Monday, September 4, 2000
Oak Creek With a hammer under one arm and a cigarette dangling from his lips, Oak Creek resident Tom Wisecup gingerly climbed up a ladder Monday to the top of a pole blackened by globs of axle grease to nail $200 to the wood. It was a cash "carrot" for those willing to seek the title of Labor Day greased-pole climbing champion.
It's hard to say which of the family and community events draws the rowdiest whoops from participants and audiences in Oak Creek's Decker Park each Labor Day weekend, but the slipping, sliding children and adults throwing themselves at the greased pole in the center of the park is definitely among the favorites.
"It's so greasy, and it's so fun!" said first-time pole climber Bailey Carrell as she scraped inky-black goo from her legs with handfuls of grass and weeds.
Serenaded by Santana and encouragement from parents and children, residents, each of whom were either voluntarily or unknowingly entered in the contest, wrapped their limbs around the pole with enthusiastic, albeit futile effort, only to laugh and, like Carrell, permanently streak their clothing with unsoapable, unwashable slicks of grease.
Elsewhere at Decker Park on Monday, people were tossing eggs, tugging ropes, and scarfing down hundreds of hot dogs and hamburgers sold by Soroco High School's junior class.
Some of the most popular and lucrative contests of the day were 50-yard races run in sacks or three-legged style. From morning through the hot afternoon hours, brothers and sisters bound their feet together and mothers and daughters held hands and tumbled across the field face first.
First-place winners in the races received $2 a piece. By noon, 9-year-old Sarajane Rossi already had won $12, and was still signing up for more races.
"I'm just really good at stuff like this," she said, waving her hand around the park at the numerous picnic games.
And in fact, those games tug-of-war, sack races, egg-tosses and water fights are at the fun heart of the Labor Day tradition in Oak Creek. The annual celebration hasn't changed much in the past 50 years, according to parade marshals Chuck and Betty Sweetland.
"We've been here since 1952, and we haven't missed a Labor Day in Oak Creek yet," Betty said.
"We're awful proud to be the parade marshals," her humble husband added.
The Sweetlands said that in spite of the jewelry and jerky booths set up around the park for the first time this year, not much has changed about the local festivities.
"The best reason to come is to see old friends. They all come back for Labor Day," Chuck said.
But it's not only the old-timers returning to the yearly event. South Routt resident Suzy Kresl brings her daughters to the park every year as well.
"It's just a great social gathering," Kresl said. "It's such a positive thing for south Routt, and it's family-oriented."
The gathering isn't all about fun and games. Fund-raising events, like the annual kiss-the-pig contest, also are an important parts of the weekend. This year, "rookie" Oak Creek police officer Kelby Kenney received some 650 votes to kiss "Mary Pig," the official kissing-pig of Oak Creek's Labor Day. Thanks to votes for Kenney and other potential puckerers such as Police Chief Dan Kelliher, officer David Miller, Mayor Debbie Van Gundy, Superintendent Steve Jones, elementary school principal Troy Zabel and businessman David Bonfiglio, $362.75 was raised for the Oak Creek Hockey Association.
Combined with the greased-pole climbing contest, approximately $4,000 was raised during the weekend, resident Jennifer Coop said.