By SHERRY VAN ARSDALL
THE GOSHEN NEWS
The Wakarusa Maple Syrup Festival has been a part of Todd Scheets life since its beginning days in 1969.
He was a volunteer for many years and says he isn’t sure how long he’s been the chairperson of the festival.
“I don’t remember,” Scheets said, laughing. “I’ve worked with three different Wakarusa Chamber of Commerce secretaries so probably about 12 years. I got involved with the festival because I live in Wakarusa and you are automatically involved from birth.”
What other jobs or volunteering has he done with the festival that stands out for him?
“In grade school if you were unlucky enough to have your gym class at the end of the class day and it happens to be on Friday of the festival you got stuck helping to roll out the tarps for the vendors,” he said. “After you were done with the tarps, you got to help the antique vendors bring in their sale items, or as we thought of it as ‘junk.’ I know better now. It wasn’t all junk. I also helped clean up afterward.”
Even though he’s the chairperson now, it hasn’t stopped Scheets from giving his time wherever needed, like helping make the kettle popcorn, setting up the stage, running to get items that “we” run out of, or working with vendors.
The festivities will be held in downtown Wakarusa Friday, April 19 and Saturday, April 20 and many of the vendors arrive the day before. It’s one of the favorite parts of the festival for him.
“It’s a work of art getting everything ready to go — setting up Thursday night and watching everybody roll in and set up,” Scheets said.
Some of the other events and activities he enjoys are the garden tractor pull and the Wakarusa United Methodist church sausage sandwiches. He also enjoys the shows in the entertainment tent put together by Entertainment Chair Jenny Neely and, of course, the parade
“It’s a sea of humanity downtown after the parade,” Scheets said. “I guess everything (is my favorite part).”
In its early years, the festival was held the third week of March, but was switched to April for economical reasons, he said
The attendance averages between 12,000 to 14,000 visitors a year with about 75 to 100 volunteers to make the festival run smoothly between the many activities downtown, the Museum and at the sugar camp.
There are approximately 150 to 200 gallons of maple syrup consumed and purchased during a typical weekend, he added.
How much sap is needed to make a gallon of syrup?
“The ratio is 40 gallons of sap to one gallon of syrup,” he said. “I’ve loved it (maple syrup) right out of the box, actually out of the container.”
A great team
When the last drop of syrup has been consumed and the downtown cleaned up Saturday night, it’s time to start planning at the wrap up meeting a few weeks later.
“I have a wonderful set of committee chair people that have been with me many years who know their part of the festival flawlessly,” Scheets explained. When you have a supporting cast like this, it is easy to plan any event. I am truly blessed.”
When he’s not involved with the festival, what does he do in his spare time?
“I own a small repair business (Wakarusa Electronics). I have been repairing televisions for over 30 years, and I still love it when I have the time,” he said. “I also love working on old tube based radios and televisions.”
He’s on the Board of Directors of the Wakarusa Chamber of Commerce, the president of the Wakarusa Historical Society, of which there are now three groups helping to maintain nine buildings and two rail cars. During Educational Days in March, there are about 30 volunteers to help with the hundreds of youngsters that come through in three days.
He’s a sponsor, coach, and player on a men’s league softball team in Nappanee and a co-ed team in Elkhart; coach of a junior high baseball team for the Wakarusa Baseball program in Wakarusa; and a sponsor and participant on a bowling team in Goshen.
“I enjoy working with Paul (his son) with his 4-H projects, bike club and lamb club,” Scheets said. “I enjoy traveling to Purdue with Paul for all of the home football games, though the last couple of years have not been very joyful. I’m sure that will change. Because Paul is involved in football and basketball, I enjoy going to his games.”
Just the facts
Name: Robert Todd Scheets
Current town: Wakarusa
Daytime job: Engineering Department City of Mishawaka
Education: NorthWood High School, ITT Tech (Electronics), Ivy Tech (Electronics), Purdue (Engineering)
Children: Robert Paul Scheets
Hobbies: Consumer electronic repair, play softball, watching Paul at sporting events, going to Purdue games, working at the Museum.