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June 15, 2014

Windber celebrates its heritage: Festival draws visitors of all ages

WINDBER — Organizers of Windber’s Miners’ Memorial Day Festival said a good amount of thought and work goes into keeping the event diverse and fresh each summer.

Now in its 15th year, the heritage celebration is beginning to cross generations.

The event began as a way to honor the “ancestors” of the town, the miners who built the community from the bituminous coal below it.

Now, it’s an attraction for families, revelers, and the young and old.

“We started out Friday nights with polkas, then we have oldies, then we have old-fashioned rock and roll,” said Sandra Pritt, president of the Eureka Coal Heritage Foundation, which coordinates the event. “Then when we have the bikers, they like the rock.

“By far the biggest attraction is car show (today). It has grown steadily every year.”

On a good day, the cruise-in draws more than 200 showboat rides. Saturday’s weather was as good as it gets but Thursday was a bit soggy. The music was moved into the Windber Fire Department hall that day, Pritt said.

“We had the tents outside. The people just jammed under the tents, so we still had a nice crowd in the rain,” she said.

Each year carries a theme – something that makes Windber unique, Pritt said. This year it’s education. In fact, Windber Area High School was honored in February with the Governor’s Award for Academic Excellence. But Pritt said she had already decided on the theme in 2013.

“A lot of miners that came here were immigrants – they didn’t have a large education,” she said. “(Now,) we’ve got a college on the hill. We are so fortunate in this area.”

She said many families who regularly take in the festival treat it like a family reunion of sorts.

“When they come home, they say, ‘Do you know how unique Windber is? You have such a closeness and a familiarity with everyone,’ ” she said.

Three locals honored at this year’s bike show needed little introduction, emcee Mike Sotosky said. They’re the three surviving members of the Dog Boys, a group that organized the annual Dog Run charity motorcycle rally.

Over the past 20 years, their event has drawn more than $750,000 into the community – children’s playgrounds, Windber Public Library, Windber Recreation Park and many other spots have benefited.

Today is the festival’s final day. Still to come are the cruise-in car show, starting at noon, with awards at 4 p.m., a “duck race” at 2:30 and the basket party drawing at 3.

“It’s a nice time to spend with family,” said Kathy Martegan of Richland Township.

Justin Dennis is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at @JustinDennis.

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