A summertime tradition in Stanhope

STANHOPE – You’ll know it’s a summer Wednesday night in Stanhope when you see parked cars surrounding the town park and a congenial line of folks waiting their turn to get their homemade pie , hear the live music from the park shelter and the sounds of a big T-ball game coming from the ball diamond. And when you just feel good that the tradition of Wednesday Night in the Park is alive and well for another season.

This is the 30th anniversary of the well-known weekly event that draws folks from Stanhope and around the county for a chance to see their friends, listen to music, enjoy beef burgers and pie, and just enjoy the simple pleasure of sitting in a lawn chair in the shade of a big tree on a pretty summer evening.

Such contentment isn’t always easy to come by in our rushed, over-scheduled, busy days. And simple entertainment like you’ll find in the Stanhope park shelter isn’t usually free, either, but that’s how it is at this venue. Everything is free except for the food.

Funding is thanks to the Stanhope centennial, celebrated in 1983. After that was over, it was up to the centennial committee to decide what to do with surplus funds from selling commemorative items.

“We decided right away after the centennial that this was what we wanted to do with the leftover funds,” said Marilou Krumm, who served on the centennial committee. “It was work to get it all planned, but the funding has accomplished what we wanted.”

In addition to offering a chance for residents to socialize with their friends in town, the centennial committee looked at Wednesday evenings in the park as a way to support local organizations and invited local churches, youth groups, and organizations to each take a turn preparing and selling food at the park shelter. The menu is simple: homemade pie is always popular, and plenty of beef burgers and hot dogs are consumed each week, too.

Entertainment on Wednesday evening tends toward simplicity, too, taking the form of an accordion player, a nine-piece German band, a three-piece combo playing bluegrass or country tunes on stringed instruments, or students of the local piano studio perhaps. It varies every week. What doesn’t change much is that several couples often get up to dance to the music in the shelter after the corn meal goes down on the cement floor.

Actually, this is only the current version of summer park entertainment in Stanhope. Long-time residents like Darla Wilcox remember when heading to the park was the thing to do on Wednesday evenings. “In the early 1950s I was in the Stanhope High School band, and we had a band concert every Wednesday on the stage in the park,” Wilcox recalls. “The band parents served an ice cream social then, too. People would sit in their cars to listen to the band, and they’d honk their car horns when each song finished.”

Over the years Wednesday nights have also meant softball or baseball games on the park ball diamond, too, a practice that continues in the form of young, enthusiastic T-ball players.

The 2014 version of Wednesday Night in the Park continues weekly through July 23. Serving begins at 5:45 p.m., with entertainment at 6:30.