Neighbors listening to a band.
College neighbors listen to a steel drum band during NeighborFest, 1983.

Tales from the Archives: NeighborFest

On Aug. 26, 1981, St. Thomas held its first Twilight Concert and Garden Party for the neighborhood community. The main attraction for this event was a performance by Don Bates’ Great Big Band, a jazz orchestra renowned for playing big-band music. More than 500 neighbors filled the lower quad with blankets and lawn chairs for the performance, enjoying free cookies and lemonade provided by the college.

Neighborhood children on a pony ride on the lower quad during NeighborFest, 1997.

The event grew in popularity year after year. By the end of the 1980s, this end-of-summer event was renamed NeighborFest. While the name changed, the primary goal remained unchanged – to bring together the college’s neighbors, so they could connect with St. Thomas faculty, staff and students while exploring the campus’s recent improvements to its buildings and grounds.

NeighborFest wasn’t just for music and mingling for the adults. Activities for the neighborhood children varied from year to year, making each event a new adventure for them. A festive atmosphere including balloons and a playful clown were highlights of early events. Face painting, hayrides, a petting zoo and pony rides were treats for the youngsters in later years.

Of course, NeighborFest catered to the adults as much as the children. A diverse range of entertainment options awaited them each year. Musical groups including steel drum and German oompah bands graced the stage as well as performances by Irish dancing troupes. In some years, screenings of classic films like “West Side Story” were offered.

As the years passed, NeighborFest cemented itself as a highly anticipated part of the neighborhood’s social calendar. While the event is currently on hiatus, it is cherished tradition that brought joy, laughter and a sense of community to all who took part in it.