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A tradition of fun
4th generation enjoys Athens Lions Kiddie Carnival

By Holly Hollman
DAILY Staff Writer 340-2445

ATHENS — It's a Limestone County tradition that whirls you through the air, adds grease to your diet and will have you coming back next year.

Three-year-old Autumn Brady (top) covers her eyes as she crests the top of the children's Ferris wheel at the Lion's Club Kiddie Carnival on Thursday in Athens. Meanwhile, Rachel Rodgers, 3, Leah Rodgers, 8, and Trinity McGee, 4, appear unimpressed by the ride.
DAILY Photo by Dan Henry
Three-year-old Autumn Brady (top) covers her eyes as she crests the top of the children's Ferris wheel at the Lion's Club Kiddie Carnival on Thursday in Athens. Meanwhile, Rachel Rodgers, 3, Leah Rodgers, 8, and Trinity McGee, 4, appear unimpressed by the ride.
Downtown Athens at night is a place where you usually hear the sounds of train whistles and July flies, however, summer weekends feature other sounds.

A downtown lot welcomes screaming children, parents snapping digital cameras, and folks licking powdered sugar from funnel cakes or cotton candy off their fingers.

A fourth generation is enjoying the Lions Club Kiddie Carnival in Athens. Since 1957, it has operated at Forrest and Beaty streets across from Athens Middle School. Before that, it rotated among vacant lots.

Athens Lions Club member Jackie Sneed is not sure when the club, chartered in 1943, held its first carnival.

"I believe it was the early '50s," Sneed said. "I know I've talked to people who are the fourth in their generation to come this year."

If you roam the carnival grounds, you'll find folks like Clint Brown of Athens, who sits at a picnic table in the pavilion and watches his great-granddaughter dart from ride to ride.

"I keep waiting for her to wind down, because I know I'm winding down," says Brown, who used to bring his grandchildren.

Waiting in line at the swings, you'll find the Rodgers sisters of Athens, who love to spin through the air.

"I've been coming here since I was born," says Ellen, 11. "The swings are the best because they go the fastest."

Rachel, 3, and Leah, 8, follow their big sister's lead. Their father, Neil Rodgers, calls them thrill seekers.

"I did start bringing Ellen as an infant," Rodgers says. "All the rides are their size, and they like to play bingo. It's cheap fun."

Ride tickets are 50 cents.

If you don't watch where you're walking, you might bump into 3-year-old Sam Williams in his Superman shirt. Sam's grandparents have been bringing him to the carnival since he was 1 year old.

"We would bring our children, and now we bring our grandchildren," Linda Williams of Athens says.

Sam raises his hands and in his garbled speech mentions Superman and something about horses. His grandmother interprets and says he wants to ride the carousel horses.

"He also really loves the parachutes, and he's wanting to get on the planes now," she says.

The carnival offers 10 rides. Sneed, sweating in the concession stand, says the club bought rides from an individual in Mississippi and the carousel from someone in Huntsville.

Volunteers donated time and supplies to construct bathrooms, a concession stand and meeting room.

When the 1997 tornado hit Athens, it destroyed the carnival's lights and blew away the train house. Sneed says the club re-installed the wiring below ground.

Why is it important to club members to spend time and money to have a carnival each summer?

For the thank-you cards.

Sneed says the money raised, usually $40,000 to $45,000 gross, funds eye exams and glasses for children, and sponsors three seeing eye dogs.

"When we get cards from a first-grader or second-grader where they've written, 'Thank you for my glasses so I can see,' that just makes it worth all the work," Sneed says.

The club also helps seniors who cannot afford to buy glasses.

"This is our biggest fund-raiser," Sneed says. "We buy 100 to 200 eyeglasses a year with the money."

This carnival tradition lures volunteers from across the county, Sneed says.

"Our wives and family help out," he says, as women pass by him with funnel cakes they are delivering to customers. "Our friends donate their time to help run it. The Sigma Delta Chi sorority from Athens High also volunteers."

Sneed gets new ideas for the carnival throughout the year. When his grandson bought a bag of Dippin' Dots ice cream at a Braves baseball game, Sneed thought the snack would be a hit with the carnival crowd.

"We're offering it for the first time this year, and we've sold probably $3,000 worth," he says, indicating the nearly empty freezer.

"It's a family night for a lot of people, and they look forward to coming each summer" Sneed says. "We like to think of it as a Limestone County tradition."

When the carnival ends this weekend, volunteers that include engineers and electricians, will tear down the rides and store them in bins until next summer.

The train whistles and July flies can resonate unhindered through downtown again.

Catch the Kiddie Carnival

One more weekend: This weekend will be the last time this summer to catch the Lions Club Kiddie Carnival in Athens.

Cost: Tickets are 50 cents each.

Time: 6:30-9:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Directions: From U.S. 31 or Interstate 65, go west on U.S. 72. Turn right on Clinton Street at Champion Chevrolet. At the four-way stop at Forrest Street, go right. Carnival is on the left and parking is available on the right at Athens Middle School.

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