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Ben Mikesell | The Journal Gazette
Kids play in the water ball pool Saturday at Headwaters Park. Up to four balls can be in the water at one time.

3RF ends 9-day run on high note

Executive director expects attendance to top last year

Classic jazz played in the breeze to the point where you could almost spot a music note floating in the air.

Later, reggae and rock ’n’ roll harmonies could be heard along the banks of the St. Marys River at the historic Wells Street Bridge during canoe and kayak races.

So goes a snapshot of the Saturday finale of Fort Wayne’s Three Rivers Festival. Organizers estimate at least 350,000 attended the nine-day celebration.

The 46th annual event cost at least $1 million to put on, with money coming from donations, corporate sponsors and vendors.

Corporate sponsors include Hanning & Bean Enterprises Inc., Sweetwater Sound, Steel Dynamics Inc., Hotel Fitness and Wells Fargo.

This year, Hanning and Bean became the new title sponsor of the Three Rivers Festival. The company made a $300,000 three-year pledge – the largest financial gift in the event’s history.

Hanning & Bean is a Fort Wayne private-investing company.

Drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors from northeast Indiana, southern Michigan and northwestern Ohio, the Three Rivers Festival is one of the most popular celebrations in the region.

Attractions include a televised parade with more than 130 entries, a fine-arts fair, crafter’s market, bed race, amusement rides and other events.

Sponsor support is much appreciated, but Buz Sather says the occasion can’t be measured in dollars and cents.

“It’s about community, really,” the 70-year-old retiree said. “The diversity of the city is on display and it’s nice to see.”

Sather played the bagpipe for 20 years in the festival’s parade as a member of the Mizpah Shrine before putting the instrument aside in 2000.

“I still love coming down here,” Sather said.

He and his 7-year-old grandson, Ian, watched kayak racers streaming by, but the youngster enjoyed something else earlier in the week.

“Junk Food Alley ... and hot dogs,” Ian said. “I like that.”

Jack Hammer is executive director of the festival. He expects attendance to top last year. The addition of boat races and other activities are playing a part.

“We didn’t have the raft race for a long time and lots of people were glad to see that again,” Hammer said of the event that returned last year after nearly two decades.

“I can’t say enough about the sponsors who have all been great to work with,” he said.