OLEAN — St. Mary of the Angels’ festival always draws a crowd. But the turnout Friday as the 45th annual event began its three-day run had the Rev. Gregory Dobson especially impressed.
“The first night is beyond my expectations,” St. Mary’s pastor said. “I think the crowd tonight is bigger than it has been on some Friday nights. Last year on Friday night, as we were opening, a very severe thunderstorm came through. We did not sell out the fish fry.”
This Friday, the fish fry sold out in an hour. The pulled pork cooked for the day was gone soon after.
“This was an earlier crowd and a bigger crowd,” Dobson said. “People are amazed at the crowd, and people are saying, ‘We don’t remember St. Mary’s festival being this exciting.’”
The festival, which serves as a fundraiser for both the church and the community, continues from noon to midnight today and 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Cathy Firkel of Olean, who chairs the festival’s cake wheel, saw about 60 cakes won Friday.
“Over the three days, we’ll probably do close to 200, and those are all donated by our great parishioners here at St. Mary’s,” she said.
“I look forward to it every year,” she added of the festival. “It’s three days. When you put in your vacation time, you put in for those three days. That’s the way it is.”
To many festival-goers, it’s a can’t-miss event.
“It’s a yearly reunion for a lot of people,” said Bill Sick of Olean. “You get to catch up with friends and family. That’s what it’s about.”
“It’s like a kickoff to summer,” said Cindy LaFever of Olean.
“It’s the biggest festival now,” Olean’s Patrish Page said. “And it’s a beautiful church.”
“I just like the music for people to dance to,” said Toni Fragle. “I try to get here every year. It’s a nice community thing to do.”
Others like Bob Hartle of Bradford, Pa., and Nat Hintz of Ellicottville were attending for the first time.
Hartle, a guitarist himself, came to see West of the Mark, a country band from Buffalo. He was even called onstage to perform.
“I’m friends with those guys and have played with them in the past,” he said. “They were the only reason I came … it’s a really nice setup, though. I’ll be back next year.”
Hintz recently moved to Ellicottville.
“My girlfriend and her friends work at Dresser-Rand, so they were going,” he said. “I like it. It’s a good vibe … and the beer’s cheap.”
For Dobson, tours of the church are a special festival element this year.
“Many people, especially people who don’t worship here, have not seen what we’ve done in the last year,” he said of the renovations to the church’s interior walls and ceilings. “One little girl came in and said, ‘This is a beautiful castle.’”
Making the festival possible are some 400 volunteers from the parish.
“I’m so proud of the workers,” Dobson said. “They range from kids that are in eighth and ninth grade to senior citizens, some of them quite elderly. They know that this is important for this congregation and for us to continue to do the things that make a difference in this town.”
One volunteer was Otto Tertinek, a city alderman selling raffle tickets. A $10,000 grand raffle will be drawn Sunday.
“You’ve got to give back,” he said. “The city has been really good to my family and St. Mary’s had been really good to us, too.”