MARIA STEIN — After visiting the Maria Stein County Fest on Thursday and watching the tractor square dancers, some residents from Rest Haven in Greenville were wanting to learn to drive tractors themselves.
The Country Fest welcomed approximately 400 people for its media day and preview show on Thursday on the grounds of the Shrine of the Holy Relics in Maria Stein, just north of Darke County. Most of the guests were from nursing homes including Rest Haven in Greenville, Village Green Healthcare Center in Greenville and Versailles Health Care Center in Versailles.
“We absolutely love being invited,” said Rest Haven Activity Director Lynelle Miller, who brought 10 residents for the free lunch and show. “They always treat us wonderfully. The residents have a great time.”
After being dropped off on the Country Fest grounds, the spectators received a free meal and were entertained by some of the festival’s biggest acts.
The show began with the famous Maria Stein Country Fest tractor square dancers — eight men who have performed square dances atop their tractors for the past 20 years.
As an old farm boy, Rest Haven resident Darrell Kolling appreciated the skill of the tractor drivers as they weaved about the show ring.
“A lot of skills in them boys doing that,” Kolling said.
A former square dancer herself, Village Green resident Ruth Aleshire also appreciated the difficulty of performing a dance with eight large tractors.
“That takes a lot of training,” Aleshire said.
This year’s tractor square dancing theme is beach boys, with the performers dressed in beach attire and their tractors decked out appropriately as well.
“When we first started, I thought we’d only do shows for three years,” tractor square dancer Bob Unrast said. “But the people kept coming back for them. Each year we’d change our theme. When I asked people why they kept coming back, they told me they wanted to see what theme we had picked.”
As it has been for the past two decades, the tractor square dancing remains a fixture of the Country Fest and was very popular with Thursday’s guests.
“I love it,” Versailles Health Care Center resident Mae Stoltz said. “I love the music.”
Additionally the spectators got a preview of this year’s main entertainment — the Pirates of the Colombian Caribbean high-wire act.
Rest Haven resident Sammie Mygatt enjoyed the high-wire act the most and loved seeing the performers as they did flips and balanced in precarious positions high above the ground.
Overall the spectators appreciated the free show.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Village Green Resident Activity Director Jody Smith said. “I think this is a very good show. They go way beyond setting this up for people to see.”
Versailles Health Care Center Activities Assistant Susan Browder said Thursday’s show was a great opportunity for some of the residents to get out and enjoy a day outside.
“I think it’s great,” Browder said. “They love to get out.”
The preview day on Thursday has become a staple of the festival, which is open Friday evening through Sunday night.
“We’ve been inviting nursing home residents here for 10 to 12 years,” Country Fest committee member Don Huelskamp said. “It started out as a media day and we decided to make it a worthwhile event and started inviting nursing homes. Their people like coming here every year. They have a tent to sit under and there are people here to help them.”
For more information on the Maria Stein County Fest — which features free admission, free parking and free shows — including a complete schedule of the weekend’s events, visit www.mscountryfest.com.