said, ‘I am not going to be the tattoo man anymore.’”

At the conspiring of her older brothers, Marilyn Haas was designated to be the bearded lady. Larry ran the penny pitch, the event’s most popular game, in which participants toss a penny on a board to win a prize. Will Haas was the clown and the Haases’ father, Alois, built the fish pond that was used for nearly six decades.

The carnival was classic with games, prizes and food, but there was an element of surprise that grew into a quirky tradition — the pet parade.  

“Ted Uland had a monkey,” Haas recalled. “That thing sat on his shoulder the whole time he walked around.”

In the following years, the carnival offered pony rides and eventually the pet parade was born.
The fun didn’t shut down until 10:15 p.m.

“We ended up raising $365,” Haas said.

“Thinking back now, it was so unique,” Will Haas recalled, “But at the time, we didn’t think it was anything special.”

The first year’s profit bought an incubator for the children’s unit at the upcoming hospital. The next year’s profit went to Memorial Hospital as well.

In 1950, Dr. Held and Alois Haas, both members of the Kiwanis Club in Jasper, decided the fair was a strong enough success to merit more involvement.

“They bought us out for nothing,” Will Haas laughed. “But we would’ve gotten sick of it eventually.”

That year, the festivities were moved to what was then the Jasper Municipal Park on Ninth Street. The Kiddie Karnival stayed there for more than a decade before moving to its current location at Jaycee Park.

After the first Kiddie Karnival in July 1948, neighborhood children known as the KI-YO-TEE Kids presented Othmar Bockelman a check ticketed to help fund the planned Memorial Hospital in Jasper. In the front row, from left to right, are Marilyn Haas, Anne Held, Jimmy Loechte, Charles William Haas, Larry Haas, Bockelman, Melvin Kreilein, Linda Schaaf and David Held. In the back row are Carol Hopf, Larry Loechte, Jenny Hopf, Patty Hopf, Charles Heilers, Sue Jane Kreilein, Virlee Hopf and Carol Dischinger.

The Kiddie Karnival is the Kiwanis Club’s largest fundraiser with proceeds benefiting organizations such as 4-H, Key Club, Jasper Community Arts, bands in the Greater Jasper School district, local youth sports, Boy Scouts, Riley Hospital for Children, Destination ImagiNation teams and dozens more.

Though several of the activities and the goodwill behind the carnival have long been steady, the change of hands brought new faces and fresh ideas.

Frank Ebenkamp was one of those faces.

The Jasper man joined Kiwanis in 1964 and immediately became involved as the head clown in the pet parade. A former club president and inter-club chairman for the past 45 years, Ebenkamp is one of the longest-standing members with 50 years in the Jasper Kiwanis branch. Though summer heat forced him to retire his clown costume a few years ago, Ebenkamp still proudly leads the children on a parade of pomp through Jaycee Park.

At this year’s carnival, the park was quiet 10 hours before the pet parade began. The miniature golf game and fish pond sat Wednesday morning along what was to be the main drag, looking dismal and soaked. The park was wrapped in potential energy.

Under the shelterhouse, Jason Schmitt, co-chair of the Kiddie Karnival for 20 years, and Ed Kreilein, the Kiwanis treasurer, prepared for the arrival of the distributors who make the day possible.

“We are very lucky in the community,” Schmitt said of the local businesses that donate food, equipment and supplies. “There are certain people I call and say, ‘It’s Kiddie Karnival time’ and I know I can count on them.”

The food begins to cook around 11 a.m. and the day of festivities can officially begin.

In the early afternoon hours, a crowd of children gathered around the fish pond and eagerly paid two quarters to reach a fishing net behind the painted, wood walls. Trinkets, stick-and-peel mustaches, candy and pretzels mysteriously appeared each time the net goes over. The fish pond is a favorite because of its simplicity.

Other games require some skill.

Clayton Sander, 10, of Celestine, held his fake mustache as Jasper residents Morgan Rottet, 18, left, and Jessica Lehmkuhler, 23, helped Clayton adjust the glasses he won. Sander was at the carnival with Camp CARE, and Lehmkuhler and Rottet help with the summer camp. Camp CARE participants attend the Kiddie Karnival every year.

Cousins Jake Rose, 10, and Hudson McCune, 11, both of Jasper, monitored the ring toss while trying to figure out the best technique to win. They meant business. Rose picked up a set of rings, a Ring Pop dangling from the corner of his mouth. McCune, with a money pouch hanging at his hips, explained the latest approach to tossing.

