Springfield’s Juneteenth/FatherFest finds renewed energy

The Gammon House was open for tours Saturday as part of the Juneteenth Celebration. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
The Gammon House was open for tours Saturday as part of the Juneteenth Celebration. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Juneteenth has been celebrated in Springfield since 2004 but Saturday the local commemoration found a renewed energy outside of one of the historic sights that supported the original cause.

The event came two days after Juneteenth was established as a federal holiday and a year after the event’s cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Saturday Gammon House, Springfield’s still-standing safehouse on the Underground Railroad, was crowded with activity.

Morning storms gave way to sunshine and blue skies as the commemoration of the end of slavery in the U.S., Juneteenth, combined with the annual FatherFest event. Celebrants said they were gratified by the designation that Juneteenth would be a national holiday.

“We’re just overjoyed,” said Dale Henry, president of the Gammon House. “This adds a permanence and shows unity across our country and we think now the community may be more aware that Black history is American history.”

Henry said he also found pride in knowing that while there are countless Juneteenth celebrations in the country, few can have theirs at a historic sight such as the Gammon House, which was built in 1850.

While the historical significance was a draw, so were a number of health and service organizations offering COVID-19 vaccines, blood pressure checks and other services, along with food. It was a chance for people to get out again as things have opened up after the pandemic.

Louis and Heather Agresta of Springfield had never attended a Juneteenth event or visited the Gammon House. They brought their children, ages 3-7, to appreciate the historical significance and make up for being cooped up inside much of the past 15 months.

“They’re young but we’re trying to teach them. We couldn’t be more excited to be here and we’re happy to support the community and hope more people will discover this,” said Louis Agresta, who was volunteering at the event handing out free bicycle helmets.

For many years, FatherFest was a separate event, recognizing standout dads for Father’s Day. The events were combined five years ago.

The organization takes nominations for dads who play a crucial role in their children’s well-being and development. Several were honored during Saturday’s activities.

“We believe in recognizing fathers who are doing the best they can,” said Eli Williams of Urban Light Ministries. “The scriptures say honor thy father and this is one day we can set aside as a community. There have been some difficult times recently.”

Fathers earning the Good Dad Award were James Britton, Earnest E. Brown, Sr., Sam Bryant, Mo Carpenter, Jeff Collins, David Cotto, Howard Evans, Darryl Grayson, Logan Harris, Brandon Horn, Oneal Howard, Brian Kuhn, Roger Lambert, Dennis Mason, Jared (JJ) Peck, Christopher Powell, Brennan Radley, Bruce Stapleton, Zack Stephens, Anthony Welliford, Elijah L. Williams and Michael Young.

Williams said the rainy weather early in the day couldn’t stop the event or the spirit.

“Would it have stopped the runaway slaves? I’m glad this day has been expanded nationwide,” he said.

A new activity prior to the celebration was added this year, a George and Sarah Gammon 5K run/walk for freedom to occur before the activities, that was canceled due to the rain and potential for lightning. More than 100 signed up, and the event will be rescheduled.

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