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Fireworks, bonfire cap festival of fun

Katie Albeck (left) helps sell freshly baked treats bake sale raise money for Grandwood Park pre-school. Shirley Stautz her daughter

Katie Albeck (left) helps sell freshly baked treats at a bake sale to raise money for the Grandwood Park pre-school. Shirley Stautz and her daughter Amanda are making purchases. | TINA JOHANSSON~FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA

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Updated: December 13, 2013 2:29AM

Grandwood Park, Small-town USA, was all fired up Saturday when it celebrated its Oktoberfest — not only with fireworks but with a blazing bonfire that lasted for hours.

The fireworks attracted more than a thousand to the small bedroom community located just west of Gurnee. The communal bonfire with people standing around it was all the more fitting because after a persistent rain in the afternoon, the night turned rather chilly.

“It certainly will warm people up,” said Bill Reil, president of the Grandwood Park Civic Association which hosted the fest with the Grandwood Park Park District.

“It was several years ago when we last had an Oktoberfest,” said Reil, a mug of beer in hand, as people began streaming into the park at the end of Hutchins Road, the main thoroughfare. With fall in the air and leaves turning brown and red in the treed community, he said it was a good time to revive it.

Patricia Rung, a longtime resident, came with her dog, a poodle mix named “d Lord Nelsen.”

“I come down for all the events,” she said, holding a bratwurst in a paper tray in one hand and a plastic cup of wine in the other.

Grandwood Park, which has about 800 single-family homes and a population of 3,000, is never short of community-sponsored events. It held a Summerfest in July featuring a camel ride. Scholarships were awarded by the association. More events are planned for the winter holidays.

Saturday’s activities, which started at 3 p.m., included a baggo tournament, a hayride and a cake walk. There was food and music, which ranged from rock to German polka. The danceable music prompted a young mother to hop with her daughter on the freshly cut grass. But the biggest draw was the fireworks that lighted up the sky for more than half an hour. It attracted many spectators from bigger neighboring communities and cost $4,500. The park district picked up the tab.

“We’re a small community with a big heart,” said Nancy Carlson, president of the Grandwood Park Park District, pointing out that the community used to have a fest that lasted for seven days.

“Here, we know our neighbors,” said her husband Steve, a Lake County Board member since 2002. They have lived in this close-knit a community for almost 24 years, where volunteerism and neighborliness never seem to be out of fashion.

In a tent, Amanda Stautz, 14, was trying to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation by selling games. The Warren High School freshman said she got involved in the cause because her cousin is a diabetic. Last year, she raised $5,000, according to her mother Shirley.

Joseph Canton of Waukegan came to the fest with two of his three children — Audrey, 12, and Cody, 5. The daughter goes to school at Grandwood Park.

“We enjoy the fest very much and the food is good,” said Canton, adding, “I’m full after three hotdogs.”

And Patricia Rung, who came to the fest with her dog, suggested to Reil, the president of Grandwood Park Civic Association, that a giant garage sale be held in conjunction with the fest next year. The association, she said, can sell space to people who want to set up tents to sell their stuff. It’ll bring more people to the fest, she added.

“A good idea,” responded Reil.

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