By Ryan Berry
GREENVILLE – We are only four years from the 100th anniversary of Annie Oakley’s death, but her life continues to be celebrated each year at the Annie Oakley Festival. The Darke County native traveled the world entertaining and could easily be considered one of the first to demonstrate that women can be powerful.
This year’s festival was held at the south end of the Darke County Fairgrounds and featured some familiar favorites, including the National Fast Draw Competition, Historical Bus Tours, Melodrama, American Western Arts Showcase and the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association.
This year’s Miss Annie Oakley Madison Werner presided over the events.
According to JoEllen Melling, president of the Annie Oakley Festival committee, this year’s event attendance was one of their best in recent years. The good attendance comes when there were a lot of options for entertainment in the Miami Valley on the same weekend, including the Dayton Air Show, Celtic Festival, and other festivals, events and concerts.
“This year has been great,” said Melling. “We were shocked at first, but we’ve had a lot of new vendors this year. Attendance has been wonderful. People were crowded in here yesterday.” said Melling.
She pointed out the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association has been a good draw for the festival, and it is one of the reasons they chose to move from York Woods back to the fairgrounds. The event draws participants from several states.
Although the weekend went well, the memory of a couple board members who passed away over the past couple of years has been heavy on their hearts and minds. Phil Hathaway died on March 26, 2021, and Melling’s sister, Jennifer Peck passed away on April 20, 2022.
Melling said her committee has pulled together and stepped up to fill the shoes of both individuals. “It’s been rough,” she said. “Jennifer Peck was my sister. Not only did I lose our second vice-president, she took care of all of our gates and made sure band kids were here and covering everything. She was my right-hand person. My best friend. It has been an emotional year.”
Melling’s husband, Gery, and other family members have stepped up to help with the festival. Peck was in charge of putting the parade together, but Gery came in and tried his best to fill the void. “We pulled it together. We’re a small group, but we’re mighty.”
Since moving back to the fairgrounds, Melling has seen the festival continue to grow. “People like the location. They can walk in easily, there’s plenty of parking, it’s spread out, but it’s neatly spread out. It’s more organized and easier for people to get back and forth.”
To contact Daily Advocate Editor Ryan Berry, email [email protected]