From picnic to three-day festival: That’s Progress

Bristol Progress Days celebrating 50 years in 2019

Bristol Progress Days, which Western Kenosha County now knows as an annual three-day community festival with live music, softball tournament, a huge parade, fireworks and more, had humble beginnings 50 years ago.

It all started as a picnic.

In 1969, Bristol town Chairman Earl Hollister and Don Wienke, chairman of the Recreation Committee had the idea to have a community picnic.

‘They just wanted to have something where everybody could get together and have a good meal and enjoy each other’s company,” said Carol Nichols, the Progress Days Committee treasurer and daughter of the festival’s co-founder Hollister.

“From that it grew,” Nichols said.

One of the first changes was the name. After a couple of years a town-wide contest was held to name the evolving festival. Bristol Progress Days was the winner, offered by Maybelle Hautzinger, Nichols said.

One of the first traditions that continues to this day is the selection of outstanding citizens — one male and one female. In the early years, however, the honor was called king and queen, much like a homecoming or prom. The first king and queen were named in 1970; Kenny Eibl was the king and Laura Kempf the queen.

In 1972, the Miss Bristol contest was started. Shirley Davidson Olsen was the first to win title.

“As I was the first Miss Bristol, there were no guidelines yet,” Davidson said in a collection of memories of the Bristol Progress Days outstanding citizens and Miss Bristols compiled by the committee for the 50th anniversary.

In 2012, naming of a junior outstanding citizen was added,
with Bret Niederer being the first. That was expanded to a junior girl and junior boy outstanding citizen in 2015.

Many of the activities of the festival such as the Friday night banquet where the honors are handed out, the carnival in Hansen Park, the softball tournament, the parade and the fireworks are longtime Bristol Progress Days staples.

Other activities have come and gone through the years such as helicopter rides and a sky diving demonstration that one time nearly ended up in a collision due to an inattentive spectator on the ground, Nichols said.

The parade is now known for its large size, featuring multiple marching bands and entries that throw a lot of candy out to parade spectators. But it wasn’t always that way.

“The parade was very small,” Lenny Eibl, the first Progress Days king, said in the memories collection. “Now it’s five times as big.”

A highlight of Sunday evening is the fireworks display.

At one time it was more of a do it yourself affair, Nichols said, with fire department members purchasing fireworks in other states, bringing them back to Bristol and then setting them off Sunday night.

“We’ve gotten much more safe with them by hiring a company (in recent years),” Nichols said with a smile.

The force behind the event is the Bristol Progress Days committee. The organization became a formal non-profit 501(c)(3) organization in 2001. Current board members are Sue Kaminski, Carol Gorsuch, Cheryl Nichols, Carol Nichols, Brittany Gauger, Lila Muhlenbeck and village representative Mike Farrell, who also is Bristol village president.

While the village lends support to the festival, it is the separate organization represented by the committee that largely raises the funds and does the work, said village administrator Randy Kerkman.

Kerkman encouraged people who enjoy the festival every year to show their support by making purchases from the food vendors in the park during the fest and participating in the auctions. These activities help fund the fireworks, the parade and the other crowd favorites.

“It’s a community event, put on by a non-profit,” Kerkman said. “When people go and buy a burger, they help pay for the parade and the fireworks.”

Click here to view a copy of Memories from the Past 1969-2019 Bristol Progress Days.

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