Turtle races keep crowds cheering at festival Print
Written by LAURIE STEVENS BERTKE, Chronicle Writer   
Friday, 25 September 2009 05:00
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NAPOLEON—Napoleon St. Augustine’s parish festival has much to offer in the way of food, fun and entertainment, but its signature turtle races may be what generate the loudest cheers each year.

Challengers with names like Peppy Pepperoni, Demolition Dave and Greenie the Lawn Machinery competed before roaring crowds Sept. 12 and 13 at the 11th Annual Turtle Fest.

The races have been a tradition since the parish moved its fall festival from the church property in downtown Napoleon to the Henry County Fairgrounds more than a decade ago. Parishioners wanted to expand the event, and Doug Herman, the parish business manager, suggested they introduce turtle racing.

“It became so popular that first year, it was only going to be Saturday night, but Father made us do it again Sunday because everybody enjoyed it so much,” says Mr. Herman. “Then it just kind of became the festival symbol, so we have turtle sundae ice creams now and turtle decorations and so on.”

Mr. Herman explains his idea for the attraction came from Glandorf St. John, which has held turtle races at its parish festival for many years. St. Augustine now shares its turtles with the Putnam County parish, which held its festival the weekend before the Turtle Fest.

“So these are experienced racing turtles,” Mr. Herman jokes.

At the Turtle Fest, the reptiles compete under spotlights on a special track that was designed and custom-built by St. Augustine parishioners.

“It’s kind of like a bookshelf with a Plexiglas front, and so each turtle is on a shelf or a lane, and they race across the shelf or lane to the finish line,” explains Mr. Herman.

Spectators are able to place $1 bets on the contenders. “Then we have an odds board, so depending upon the turtle, you could win $4, $8, $10, $20 on a dollar bet,” Mr. Herman explains.

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“We have sponsors for each turtle and each race,” says Karen Westhoven, who chaired the festival this year with her husband, Brad.

She says people of all ages enjoy watching the turtles compete.

The races also have an element of suspense, Mr. Herman notes. “You’ll get turtles that are, like, a centimeter away from winning and they stop or they turn around, and a turtle that’s still in the starting gate may come back and win the race,” he says. “Any turtle is in it until there’s a winner called.”

Mrs. Westhoven says the Turtle Fest is the biggest annual fundraiser for St. Augustine, typically bringing in between $20,000-$25,000.

“It’s a nice event, and it brings so many people together that work so hard for the church and the parish,” she says.

Father Daniel Borgelt, pastor of St. Augustine, says prayer is also a big part of the event, since Masses are traditionally celebrated at the fairgrounds before the festival opens on Saturday and Sunday.

“It’s a great event of drawing parishioners together,” says Fr. Borgelt. “Obviously, it takes many hours of volunteers … so it just really shows people’s commitment to the parish and the faith, that they’re willing to give that kind of time in planning everything and organizing it.”
Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 June 2010 18:51