“You have to hold the ring at the edge of your fingers and like, bop it,” he said.

The technique worked once.

At least 30 bottles stood side-by-side on a platform. The boys handed 12 rings to each competitor. The object was simple enough: Land a ring on the cap of one bottle. Yet, one after another, the plastic rings clipped bottle lids and ricocheted off the sides. The young workers collected the wayward rings.

“I like getting to see the other kids,” McCune, who has helped at Kiddie Karnival for three years, said.

Each year the Kiddie Karnival treats Camp CARE, an eight-week summer program for children and adults with disabilities, to all the games. Lined up at the foot of a miniature golf putting green, each camper tried to knock the ball into one of three arches and then the hole.

Schmitt handed them balls while the other children cheered. A small crowd of parents and kids began to form as each kid tested their skills.

“Who’s next?” Schmitt asked.

“The big guy,” replied Jordan Bryant. Gangly and grinning, the 12-year-old from Huntingburg swung at seven balls, missing every shot.  

“One more, you can do it,” Schmitt said.

Bryant tapped the ball and it glided into the hole. The crowd roared.

The Camp CARE kids looped around the carnival, sporting black mustaches and wacky sunglasses from the fish pond.

Hannah Seifert, 10, of Jasper, held her pet bearded dragon, Spike, as Sydney Waddell, 12, of Ireland, hugged her cat, Felix, who was wearing a tutu for the Kiddie Karnival pet parade. Spike won the award for most unusual pet and Felix came in second place in the contest for prettiest pet.

Across the park, Jasper residents Corbin Kaiser, 16, and Noah Farmer, 15, were leading pony rides on Kaiser’s 26 year-old-pony, Lightning.

Apprehensive and excited children flocked to the pony throughout the day. One at a time, Kaiser walked Lightning around a ring of flags. Throughout the history of the Kiddie Karnival, pony rides were a sporadic treat but for the past five years, Lightning has been there.

In the evening hours, the old girl transformed into a show pony at the pet parade.

An assortment of dogs, cats, ducks, bunnies and a bearded dragon waited, not so patiently, inside the makeshift corral.

Eli Rasche was dead serious about the pet parade. The 5-year-old Jasper boy observed the crowd and tightly clutched his tan bunny, Beyoncé, to his chest. He has other bunnies at home — they’re named Lady Gaga and Frank Zappa — but Beyoncé was his pick this year. A few feet away, 9-year-old Allie Schnarr of Jasper was giddy. This was her first year to enter a pet after she inherited a 4-year-old bichon frisé named Maggie.

“We got her last week,” said Jennifer Schnarr, Allie’s mother.

Allie wanted Maggie to win the award for prettiest or best trained.

Sydney Waddell of Ireland, 12, cradled a sullen black and white cat named Felix. The feline, who won the second place award for prettiest, was dressed in a black and pink tutu and stared at the lizard on a girl nearby. The lizard, a bearded dragon named Spike, rested on the shoulder of 10-year-old Jasper native Hannah Seifert. The first-place winner for most unusual pet, Spike came from a pet store.

As the spectacle of children and animals lined up, Ebenkamp prepared for his march.

While the carnival is a new experience for children each year, many young-at-heart Kiwanis members have spent decades attending and helping. Ebenkamp treasures the years spent with the Kiddie Karnival. He directed the children around two laps as judges Dave Hubster, Dave Wehr and Courtney Knies watched. As the judges deliberated, Ebenkamp handed blue ribbons to each of the participants.

Sydney Waddell, 12, fed a pony while her sister, Sadie, 8, both of Ireland and Olivia Doty, 10, and Erin Mehringer, 9, both of Jasper waited their turns. The pony, named Lightning, rested during a break from providing rides for Kiddie Karnival visitors.

He has seen as many as 30 children in pet parades, but recent Kiddie Karnival attendance has declined. A decade ago, the crowd included nearly 400 visitors who ate more than 500 hamburgers.
That number has fallen to about 100 kids and the Kiwanis ordered 365 burgers for Wednesday.

The club battles the boom of summer camps, evening baseball and softball leagues, amusement parks and the weather. Organizers have tried to spark interest with magicians, costumes, roller coasters and inflatable slides and bounce houses. Members have discussed changing the date and location.

They return to one notion: The show must go on.

“We feel not only is it an important part of Kiwanis’ history but it is an important part of Jasper’s history,” Schmitt said. “We do see the kids do enjoy it. We need to continue to do it.”

Contact Hannah Fleace at newsintern@dcherald.com.

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