ADA - "If the day is fine we will have four or five thousand people at the big Farmers and Merchants Picnic."
This statement, exact orator unknown, was made during a meeting of the Business Men of Ada club held on Aug. 14, 1914, as they made the final preparations for the first ever Farmers and Merchants Picnic. Fast forward 100 years and the community of Ada will come together this Saturday, Aug. 10, for the centennial celebration of this Ada summer tradition.The club was formed in February of 1912 as a way to promote the business interests within the Village of Ada. Initial dues cost a staggering $1 and by April a formal club constitution was adopted.
Two years later, in March 1914, the main focus of the club was to secure the Lincoln Highway for Ada. The businessmen were certain of success and plans for signage were already in motion. Unfortunately, amid some reportedly scandalous behavior by the highway commission, the plan fell through.
Undaunted by the disappointment, the club continued on its mission of business promotion in the community. A meeting was called for June 14, 1914, to discuss a "combined town and country picnic on July 4." However, the fourth fell on a Saturday that year and the idea was moved to a later date - as a joint "Merchants and Farmers Picnic" to be held on Wednesday, Aug. 19. A committee was formed to prepare for the inaugural event. Members included Dana Welsh, Lloyd McElroy, C.E. Rhonemous, Harvey Klingler, and Sant Bowers.
In the minutes from the July 17 meeting, suggestions for sporting events to be held at the picnic included a ball game (baseball); running broad jump; high jump; potato race; sack race; nail driving race; saw race; umbrella race (for ladies); pony race; mule race; slow auto race; baby show; three legged race; egg and spoon race; hop-step-jump race; fat man's race; tug-o-war; wrestling match; and a greased pig race. A "grand concert" was held at the Methodist Church and A.G. Williams "the farmers' favorite speaker" gave a speech aboard a flat-topped wagon.
Preparations included plenty of "toilet rooms" and parking for buggies and wagons. Free lemonade was one highlight offered by the committee for the refreshment of picnic goers and it was agreed that dinners were to be brought by each family for the noon meal. However, snacks and other foods were available for purchase.
The agreement was also made for all Ada businesses to be closed on the day of the picnic, a tradition that would continue for many years to follow.
Expectations for the picnic were high from its inception. On Aug. 12, 1914, "Mr. Sousley declared that if this it to be an annual event, the first must be a success. The farmers and all their friends are coming from far and near." Clearly the intention of the picnic committee was to create a day that all members of the community could enjoy, whether they reside in town or in the farmlands surrounding the village.
During the meeting of Aug. 17, all was "declared in readiness" for the first ever Farmers and Merchants Picnic.
If it was success the committee was looking for, they could not have been disappointed with the results of that first picnic day. An estimated 4,000 people attended the affair, packing Ream's grove dressed in their Sunday best for a day of community fun.
Given the success of that first picnic, it is now wonder that the committee would indeed decide to make the Farmers and Merchants Picnic an annual event. Despite two wars, August days with extreme heat and the occasional rainy day, the Farmers and Merchants Picnic has never been cancelled.
The activities may have changed with the times but the focus is still the same for the current Farmers and Merchants Picnic Association; to provide a day in which the community of Ada, including those both near and far, can come together and celebrate with fun and entertainment for all ages.
So take the time this Saturday to join your friends, neighbors and the rest of the Ada community to celebrate the 100th Farmers and Merchants Picnic. And take a moment, if standing in Ream's grove near the playground or sitting on the bleachers watching the tractor pull, to remember those pioneering businessmen that had the first vision of what a Farmers and Merchants Picnic could be.
As one member of that original committee stated in 1915, "You'll be lonesome if you are not there."