Band of volunteers pull off reinvented Fish Days

Organizers say that people who stepped up to help not only saved Port’s largest festival but improved it

Helping to cool off the crowd during the parade was Bill Prince, who sprayed people from atop the Port Washington Yacht Club and marina float.
Ozaukee Press staff

This year’s reimagined Fish Days, which drew crowds to Port Washington’s lakefront last week, was a resounding success, organizers said.

“It was very impressive,” Andy Hill, one of the Fish Days organizers, said. “Seeing the number of families and variety of generations being represented in all areas of the festival was my personal measuring stick for success — and by that measure, we killed it.”

Mayor Ted Neitzke, who rallied community members to create the festival after the Fish Day Committee announced it would not hold the celebration this year, said, “I was very proud to see how many people stepped into leadership, how many people stepped up to volunteer. Everyone wanted it to be a success so people stepped up. I thought it was phenomenal.

“It kept the tradition alive. It was a neat, unique community event that I think is going to grow.”

The three-day festival brought families to the lakefront for a variety of activities that celebrated the city and its civic organizations, he said, which was the main goal.

Thursday’s events, which honored veterans and senior citizens, left those groups “feeling included and appreciated by our community,” Hill said, while a cornhole tournament held that night raised between $2,000 and $2,500 for a Fish Days scholarship.

“I call that a success,” he said.

Friday’s Fishmas Eve, which featured class reunions, represented seven area school districts and graduates from 1957 to the present.

And Saturday’s events, which included beloved events such as the Portal Run, Walk and Roll to the parade and fireworks, “was spectacular,” Hill said.

“The diversity of ages represented was amazing, and the number of families was astounding,” he said.

The Portal Run, Walk and Roll brought in a record 575 participants, he said, while the car show had 156 vehicles.

“Many said this is one show they will be back for,” he said, as did many of the vendors in the park.

Dave Mueller, who with Hill spearheaded this year’s organizing committee, said, “I think people loved it.  We made it safe, family friendly, traditional. I feel comfortable we hit every bullet point.”

One of the best aspects, he said, was the willingness of people to pitch in and help when needed — even when they weren’t asked.

“It was a whole concept of everyone working together, from people picking up trash in the park to people frying fish to people serving as parade sentries,” Mueller said. “People came together.”

Both Hill and Mueller praised the work of the Fish Days ambassadors who coordinated various aspects of the festival, as well as the city staff members who helped organize it.

One measure of success is the amount of food sold. Mueller said this year the stands sold 260 cases of fish and fries — more than a ton — compared to 190 cases last year.

There were some glitches — instead of the 45 cases of tartar sauce ordered only four arrived and volunteers scrambled to buy as much as they could from area stores and restaurants — but everyone pitched in to make sure they had enough, Hill said, adding they also made four runs to Piggly Wiggly to pick up extra soda and water.

The committee plans to host another three-day Fish Days festival next year, Hill said, and has already started planning.

“There’s always something you can do better,” he said, adding the committee is seeking ideas from the community to improve Fish Days.

One thing they will concentrate on is getting more volunteers, he noted.

“The people who volunteered were warriors,” he said. “They were impressive and integral to the success, but we were a little short of volunteers.”

This year’s event  formed a good foundation for the years to come, Hill added.

“Our overall goal of taking a great community tradition and reimagining it and building a foundation for future generations to enjoy — by that measure, I think we were successful,” he said.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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