VFW to Withdraw from GNF

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Michelle Phillips

MIDDLETON–After decades running a beer tent at the Good Neighbor Festival (GNF), the Middleton “Sonny” Simon VFW Post 8216 announced it would withdraw from the festival last week.

Citing concerns over safety and inclement weather, the VFW, who is a founding member of GNF in 1964 sent an email to the Times-Tribune outlining why they wanted to back out.

The organization is worried that the “open campus,” which would allowing alcohol on the entire grounds of the festival, will lend itself to underage drinking.

In an email signed “VFW Post 8216” the group said this idea has come up in previous years but stalled out, “The idea of allowing beer consumption across the Fest grounds (open campus) has come up in years past, prior to the current GNF Executive Committee (GNF) being seated. It was never implemented because of clearly identified increased risks and liabilities and the inability to adequately address those risks and liabilities.”

The post is also worried that IDs will not be checked as they have hired their own security in the past to ensure drinkers were of age. They fear once the alcohol is purchased it could be given to an underage drinker in spite of a wristband system being put in place.

The volunteers were also trained to spot individuals who consumed too much alcohol and are worried that may not be the case with the new system.

A limited number of volunteers is available to work at the festival, which has been true for many groups that participate in the GNF. The VFW said it has been clear that the organization cannot take on more than the beer tent they manage. “The GNF, despite assurances over the past year, has recently increased the number of volunteers and hours that we’re expected to work, outside of our own concession, in order to try and make their “open campus concept” work. We do not have the manpower to meet their increased requirements,” they said in the email.

Lastly, the post is worried over the possibility of inclement weather. In the past they have had a 60x120 foot tent with bands, and the temporary structure has provided shelter during storms. This year with only a beer tent that is only 40x40 foot, the group says they have just enough space for equipment.

GNF Chair Mark Opitz addressed the concerns presented by VFW Post 8216 in an email and said that the VFW knew about these changes and agreed to them at GNF meetings, as did other groups and cited meeting minutes.

“We have had good discussions about the logistics involved in implementing this layout concept at our subsequent monthly meetings,” he said of the change to an open campus.

In an email exchange between Opitz and Post 8216, he addressed the concern of underaged drinking and security: “The Festival will take responsibility for having private security to supplement the presence of officers from Middleton PD. It is the responsibility of each beer concession to check IDs and disperse wristbands prior to allowing an adult to purchase alcohol for the first time. This wristband can be used to purchase alcohol at either stand. If anyone in either beer concession wonders whether a particular purchaser was properly carded, they should not hesitate to request ID again. There will be two gates (north and south) that will be monitored by individual trustee groups to regulate capacity (if necessary) and to help ensure that people don't leave the fenced-in area with alcohol.”

The email also addresses the concern over tent size, and states that there will be shelter for visitors if weather turns bad. Opitz added, “I would note that the open campus concept means that there will be no barriers between the VFW serving area and the food and shelter options.”

The Police department and License & Ordinance Committee and the festival’s insurance provider are all comfortable with the new schematic, Opitz said, and in a statement the GNF committee cited other area festivals, including Waunafest and Brat Fest, that operate in a similar manner.

“The Good Neighbor Festival’s Board of Trustees are disappointed to learn that the William “Sonny” Simon VFW Post 8216 has decided not to participate in the 2021 Festival, but we are excited about the changes we are introducing this year,” the statement read.

The Good Neighbor Festival, which was held virtually in 2020, will be held August 27-29 in Fireman’s Park. 

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