There’s a sentiment among many Oak Harbor residents that their community is slowly losing its identity.
The towering Garry oak tree in front of the post office is no longer standing. Neither is city beach’s iconic windmill. And, recently, it came to light that the 51-year-old Holland Happening festival might no longer bear the same name.
A “Save the Date” for the newly named Spring Festival set off a heated debate on social media about changing the name of the Dutch-themed event. The parade would retain the Holland Happening name. The Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce board of directors, with previous executive director Christine Cribb, decided last year to change the name of the street fair, according to Miranda Hoppock, the current chamber director.
In recent years, with a dwindling Dutch presence at the event, the chamber was receiving negative comments that the festival was misleadingly branded, Hoppock said.
But the name holds significance for a large group of residents who want it to continue as a celebration of the city’s heritage, said Autumn Sundown.
Sundown is collecting signatures for a petition to retain the Holland Happening name.
Sundown cited an increasing frustration that she’s noticed, and feels herself, about the lost pieces of Oak Harbor’s history.
“I’m seeing all these people’s pain,” Sundown said. “These are things that make us human. These are things that make home feel like home, and it just hurts to lose them.”
Sundown said she was impressed Hoppock managed to respond to her questions “in the midst of a firestorm,” and emphasized that the petition isn’t meant to be an “anti-chamber” action.
The petition has been placed at a number of local businesses because, Sundown said, she wants to elevate the voices of people who might have felt left out of the decision-making process and want to preserve something the community views as important.
Discussions about the name change began several years ago, Hoppock said. She said she is supportive of the decision, but told Sundown that, if she received signatures from around 10 percent of the city’s population, or about 2,200 people, that she would take the petition to the board of directors for reconsideration.
The event needs more than signatures to stay alive, however, she said.
The touches of Dutch in the festival have slowly become less and less visible as Dutch groups, vendors and community members age or move away, Hoppock said.
“It’s hard for us to bring in Dutch influence when we don’t have a lot of historical knowledge about it,” she said.
Volunteer participation and monetary contributions were also on the decline.
A lot of that volunteerism and connections to Dutch community members went away with the passing of Jan Ellis in 2017, Hoppock said. Ellis served as chairwoman for Holland Happening Committee for 23 of the first 25 years of the event, according to her obituary.
Hoppock said she understands why people are upset and plans to present the petition to the board of directors during a Feb. 14 meeting if the 10 percent goal is reached.
She said the issue will also be discussed during a retreat later this month.
Sundown said she isn’t sure how many signatures have been collected so far. Hoppock had asked for a physical petition, as opposed to an online one, as an assurance they were truly coming from within the city, she said.
“I really want to know that the people in this community are opposed to this, and I want a solid foundation to stand on when I go to the board of directors,” she said.
Nonetheless, resident Brian Jones started an online petition through the website change.org. It had 2,464 signatures as of Friday morning.
Sundown said she sees the two petitions as complementary.
Sundown said she baked the cake, and that Jones is icing it.
“The end result is going to be, I hope, that they get the message,” she said.