The St. Rafael Fall Festival, the largest four-day fall festival in Southwest Florida begins Nov. 15 and continues until Nov. 18 on the grounds of St. Rafael's Church at 2514 Lee Blvd., in Lehigh Acres, just across the street from Walmart.
Oscar Gamble, chairman of the annual event, said the Fall Festival has something for everyone in the family from games, rides, great foods, contests and more.
It all gets under way on Thursday, Nov. 15 at 6 p.m. with a special opening ceremony with a flag raising ceremony, a pledge of allegiance and the singing of the National Anthem followed by a ribbon cutting ceremony.
The flag raising and the pledge of allegiance will be conducted by the East County Lee County High School's JROTC, which is led by Maj. Walden.
The fun begins immediately after the official ceremony with a special Austrian/ German dinner under the big top tent. George Anderson, the public relations spokesman for the annual festival, said Helga and Helmut Heiss who are local Lehigh Acres residents and owners of the Austrian German Pavilion restaurant in Fort Myers will prove an excellent dinner.
"Helga and Helmut have been true supporters of the Lehigh Acres community in the past and we are looking forward to this event," Anderson said.
Get ready for some good food with chicken and pork schnitzel, pork roast, Hungarian goulash, spaetzle with gravy, potato salad, apple strudel and a choice of beer, wine, soda or water.
The cost for the dinner is $20 per person and tickets can be purchased before and after each Mass at St. Raphael's Church or by calling the church office at 239-369-1831 Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Don't wait because these tickets go fast," Anderson said.
One of the more important fun things at the festival for the youngsters each year is the midway which at night can be seen with its bright lights up and down Lee Blvd. There will be all the usual rides, including the giant Ferris wheel and kids can ride on them for a dollar a ride or for a better price, by buying tickets beforehand for $20 for 24 tickets. Only on Friday night is the Midnight Madness from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. and an armband is $15. On Saturday, the Matinee Special is from 1 to 4 p.m. again for $15 and ride all you want.
A four-day armband is $45 in advance and $55 if purchased during the festival. Tickets are available at the information booth only, Anderson said.
Plenty of great entertainment is planned for the 17th annual festival this year.
"We have been working closely with several local community minded businesses to put on some great show including local entertainment from Lehigh Acres such as singer Patti Snider, the Lehigh Children's Choir, pianist Christian Dimaculangan, Lehigh Footnotes, the Lehigh Acres Senior Center, the Bayshore Cloggers, the Lehigh Senior Center and the DJ Ruben.
"It's really great when the community works together," Anderson said.
"Of course, during the evening, we will be having live music. On Friday night, we will have classic/ contemporary rock music with Hidden Agenda. On Saturday night, visitors can dance to the Latin music of Groupo Espali and on Sunday night, we have county/ southern rock performed by Crossfire. The events are listed in a special program booklet available at the festival.
And there's even more to do.
Like the old church bake sales of years ago, the festival will hold a bake sale to the highest bidder to raise money and there will be a silent auction and plenty of food. "We will have Haitian, Latin, Italian, Hispanic, Papa Paul's BBQ, as well as hot dogs, hamburgers and spaghetti dinners, all for sale," Anderson said.
Most of the events are outside but there are events inside the parish hall and under a big white tent.
While there is plenty of parking on the church grounds, some people park across a busy boulevard in the Walmart parking lot. Anderson asks that everyone be careful when crossing Lee Blvd.
There will be a four-night Bahamas cruise to the winner of a $5 raffle ticket or $15 for three cruise raffles, plus one bonus specialty raffle, Anderson said. Stop by the Cruise Booth near the food court.
Anderson said that on Saturday from 2 to 3 p.m., there will be a pie eating contest and a chewing gum contest followed by entertainment all afternoon in addition to the food booths and the midway.
Proceeds from the Fall Festival go to the food pantry at the church, which is given way to local needy families, and for other missions.
"We want to especially get the word out to all the snowbirds who are beginning to arrive. If you know someone coming down, let them know about the festival. And spread the word to Fort Myers and Cape Coral," Anderson said.
The festival is also featured online at: www.srfallfest.com.