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Holy Rosary homecoming, African American Heritage Festival are a hit

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By Nick Schrager

On the first weekend in August each year, people come from all over the county, and for that matter, all over the country, to visit Springfield for the annual homecoming celebration hosted by Holy Rosary Catholic Church.

“It’s been taking place for 50 or 60 years, at least,” said Deacon Gus Cooper, pastor of Holy Rosary Catholic Church.

Jimmy Churchill, one of two chairs for the homecoming celebration, said it’s probably been even longer than that. He said his mother, who is 81 years old, recalls attending homecoming when she was a young girl.

Either way, there’s no doubt the event is huge, and well attended. With the addition of the city’s African-American Heritage Festival seven years ago, the homecoming weekend has become one of the best attended events in Washington County.

Between the food, music, games and other activities, preparing for homecoming is no small task. Just ask Churchill and his fellow chair of the event, Darnell Young.

“It’s like a great big family reunion,” said Young. “It’s the history of the church, and people have been coming for years. We have people from several states that come back for it.”

The homecoming festivities usually begin on Saturday around noon, according to Young. He said that’s when people start to come by looking for sandwiches and other foods. The official serving of meals begins at 4 p.m. and runs until 8 p.m., and the menu consists of mutton, chicken, and ham, as well as potato salad, corn pudding, and more. There are also plenty of cakes, according to the ladies of the church.

“We make 50 extra cakes, and every church member is also responsible for making two cakes,” said DeLoise Logan, who was busy working in the church kitchen Thursday afternoon. She added with a smile, “I have to get home and make mine tonight.”

Pam Grundy, who was working with Logan in the kitchen to prepare for homecoming, said about 900 meals are typically served each year.

Of those 900 meals, Young said many feature chicken, and the church now has a special fund it calls “chicken money” to help pay for the chicken each year. He said years ago, people supplied the chicken, but that made preparing it all difficult because it was delivered at different times when people would bring it in. Now, with the chicken money, the church is able to order all of the chicken at one time, and have it prepared in time for dinner.

Homecoming winds down Saturday night at midnight, and Churchill said some of the bigger crowds are on hand around 10 or 11 p.m. Young added that if they didn’t turn off the lights, people would probably stay all night long.

Before shutting down Saturday night, several raffles take place, including a $2,000 giveaway. On Sunday, Churchill said the event continues with horshoe pitching and a cornhole tournament, as well as sandwiches being sold.

“A lot of people come by on Sunday. It’s a good day,” he said.

Young said the event is not just for the African American population, and the turnout features all segments of the community.

“This is a great big event in this community for the black sector, but we have a real large contingent of the white population that comes out and eats dinner and visits, too,” Young said. “It’s a good mix, and a lot of friendly people come up here.”

Most of the people who attend want to see other people, but Young laughed and said many of the younger folks who attend do so to be seen. He said shopping for outfits to wear to homecoming has become a big part of the event.

“At my house, they’ve been shopping for two weeks,” Young said. “I thought, ‘Ain’t y’all ever gonna get done?’ Who cares what you’ve got on, as long as you’re clean!’”

Churchill laughed and recalled the days when he did the same thing.

“We used to do that, too,” he said. “We would go out and work for two weeks just to make the money for homecoming.”

Margaret Hodgens Bush, who was born in Washington County and lived here until she was about two years old, still comes back each year. Bush now lives in Indianapolis, but she enjoys helping prepare for homecoming, as well as seeing everyone she has known here in Springfield over the years.

“Well, it’s sad because a lot of people who took care of me when I was young are no longer here, but it’s also very joyful to come and see their children and my children and everybody getting together,” Bush said. She added that the African-American Heritage Festival being held in conjunction with homecoming is important to her, and she thinks it’s good for the community.

“I think it’s great,” she said. “I thought since the first year they had it that it was a good idea. I like seeing it improve every year, and it shows how much we have contributed to the community through the years.”

The city of Springfield plays an active role in the festival, as well as the homecoming celebration. While tourism money goes toward the festival in downtown Springfield on Friday nights each year, the city also has police officers who provide security, and firefighters do their part to help clean the parking lot at the church. Young said the church appreciates the help, and added that the city is a big part of homecoming.

Nell Haydon, director of Springfield’s Main Street Renaissance, said the African-American Heritage Festival is a huge draw for the community.

“I think this year shows that it has been extremely successful,” Haydon said. “We brought many people into town early for homecoming and the African-American Heritage Festival. I think the Jimmy Church Band was a big draw. He wanted to participate in our African-American Heritage Festival, and it was the biggest success we’ve had so far. We had people staying at our hotel locally. It was booked, and people were staying in Lebanon, too.”