The two Grand Marshals for the 2017 Wo-Zha-Wa Days Parade represent at least several decades of contributions to the Dells-Delton community, including ongoing participation in the 50-year-old Wo-Zha-Wa Days festival.
Betty Heller-Hobbs and Charlie “Jim” Balsmeider both have made an indelibly positive mark on the Dells in general and on Wo-Zha-Wa in particular, Hobbs as a Southern transplanted to the area in 1970 and Balsmeider as a third-generation Dells native.
As a result, the two will appear in the traditional honorary position, waving to friends, family and the tens of thousands of visitors to downtown from the back of a convertible at the front of the 100-piece parade down Broadway, starting at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 17.
Before helping to lead the annual parade, Heller-Hobbs will spend the first two days of the festival at her Arts and Crafts Fair booth, alongside the paintings for which she has become well-known across the community and the region.
Her participation in the annual art fair is as appropriate as her place in the parade, considering that she helped to start the fair as a long-time member of and driving force behind the Wisconsin Dells Art Association. She was the organization’s first vice president, and she has helped organize and operate the arts fair for most of her 46 years as an active member.
Also a founding member of the Dells Country Historical Society in 1979, Heller-Hobbs came to the area in 1970 with her first husband, Jack, when he was hired as director of Upham Woods. She volunteered at the popular 4H/UW Extension site and nature center for more than a decade upon their arrival, serving both as an arts and crafts and naturalist instructor as well as cooking and hosting, she said.
Heller-Hobbs paintings hang in homes and businesses across the region she calls her “adopted home,” a place she refers to as a “Christian community.”
“I am grateful to live here, where I can celebrate God’s love and grace,” she said.
Among Balsmeider’s contributions to Wo-Zha-Wa over the years were the much-loved “Old Style Skydivers,” the parachutists who floated into the festival for several years and were named for the long-time local beer distributorship he and his father before him owned and operated for decades.
The younger Balsmeider — whose grandfather “Baldy” Balsmeider owned and operated a famous taproom on Oak Street and is the namesake for “Baldy’s” basketball court in Bowman Park — participated in the first-ever Wo-Zha-Wa run from Portage to Newport, wearing his Hush Puppies shoes from start to finish.
“They took us over to Portage by bus,” Balsmeider recalled with a smile. “My legs were so sore the following day, I could not pick up a case of beer.”
Balsmeider and his wife, Jean, married for 62 years, “have tried to give back to the community of the Dells for buying our Old Style Beer through the years,” he said.
Those vast contributions include yearly contributions to Camp Wawbeek, purchasing playground equipment for the Girl Scouts and joining with Monk’s to renovated the aforementioned Bowman Park basketball court.
In addition to the traditional Wo-Zha-Wa booths and events, the Friends of the Kilbourn Library will hold the organization’s “biggest book sale of the year” each of the festival’s three days, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. All proceeds from the book sales go directly to supporting the library.
Meanwhile, over at Outlets of the Dells in Lake Delton, the outdoor mall’s third annual “Shopping Extravaganza” will take place Sept. 16 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Referred to as “a day of philanthropic shopping,” anyone attending the ticketed event will choose from one of 10 partner charities to which to donate $15 of the $25 ticket.
An array of activities will be provided for ticket-holders at the Outlets event, including drawings for more than $26,000 in gift cards and Dells attraction tickets and a wine and chocolate tasting sessions.