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July 8, 2004

St. Rita's ready for 88th festival

From: Cincinnati Post, OH - Jul 8, 2004

By Mark Hansel
Post staff reporter

Just as a robin is a sign of spring, raffle booths, draft beer and jumbo poker in local school and church lots are sure signs of summer in Cincinnati.

Summer festivals have been going on since around Memorial Day weekend and are now in full swing. The biggest and most well known is arguably the St. Rita Fest, set for this weekend at St. Rita's School for the Deaf on Glendale-Milford Road.

Begun in 1916 as visiting day for families of St. Rita's students, it is now one of the longest running in the area.

"The festival has continued to grow in size and popularity, thanks to the help of our many volunteers," said spokeswoman Angela Frith.

All of the entertainers donate their time and talent for the event and volunteers work all of the booths and help with set-up.

One is Mike Woebkenberg, whose family has prepared the festival's famous St. Rita's Turtle Soup for more than 80 years. "My grandmother, Clara Woebkenberg, helped prepare soups for the first festival with the Alter Society of St. Peter and Paul Church in Reading. She passed the recipe along, and members of my family have been making turtle soup ever since."

Woebkenberg said it takes about two weeks to make the 600 gallons of soup sold every year at the festival in Evendale.

"We have been asked to make it at other times, but it just takes too much time; we all have jobs," he said.

Some of the soup is bottled and sold to people who can't make it to the festival or who want to take some home with them, and the rest is sold by the bowl at the festival.

In addition to turtle soup and other food, the festival offers rides, entertainment, booths and games. This year it also will stage a Texas Hold'em, no limit poker tournament on Friday night. The tournament is limited to the first 300 players who are willing to put up the $200 entry fee; prizes range from $10,200 for first place to $300 for 15th place.

Texas Hold'em has gained in popularity because of increased exposure on television and Frith is confident the tournament will have a full field.

"We have sold about 210 seats as of (Tuesday)," she said.

Dan Andriacco, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Cincin-nati, said games such as Texas Hold'em could become a trend at festivals.

"We encourage them to offer different games of chance to meet the expectations of customers," he said.

Festivals are a major source of income for most of the 87 parishes in Hamilton County, according to the archdiocese.

"Some pastors refer to their festival income as the 13th month because it brings in as much money as a month's worth of donations," said Andriacco.

St. Rita's also promotes a haunted house, a golf outing and a scholarship benefit, but the festival is by far the biggest fund-raiser each year for the school.

Frith estimates the school clears about $220,000 each year from the festival.

The festival also offers its annual grand raffle with $50,000 in cash and prizes, including a first prize choice of $24,000 in cash, his and her Harley Davidson motorcycles or a new Lexus RX 330, BMW 325i or Chevy Venture.

Copyright 2004 The Cincinnati Post, an E.W. Scripps newspaper.