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Great memories, stories part of Fort Wayne man’s nearly 50 years of volunteering with the Three Rivers Festival

This will be Dave Auman's 48th year as a volunteer at the Three Rivers Festival, which opens with some events Friday and a full schedule beginning Saturday. He keeps coming back because it's fun, he said. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)

Dave Auman has gone to the Three Rivers Festival for 48 years, but this Saturday will be the first time he sits down to enjoy an event.

Saturday morning, Auman, 72, will get to see the festival parade — while he’s waving and smiling at people from the seat of a convertible car in the parade.

He and founding board member Tommie Manny will be honorary grand marshals for the event, which kicks off Fort Wayne’s biggest summer celebration. Then he’ll go right back to what he’s been doing for 48 years — volunteering at the festival.

“I was as surprised as anyone,” Auman said of the honorary grand marshal role.

“A little overwhelmed. Certainly grateful,” he added Thursday afternoon while taking a brief break from helping with festival set-up in Headwaters Park.

HELPING OUT

Auman started volunteering for TRF in 1971 at age 24. An electrician by training, he would save up comp time (compensation time off for overtime worked) from his job to volunteer for TRF.

He initially became involved because the former City Light utility, which was operated by the city of Fort Wayne, gave festival organizers some outdated equipment to help supply electricity to food vendors, he said.

The festival organizers, who also were volunteers, obtained some parts to upgrade the old City Light equipment, and they asked electricians to donate their labor to install the parts, Auman said.

Through the years, Auman has served on a number of festival committees, including those for the Raft Race and Logistics. While working logistics, he liked to tell people, “We supply everything from electricity to toilet paper, and try never to get the two mixed.”

This year, he’s serving on the volunteer committee, which helps coordinate the approximately 500 volunteers it takes to organize and present the festival.

STAYING WITH IT

TRF has a number of longtime volunteers, such as Auman, festival Executive Director Jack Hammer said. The challenge will be finding new people to take on those responsibilities when veteran volunteers retire, Hammer said.

Auman said he keeps coming back as a TRF volunteer because it’s fun.

“I’ve met some great people. I’ve made some good friends,” he said.

It also kind of “gets in your blood” that you want to see the festival do well, he added.

He hopes to volunteer for at least two more years to become the first person to reach a full 50 years of TRF volunteer service.

Auman believes the festival has succeeded because its staff and board listen to festival-goers. They keep or bring back events people like and drop ones people don’t enjoy.

GREAT MEMORIES

Despite never attending a TRF event as a spectator, Auman has great stories from his volunteer work.

The first year the festival used the ground that now is Headwaters Park, the pavilion area hadn’t been constructed yet, he said. They wanted to set some posts in the ground to hold electrical lines running out to vendors, and they were told they could start drilling post holes at 9 a.m. on the Friday before the event.

They dug a number of holes and then decided to break for lunch. When they returned, an angry NIPSCO official confronted them about their work. It seems the marking for the next hole they were supposed to dig was right over a 6-inch diameter, steel, high-pressure natural gas line. Using the auger to drill the post hole and hitting the gas line likely would have sparked an explosion.

“Guess we stopped for lunch at the right time,” he quipped.

CHILLING OUT

Another year, after the Headwaters Park plaza had been constructed, he was going to the restroom during the concert on the last night of the festival. He smelled smoke, and decided to check the electrical room. Smoke poured out as soon as he opened the electrical room door.

A transformer was overheating, he said. If it had overheated, it would have cut electricity to the plaza and all of Junk Food Alley.

One of the troughs that had been used to provide water to horses along the parade route happened to be nearby, so they set it in the electrical room, filled it with ice and brought in some fans to blow the cold air on the transformer.

The “swamp cooler” reduced the transformer’s temperature, and they made it through the night, he said.

One of Auman’s favorite memories:

“We used to have some very spirited Super Soaker (squirt gun) battles after the bar closed on the last night,” he said.

Riding in the parade Saturday surely will be another TRF moment he always remembers.

THREE RIVERS FESTIVAL

WHAT: Fort Wayne’s biggest summer event opens with the TRF Parade at 9:45 a.m. Saturday in downtown Fort Wayne.

WHEN: Saturday through July 21. Junk Food Alley, the Midway and the Emporium market open Friday. For a full schedule, go to the festival website.

WHERE: Headwaters Park will host many TRF events, but others will take place in locations around the city.

COST: Admission is free for most events. Expect to pay fees for larger concerts and food, beverages or other items purchased from vendors.

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