The Morning Journal (Lorain, OH)

Woollybear Festival Comes Out of Hibernatio­n!

- By Michael Fitzpatric­k mfitzpatri­ck@morningjou­rnal.com

Want to get a sneak peek at what the upcoming winter weather forecast is looking like? Make your way out to Vermilion on Oct. 10 for the 49th annual Woollybear Festival, which according to organizers is the largest one-day festival in the state.

The event features live music, food, vendors, a parade, costume contests, the famous Woollybear 500, and other family fun.

The festival was in hibernatio­n in 2020 due to the coronaviru­s pandemic but makes its return this year.

The festival started in 1973 in Birmingham, Ohio, and drew about 200 attendees that year. By the early 1980s it had outgrown Birmingham and moved to Vermilion in 1981.

Legend has it that the severity of the upcoming winter directly correspond­s to the thickness of the orange stripe on the woolly bear, a smallish brown and orange caterpilla­r. The projected winter weather is announced at the end of the festival.

The late legendary Cleveland TV weatherman Dick Goddard was the mastermind of the event.

For years, Goddard was heavily involved in the festival, and his former longtime employer FOX 8 is still a major sponsor of the event. Goddard died in August 2020.

His daughter, Kim, will attend this year’s event and is slated to sing the national anthem prior to the Woollybear 500 as well as serve as parade grand marshal.

The event runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. “It’s a wacky, fun festival where everybody can be a kid for the day. It’s free family fun,” said Sandra Coe, the executive director of the Vermilion Chamber of Commerce, and daughter of the late Maureen Coe, one of the original organizers of the event. The Woollybear Festival was originally started by the Birmingham Elementary School PTO, of which Maureen Coe was an active member.

Goddard came up with the idea for the festival in the early 1970s. He told longtime TV personalit­y Neil Zurcher about it and Zurcher told his then-wife, who was a secretary in the Birmingham Schools, of the plan. It was Zurcher’s then-wife who approached the Birmingham PTO with the idea, Coe said.

“At one of the PTO meetings Neil Zurcher’s wife was like there is this guy

Dick Goddard from WJW that has this idea do you guys want to do it, and they were like yeah,” recalled Coe.

Sandra Coe was just 2 years of age the parade’s first year, she said, and she hasn’t missed a parade since.

“The parade was so small it went around twice and a semi went through by accident, but hey, that it made it bigger,” Coe said.

Vermilion, which has a population of 11,000, sees that number swell to more than 100,000 the day of the event, according to Coe.

“We’re definitely bursting at the seams,” she said. “It’s organized chaos.”

Registrati­on for Woollybear 500, where children can race woolly bears, starts at 8 a.m behind the main stage, which is located by Victory Park near Ohio and Main Street. The prelims for that event start at 10 a.m.

It’s also at that location where one can sign up their child for the King/Queen Woollybear costume contest. The winners of the kids’ costume contest are named that year’s king and queen. The judging for king and queen contest is slated for 11 a.m. There is also a pet/animal costume contest, which will be judged at noon.

The Wacky Woollybear Parade, which features high school bands, FOX celebritie­s, beauty queens, vintage cars and more steps off at 1:30 p.m., but the streets of Vermilion will be shut down to traffic by 12:30 p.m., said Coe.

Coe recommends folks arrive early and stay until the end. The best place to park is at Vermilion Middle School, 5355 Sailorway Drive. There is a fee to park, but all the money goes to the Prom-to-Dawn, for the high school prom.

“They shuttle you in and they shuttle you back. That’s the best place to park,” said Coe.

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