From the “Velvet Highway” celebration to night parades for Utah’s Miss America contestants, Orem’s Summerfest has grown and changed several times over the years.
This year, the June event was canceled in its traditional form by restrictions from COVID-19, but the city is still planning on holding a portion of the yearly summerfest activities.
A traditional Summerfest typically include the Arts in the Park, a baby contest, a boutique, a car show, a parade, the Rotary Club Breakfast, a 5K Fun Run, fireworks, a carnival, vendor booths and more.
If all goes well, the city is planning a “Summerfest Lite” that also will combine the adjusted city celebration with the popular GeezerFest.
The Summerfest Lite/GeezerFest is scheduled Aug. 14-15 at the Orem City Park pavilion. Geezerfest is a free live music festival, featuring older, experienced musicians from around Utah, according to John Pilmer, spokesman.
“This year marks our 15th anniversary, and the third where we’ve partnered with Orem City,” Pilmer said. “Additionally, we are proud to announce that Geezerfest 2020 is teaming up to get Orem Summerfest back on track.”
Pilmer added, “Our roots started in a backyard barbecue and has grown to over 700 musicians in Utah and Salt Lake counties, along with families and friends.”
“Both Geezerfest and Summerfest are marquee summer events in the valley,” said Orem Mayor Richard Brunst in a joint announcement. “We know that joining forces offers family fun as we emerge from gathering restrictions. The stage is set for a fabulous festival for Orem and Utah Valley.”
Summerfest has been held at the City Center Park for as long as most people can remember, but the parade and events have taken on a new life over the years.
A 1949 edition of the Orem-Geneva Times reported the two-day celebration would be held on the completion of the highway, now State Street, from 2000 North to 2000 South. It was 5 miles of what residents dubbed the “Velvet Highway.”
Summerfest celebrations included a morning parade from north to south along State Street, with activities in the City Center Park and fireworks at night.
In the 1980s, Orem residents Norm and Roseanne Nielsen, who chaired the Miss Utah Pageant, introduced the popular night parades that featured all 60 contestants riding in convertibles. All the entries were to be adorned with lights on the cars, floats and even a few band instruments, according to Norm Nielsen.
“Since we’d been running the Miss Utah Pageant, we decided to have the contestants from all over the state in the parade,” Norm Nielsen said. “It added an interesting spark, and brought thousands to the parade and millions of dollars in sales tax revenue.”
He added, “It was the only night parade in the state at the time.”
When the parade passed the finish line, the fireworks began. It was the Nielsens that moved the parade from State Street to the current route of 800 East and 800 South, moving north to Center Street and then on to the City Center.
Norm Nielsen said it was more tight and gave it a together feeling for the city rather than a big highway. Also, working with the Utah Department of Transportation to close the road was getting difficult.
It was Norm Nielsen that coined the Orem city motto “Family City U.S.A.”
The pageant light parade went on for 22 years, Nielsen said. Since then the state pageant has moved to Salt Lake City and the Summerfest Celebration has more than doubled in size and scope.
However, the parade has remained an evening venue and still brings thousands along the parade route.
For the past few years, events have grown to the point where the committee has held activities at the City Center Park and at the Scera Park as well.
Orem celebrated its 100th birthday last year. Settlers arrived at what was known as the Provo Bench or Sharon, which got its name from biblical references and the area of Vermont where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints prophet Joseph Smith was born.
The rocky land had good soil and worked well for fruit orchards growing apricots, cherries, peaches, pears and plums. The ground was also good for strawberries, raspberries and blueberries.
According to city history, the early settlers worked hard to bring irrigation to the bench and it is still being used in urban irrigating today.
The city incorporated on May 5, 1919, and was called Orem, after Walter C. Orem. Walter never lived in Orem, but his trains went back and forth on State Street to Salt Lake City taking produce and livestock to the big city markets.
Over the past 100 years, the city has grown to nearly 100,000 residents and has become the retail center of Utah County. The University Place campus is the focal point of the business district at the crossroads of State Street and University Parkway.
Also contributing to the city’s growth is Utah Valley University, now touting more than 43,000 students.
Orem has been the home to WordPerfect, Xactware, Blendtec, Omniture (now Adobe) and myriad other high-tech and manufacturing companies.
Orem is about 95% members of the LDS Church, according to city records. In October of 2019, church President Russell M. Nelson announced a temple would be built in the city.
Orem continues to receive top marks for safety, raising families, entrepreneur opportunities and outdoor sports. It has also been the No. 1 place in the U.S. for trick or treating several years in a row, according to a variety of reports and census data.
The Census Bureau predicts the Orem area will come out of the COVID-19 pandemic as one of the strongest cities in the U.S. economically.
While the full Summerfest celebration isn’t happening this year, residents should know the committee is already planning for 2021.