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Leave them laughing Busy OC season bows out this week with annual Sunfest

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Before autumn settles over Maryland's Eastern Shore, Ocean City will throw one more celebration of summer. Sunfest, which punctuates the end of the resort's busy beach season and officially opens the town's more mellow off-season, will take its 17th annual bow this week.

If the anticipated 300,000 visitors show up, city officials and merchants will enjoy a final midsummer-like dream before fall's more laid-back pace sets in.

"It's always sad when the summer's over, but the festival is a good way to end it -- with lots of laughter," says Jorge Adeler, who oversees the festival's treasure hunt. "The festival is exquisite, and it is people putting their best into it that makes it so good."

The Sunfestivities get under way Thursday with a 10 a.m. boardwalk parade led by the colorful Struttin' Mummers from Philadelphia. The celebration will continue 10 a.m. through 10 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and conclude Sunday with an abbreviated 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. schedule.

Most of the action will take place at the inlet parking lot and beach, but Sunfest-related events will be held throughout the resort. There's a commercial boat show at west O.C.'s Shantytown Village, a softball invitational tournament at the Northside Park and a fishing competition. (See box on Page 20 for a schedule).

The opening parade will cover the length of the boards, beginning at 10 a.m. at 27th Street. Chugging along the boardwalk aboard a tram will be Mayor Roland E. "Fish" Powell and members of the Ocean City Council, Ocean City Fire Prevention Queen Tiffany Eschenburg, Little O.C. Fire Prevention Queen Angela Lewis and Little O.C. Fire Chief Jason Wheeler-Pool. The public is invited to hop aboard the train as the procession passes.

At the inlet, Sunfest's big-top tents will shelter festival-goers from the late summer sun and house food vendors and entertainers. Tents will also be reserved for artisans and craftspeople displaying everything from original paintings to country quilts. Among the more unusual arts expected to be for show and sale are hand-painted clothing, dough art, soft-sculpture animals and pine cone baskets.

Thursday is Senior Citizen Day at Sunfest. The opening day's entertainment includes two performances by the Struttin' Mummers (also known as the Hegeman String Band), a Broadway revue complete with a chorus line by members of the Worcester County Senior Center in Ocean City and country music by Carrot Top and Country Pride.

Musical high notes aside, Thursday's main event may well be the old-fashioned bathing suit contest, slated for 2:30 p.m. Men, women and couples age 25 and up are invited to model old-time swimwear they've bought, borrowed or created.

First and second prizes will be awarded in all three categories for the quaintest and most unique "bathing costumes."

If the hunt for the right bathing suit eludes you, you can always dig into the sand for hidden treasures.

Mr. Adeler of Adeler Jewelry will invest about $10,000 worth of precious gems -- and several predawn hours of his own time -- for the sixth annual Adeler Treasure Hunt. Working under cover of night, he will bury plastic bags containing cards that represent sapphires, amethysts, garnets and other jewels in a 150-by-100-foot plot of inlet beach.

From 11 a.m. to noon on Friday and Saturday, fairgoers will be invited to enter the staked-out area and dig for the buried treasures. Those recovering a card can claim the precious stone represents. But, cautions Mr. Adeler, the contest is open only to those 21 and older.

"We [adults] need a nice excuse to play in the sand," he says, in the melodic accent of his native Argentina. "Either we can go and get a grandson, or we can do this game. It is our excuse to play in the sand."

Contestants line up early for the treasure hunt, and usually the small plot of beach is filled to capacity with more than a thousand gem-diggers. No tools are allowed, but Mr. Adeler encourages contestants to wear garden gloves to protect their hands as they reach into the sand. There are 50 winning cards each day, including a daily grand prize. Mr. Adeler promises that none of the cards is buried under more than a foot of sand.

Competitors of all ages can tee up for prizes in another Sunfest treasure hunt: The fifth annual Sunfest Miniature Golf Tournament at the Treasure Hunt 18-hole golf course at Jolly Roger Park on 30th Street and Coastal Highway. It will take place Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Daily cash prizes will be awarded to the man, woman, boy and girl shooting the lowest score on the course each day during the tourney. Admission is free. For more information, call 289-3477.

