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Please Note: A video from Westfest is located at the end of the article.
By Taylor Griffin
Among the carnival rides, polka music and slews of kolache stands, this year’s Labor Day weekend Westfest, celebrated much more than colorful Czech traditions and cuisine. This past weekend, residents and visitors alike gathered to support a community devastated by tragedy last spring by the West Fertilizer Company explosion.
“It brings that healing factor to the city,” said Lisa Reynolds, visiting from Gun Barrel City. “It’s powerful when people come together like this.”
Good spirits and excitement floated throughout the festival, which included a Miss Westfest competition, kolache baking contest, helicopter rides and karaoke. Washer throwing and tractor pull competitions excited crowds by day as country music bands, including Turnpike Troubadours, Chris Low Band and Cory Morrow, lit up the stage by night.
In addition to the carnival and midway attractions, a Saturday morning parade wound through the downtown streets with bands and floats from local and surrounding cities’ organizations.
“It was great seeing people from cities around the area come together to support them like this,” said Amy Ellis from Cedar Hill. “I had never seen anything like that, the support they gave.”
Sunday morning hosted a unique Polka Mass service and a horseshoe throwing contest following the service.
Cynthia Urbanovsky, a West native, said she sees the festival as a chance for anyone from the area to catch up with old friends and neighbors.
“It’s a time to come home to your roots,” she said. “I always came back home for Westfest even when I didn’t live here.”
For West resident Kristie Mason, a vendor at the festival, this year’s Westfest was more than just celebration. Her grandmother’s home was lost in the explosion last spring, and in her vendor’s booth, Mason hung a banner in memorial of those lost that day. She said she felt a significant swell in attendance from previous years, which added to the overwhelming support the town has been shown in the past few months.
“It’s helped heal us,” she said. “We see it’s something happy for once.”
Hailing from Dallas, Aaron Ferguson primarily attended to support the West community and its economic growth. He said the festival brings continued awareness to rebuilding what was physically and emotionally lost.
“Anything that can pump up the morale, I hope they take it and run with it,” he said.