Soldotna sets aside weekend for old-fashioned fellowship, new-fangled fun, lots of food

Celebrating community

Posted: Sunday, July 28, 2002

Tony Besse and Wes Stephl had a smashing good time at the annual Soldotna Progress Days community celebration Saturday.

The two teens were among a group of hundreds of revelers who gathered on West Park Avenue following the Progress Days Parade Saturday. Most came to enjoy the hot dogs, crafts, music, camaraderie and good times. Besse and Stephl came to fight.

Don't be alarmed. It was all part of the fun.

"Bouncy Boxing" was one of the many entertainment venues offered during the afternoon festivities, and the one Besse and Stephl seemed to enjoy most.

"That was awesome," they chimed in unison, seconds after beating each other over the head with giant foam boxing gloves.

The boxing event consisted of a large, inflatable structure, inside which combatants could fall, bounce around and occasionally land a punch to their heart's content. The gloves were too large for much real pain to be inflicted. But judging from the sweat pouring off the two, the boxing wasn't all just fun and games.

While Besse and Stephl caught their breath, Shalene Peek busied herself selling tickets to the next eager fighters, two wide-eyed young girls. Peek is a member of the Young Marines, the group supervising the Bouncy Boxing. Peek said business was brisk, and that people were enjoying the event, though not everyone came out of the inflatable ring unscathed.

"One guy came out of there with a broken nose," Peek said. "He was smiling though."


Macylea Elsey waves to the crowd from the Sterling Head Start school bus during Saturday's parade.

Photo by M. SCOTT MOON

The Young Marines were helping supervise a number of fun events, including another inflatable room and a laser tag booth. For them the fun of Progress Days was just a way to help out and spread the word about the Young Marines.

"It's just community service," Peek said.

She said events like Progress Days give the group a chance to be visible in the community. She said people often ask why young people are walking around in camouflage uniforms.

"Some people ask about the Young Marines, and we tell them it's a good way for kids to learn responsibility and manners," she said. "And it's fun to be out here, too."

Peek resumed selling tickets, cautiously eying a middle-aged couple considering stepping in the ring. Finally, Stephl and Besse caught their breath. Neither emerged from the competition with any noticeable wounds, though there was little argument over who won.

"He did," Stephl said, pointing to the taller Besse.

"But that's the thing, you can get your brains beat in and it's still fun," he added.

Besse took his unofficial victory in stride.


Dixie the wiener dog begs for a piece of gourmet hot dog from Dean and Daniel Ihrie at the Progress Days bazaar next to the Soldotna Senior Center Saturday.

Photo by M. SCOTT MOON

"We were just having fun. You can't really get hurt, so you just hit and bounce around," he said.

Fun seemed to be the theme for all of Progress Days, as even the weather cooperated. Following a rain-free parade, the festivities on West Park were blessed by skies that seemed to increase in sunniness as the day wore on. And nobody seemed to want it to end. Least of all, Besse and Stephl, the high school pals who just beat each other's brains in.

"It's just fun. There's food, pop, friends, people you know," said Besse as he and Stephl walked toward another adventure. "These days are just the best."

Progress Days fun continues today with the Soldotna Creek celebration from noon to 5 p.m. The event is sponsored by the city of Soldotna and the Kenai Watershed Forum. There also will be a family rodeo fun day from 1 to 4 p.m.

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