Friday at Sunfest is Seafood Day, with crab-picking demonstrations, ragtime music and free crab meat samples courtesy of Phillips seafood restaurants.

Also on the bill for Friday are performances by Ocean City's own George Roman Straka, who invites audiences to sing along to his accordion renditions of old favorite tunes; a little foot-stomping music from East Coast bluegrass champions the Country Grass; and Polish polka music and dancing to be beat of the Brassworks of Hanover.

Saturday will see the repeat of the Adeler treasure hunt from 11 a.m. to noon. Then Kite Loft owners Bill and Mary Osche will pull out all the stops -- and all the kites -- as they stage their ninth annual World Class Kite Festival.

From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., kites from all over the world will soar over the beach at Fifth Street as the festival seeks to set a Guinness world record for the number of kites flying at the same time. The Osches invite fairgoers to bring their kites and be part of the record attempt.

Inside the Sunfest entertainment tent Saturday, Nanticoke Indians from Millsboro, Del., will present traditional Indian dancing and storytelling. The Mummers will make a final appearance early Saturday afternoon, followed by the 45-member First U.S. Army Band from Fort Meade. Saturday night's headliners are Lonzo's Ocean Country Band from Ocean City and the Executives from York, Pa.

Sunday is the last day of summer and the last day Sunfest '91.

Sunfest '91 schedule

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Thursday -- Senior Citizen Day

10 a.m.: Boardwalk parade from 27th Street to the inlet.

10 a.m. to 2 p.m.: Sunfest Miniature Golf Tournament at the Jolly Roger Amusement Park.

Noon to 6 p.m.: Shantytown Village Sunfest Boat Show.

Entertainment tent:

12:30 p.m.: Hegeman String Band.

2:15 p.m.: Free candy for senior citizens.

2:30 p.m.: Old-Fashioned Bathing Suit Contest.

3 p.m.: Ocean City Seniors Broadway Revue.

5:30 p.m.: Carrot Top and Country Pride country music.

7:30 p.m.: Hegeman String Band.

10 p.m.: Closing time.

Friday -- Seafood Day

11 a.m. to noon: Treasure hunt on the beach.

10 a.m. to 2 p.m.: Sunfest Miniature Golf

Tournament at the Jolly Roger Amusement Park.

Noon to 6 p.m.: Shantytown Village Sunfest Boat Show.

Sunfest Fishing Tournament: Hours to be announced.

Entertainment tent:

Noon: George Roman Straka accordian music and sing-along.

p.m.: Crab picking demonstration with free samples.

p.m.: Phillips Ragtime Band.

5:30 p.m.: The Country Grass bluegrass, country and Western music.

7:30 p.m.: The Brassworks polka music and dancing.

p.m.: Closing time.

Saturday

11 a.m. to noon: Treasure hunt on the beach.

10 a.m. to 6 p.m.: Shantytown Village Sunfest Boat Show.

11 a.m. to 4 p.m.: Ninth annual World Class Kite Festival on the beach at Fifth Street.

Sunfest Fishing Tournament: Hours to be announced.

Entertainment tent:

11:30 a.m.: Nanticoke Indians dancing and storytelling.

1 p.m.: Hegeman String Band.

4 p.m.: First U.S. Army Band.

7 p.m.: Lonzo's Ocean Country Band and the Executives.

10 p.m.: Closing time.

Sunday, Sept. 22

10 a.m. to 6 p.m.: Shantytown Village Sunfest Boat Show.

Sunfest Fishing Tournament: Hours to be announced.

Entertainment tent:

Noon: George Roman Straka accordian and sing-along.

1 p.m.: Pine Tones and Salty Aires choral music.

1:30 p.m.: Musical revue by the Wills Family.

p.m.: Peninsulaires Barbership Quartet and Chorus.

3:30 p.m.: The Executives.

5 p.m.: Raffle drawings.

6 p.m.: Sunfest '91 ends.

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