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'Under the Stars'

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INFLATE: Workers begin setting up the inflatables for FunFest, which will be free for kids to play on.
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FOOD: Food vendors at FunFest set up early Thursday to be ready for visitors later that evening.

by ANDREW CHRISTMAN - achristman@wabashplaindealer.com

NORTH MANCHESTER — FunFest is back for the weekend.

The annual festival opened Thursday evening with fire truck rides, three-on-three basketball, children’s activities and more. The fun will carry on throughout the weekend, concluding with a prize shoot at the Liberty Mills Club Grounds on Sunday afternoon.

The North Manchester Chamber of Commerce, which has been organizing the event since January, has one focus in particular this year: To make as many of the kid-friendly activities free for families. To do so, vendors were sponsored by area businesses, according to Chamber volunteer Kandie Quick.

“It’s going to be easier on the parents’ wallets,” Quick said. “The only thing they’re going to have to pay for is food, drink and a few of the (vendors).”

This year’s FunFest will also be bringing in new attractions like the Jungle Safari from Florida, which will offer free admission to tour the animals they brought, with the exception of a white tiger, which will be a $1 charge. Owner and operator Robert Engesser said he hopes the largely agricultural community of Wabash County will enjoy getting to see more exotic animals like llama, camel, lynx, lion cub, monkeys and a kangaroo.

“It’s the first time we’ve been invited here and we’re hoping for a strong turnout,” Engesser said. “It gives us an opportunity to show our animals to the public and take care of our animals down on the farm.”

Quick said visitors will be able to take part in formal dancing lessons and see performances Friday evening.

“We’re hoping that will be an ongoing event and feature different dances, like next year maybe doing American Indian, and introduce the different dances many of us don’t see,” said FunFest co-chair Erica Garber.

Other venues, like the bands who will be performing live entertainment for guests, will see additions. Garber said there will be a beer tent available for those who are 21 and older tonight and Saturday night, which is new for the festival.

Garber and Quick say FunFest brings the community together and shows the compassion of North Manchester.

“I just think it’s amazing what this town does for each other,” Garber said.

FunFest will also act as one of the largest annual draws for the town, with local businesses benefiting from the increased traffic.