When it comes to judging the success of Homer Glen’s HomerFest, co-chairman Chris Locacius looks for two things.
“The best part is seeing kids come in with smiles on their faces and seeing them leave with smiles on their faces,” he said. “That’s the best thing that I pick up from the fest, and it makes me want to come back and volunteer. I love watching the reactions on the families’ faces. That makes it all worthwhile.”
He and co-chairman Carlo Caprio are hoping to see bigger smiles in the 2021 version of the fest. They want a bigger and better HomerFest because the 2020 version was canceled by coronavirus concerns and because 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the town's incorporation.
This year’s fest is scheduled for June 24-27 at Heritage Park, and organizers are hoping by then, it will be safe to host the event. In December, the village board budgeted $186,800 for HomerFest, up nearly $40,000 from 2019.
While most of the plans and a theme need to be approved, there will be a big fireworks show, with the pyrotechnics launched from a sled hill on the park this year. There will also be a flyover by the Lima Lima Flight Team, which specializes in precision formation flying and has performed in front of more than 100 million spectators since forming in 1975 in Naperville.
The Homer Community Festival Committee had discussions about bringing in a national singing act to the fest, but Caprio, also a village board trustee, said the cost “is not worth the bang for the buck.”
He added the area has good local bands and a staple of the fest, Maggie Speaks, is slated to return.
The fest has drawn more than 20,000 patrons in a given year, and Locacius, also the village’s fire chief, said that organizers strive to add a unique element to the four-day gathering each year. He said that years ago, the fest was one of the first in the area to hosts a special-needs day.
“A family with a special-needs child can spend the day together,” he said. “It’s been a huge success. They don’t have to deal with the big crowds. It’s handicapped accessible. It’s a part of tying in the whole community.”
The community became incorporated April 17, 2001, as Will County Circuit Court Judge Herman Haase certified results from a previous election. The vote was 5,163 for incorporation and 2,640 against.
Before that, the area known as Homer Township was growing quickly. Some residents wanted to keep the area as rural as possible, according to reports. After signing off on the change to Homer Glen, Haase told those present that there was going to be “monstrous and monumental” or “momentous and monumental” work ahead, depending on which news report you read. Either way, it was a big undertaking.
Russ Petrizzo was the first mayor and the first board of trustees consisted of Mary Niemec, Thomas Polke, Brian Andrews, Margaret Sabo, Gail Snyder and Laurel Ward. At the time, the village had an estimated 22,000 residents.
Homer Glen had added close to 2,500 residents, bringing the population to 24,472 in 2019, according to an estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau.
It was a small and steady growth in people but a larger growth in commerce with more than 250 businesses listed in the directory on the village’s website, www.homerglenil.org.
“We’ve grown,” said Caprio, who lived in town 22 years. “The board and the governmental aspect of it have grown. We’ve done a lot of great things and brought some significant business here. We’re trying to be a little more business friendly with ordinances and things of that nature without giving away the farm.”
“I like that fact that we’ve been able to control the growth,” added Locacius, who has lived there since 2000 and has served on the board. “We have brought amenities to the village. The trail system is a big part of that. We’ve developed parks throughout the community. We’ve been able to control our own destiny. We now have Christmas lights in Heritage Park, and those are types of things people enjoy at that time of the year.
“Before we were incorporated, we didn’t have that. We would go to someone else’s towns. Now it’s nice to have it in your own community.”