Lending A Helping Hand

Transforming Knoch Park into a four day festival, and of course Ribfest itself, couldn’t be possible without the help of thousands of volunteers.

For Bruce Erickson and his wife Jan, that’s how they spend every 4th of July weekend-volunteering at Ribfest.

“My friends and I are all rib runners,” said Jan. “We take the ribs from the vendors to the sponsor tent.”

“I’m on the steering committee in charge of sponsorship,” said Bruce.

Twenty three years ago, Bruce joined the brand new Exchange Club of Naperville, a branch of the national club that raises money for child abuse prevention. He joined with a few other members to create a fundraiser. At the time Ribfest was on Father’s Day, with only a few vendors, and on Rotary Hill.

“We got put in touch with the ribber, his name was Billy Bones,” remembers Bruce. “So we had 50 new members and a brand new club. So this was like a godsend to us. Everyone was gun-ho, we all said yes, and we made it work. And now it’s grown into this.”

Jan joined her husband volunteering for the second Ribfest. Over the years, the Ericksons have seen Ribfest move to Knoch Park, expand to 16 rib vendors, and be able to hold 60,000 visitors at a time.

Ribfest started back in 1987 with only a handful of volunteers. Today, more than 4,000 people help make Ribfest a success.

“This community has been great about volunteerism, and thank goodness they are because this event wouldn’t be able to succeed without them,” said Julie Lichter, chairperson of Ribfest 2010.

But among all the good food, rides, and music, there’s an underlying theme. One that keeps volunteers coming back year after year: helping the kids.

“When you hear the people that are on the front line you get all teary-eyed. It’s just and amazing thing,” said Jan.

“The fact that we do it for charity is a motivator, but it’s also a challenge, a personal challenge to every year be involved,” said Bruce.

Ribfest has helped the Exchange Club of Naperville raise more than $8 million-$773,000 last year alone- to donate to more than 15 organizations, all benefitting child abuse prevention.

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