65th annual strawberry festival a big success

CHASSELL – Thousands of people ate thousands of strawberry shortcakes and, along with two days full of activities, the 65th annual Copper Country Strawberry Festival was a rousing success.

“This is just a wonderful thing to give the community,” said Pam Hiltunen, who wrapped up her second year as Queen Lion for the Chassell Lions Club, the group that coordinates the festival.

“We have 57 members in the club and this is where they all come together,” said Dan Crane, Lions Club member, 2013 Outstanding Strawberry Grower and – according to Hiltunen – the “fearless leader” of strawberry growers.

“It’s great, it’s a huge fundraiser for us and we can put money back in the community and into Lions Club International projects,” Crane said.

Community was a theme all weekend and it’s what 2013 Strawberry Queen and Chassell native Kaitlyn Hietala emphasized about the festival.

“You can walk anywhere in the festival and somebody will say, ‘Hi,’ not just to me, anybody,” said Hietala, who wore the crown throughout Saturday’s events after garnering the honor Friday night.

“It’s awesome to watch (the queen crowning) your whole life and be like, ‘That probably won’t be me, realistically.’ But then to be up there and have the crown on your head and you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s me’ … it’s really cool to have that transition,” Hietala said.

Thousands of people lined the street for the annual parade, which was slightly smaller than recent years, and then many of them funneled their way through the entrance to Chassell Centennial Park for an array of events and of course, one or more of the 4,000 available shortcakes.

“This year for the festival, the strawberry season is right at the start – last year it was done – so it’s quite a bit different, and people seem to really want more berries. This is going pretty good for us,” Crane said during a brief break from passing out shortcakes. “This year I was getting a little nervous we weren’t going to have any, but this is the 65th year and we’ve always had berries, so I wasn’t that concerned.”

Picking started at the Crane Berry Farm about five days in advance of the festival and public self-picking just started Sunday after the festival. In all, 1,200 quarts of strawberries were cleaned Thursday for the festival, most of them from Henry Ohtonen’s farm, with Crane Berry Farm and Niemela Family Growers providing the rest.

Other festivities during the warm-weather Saturday included a barbecue chicken dinner provided by the Chassell Fire Department and First Responders, excursions aboard Michigan Tech University’s research vessel Agassiz, free wagon rides, a vintage fashion show, kids’ games, live music and dozens of vendors.

“We love all the vendors, we love the strawberry shortcake, we love the music,” said Judy Winquist from Copper City, who has attended the festival with her husband Ozzie for the last 20 years.