COLUMBIA CITY — A time honored tradition during Old Settlers Day is the gathering of the “red coats” to welcome a new member into the fold.
At last night’s banquet, the Old Settlers Association named Dr. John Meier, DDS as the newest red coat recipient.
Meier isn’t a Columbia City native, but moved here in 1976 after finishing school. To his surprise, he was selected to join the exclusive, invitation only group.
“I thought you had to be a native of Columbia City, but Kay (Fleck) said ‘no, you just need to be old.’”
Meier said, “This is an honor. It was unexpected and out of the blue, but it’s a warm feeling. This just solidifies my decision to have come to Columbia City.”
Old Settlers Association Second Vice President Kay Fleck, gave the introduction for Meier prior to presenting him with his red coat.
“He is a very interesting guy. He’s been a dentist for 35 years in the community. He’s brought a real international flavor to the community by hosting 15 different rotary exchange students from many countries,” said Fleck.
In his acceptance speech, Meier said, “Once you are here and you get involved in the love and sharing that goes on with people in a small town, it doesn’t matter where you’re from. “
Meier spoke of the Old Settlers Association and called the festival a “tradition.” Given that the 2012 Old Settlers Day will mark 109 years in existence, Meier said, “ I look forward to keeping the tradition.”
His fondest memory of Old Settlers Day was making three straight free throws in the shooting contest.
The night’s tradition also included remembering a red coat member lost.
John LeFever gave a comical but heartfelt presentation on Past President Ben Gates, who died Sept. 14, 2011.
“We cherish his friendship, his generosity and his faith. In honor of Ben, the Old Settlers Association will be making a contribution to the Betsy Jane Gates Scholarship at the Whitley County Community Foundation,”LeFever said.
To quote the ending words of the University of Michigan fight song, which Gates was a fan, LeFever closed with, “hail to the victors valiant, hail to the conquering heros and hail to Ben Gates.”
Tradition was indeed the subject matter and memories were shared through out the evening.
First Vice President Glenn Snapp said he had been coming to Old Settlers Day for 75 years. He remembers when it was only a one day event.
“I liked the rides as a kid. We used to have high wire acts, too. The performers would get up on the high wire and walk across. I liked watching them do that.”
Toban Chapman, the association 2012 president, said, “I remember one year, there was a huge sphere or ball made out of rebar and metal, it had two monkeys on motorcycles going around in this sphere. I thought that was incredible. I also remember having platform divers diving into small pools.”
“I had fond memories as a young child. It was always exciting to go down to Old Settlers Day. We’d save our money and my parents always told me ‘you’re gonna lose it no matter what.’ They were always right, but it was a great time and I hope it continues,” said Chapman.
As he concluded the evening, Chapman encouraged the attendees to come out for the parade and experience the tradition of Old Settlers Day.
He said, “Things have changed over the years. But I have learned how this community comes together, organizes and communicates well. It is an exciting time.”