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Craft show outgrows basement to fill fairgrounds

Valerie Rogers had never been to the Hill Family Fall Festival of Crafts before.

“This is my first time here,” the longtime Sandwich woman said on Thursday, Sept. 27. “I’ve lived here for years and years, and I’ve passed by it. I really didn’t realize how big it was.”

When her friend, Nancy Sondgeroth, asked her to go this year, Rogers thought it would be fun. Little did she know her friend had ulterior motives.

“I needed her to help me carry my stuff,” Sondgeroth laughed. “I came for my bedroom and I found much, much more.”

Among the items she purchased were a scarecrow, a ladder, a chair and a window.

“That’s just the first trip to the car,” Sondgeroth laughed, adding that she attends the festival every year. “I get a sitter and take the day off from work.”

That pretty much captures the spirit and theme of the 54th annual event, which started in the basement of a Sandwich woman’s home, and has expanded to the Sandwich Fairgrounds.

Karen Hill, who is in charge of the festival, said it started with her husband’s grandmother, Ruth Hill, who was “very handy,” making a variety of crafts.

“Her and a group of ladies would get together in her basement and work on crafts,” Karen Hill said. “Word got out and people started coming to see what they were making.”

When it got too big for Ruth’s basement, Karen Hill said the event was moved to the forest preserve building in Somonauk for a while before finding its current home at the fairgrounds in the 1970s.

“Back then, women didn’t work,” Karen Hill said. “Their husbands were working and the kids were in school. It was something fun to do that they enjoyed. It just kind of morphed into a craft show.”

Although most festivals are held on weekends, this one is always held on the fourth Thursday of September because that’s when Ruth Hill started it.

In keeping with the woman’s theme, about 95 percent of the huge crowd was women, including many mothers and daughters.

Amanda Brown of Braceville has been coming to the festival for several years with her mother, Deanna Funte of Morris.

“This is just something Mom and I do every year,” she said.

The same is true for Amanda Doty, who drove from Joliet with her mother.

“We’ve been coming her for 20 years, since I was in high school,” Amanda Doty said, adding that she looks for antiques. “Other people have asked to come with us, but we say no. It’s just me and Mom.”

“They start early and come all day,” said Sandy Cook, a vendor with Pumpkins-n-More of Earlville.

Pumpkins-n-More was one of 300 vendors at the fairground, which was equally divided between indoor and outdoor booths. Hill said vendors and visitors come from Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota.

There were also a number of food booths, including one that sold pumpkin ice cream.

“This is a labor of love,” said Hill, who took over the festival in 2003. “It’s actually fun and I look at it as a family tradition. I can’t imagine there being anything else like it. It’s pretty unique.”

Besides the festival at the fairgrounds, the streets of Sandwich were flooded with three other craft festivals and a sidewalk sale, which Hill is quick to point out are not related to hers.

“We are all handmade and home-grown,” she said. “The others are retail.”

The others included Crafts Under the Big Tent on Railroad Street, Crafts at the Indian Springs Shopping Center and the Willow Creek Nursing Pavilion.

Regardless of where they were held, the others were just as packed as the fairgrounds.

“There’s never a lull,” one Under the Big Tent vendor, Nigal Oleson, said. “There are always people at my table.”

Of course, having 69 degree temperatures on a beautiful autumn day didn’t hurt.

“For the 10 years I’ve been here, the weather has been great,” Oleson said.

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