Williston’s Touch-a-Truck event boosts small town morale

It took Stan Berry seven years to rebuild a Navy N2S plane after he found it in pieces in Oklahoma and drove them to a U-Haul in Fort Lauderdale.

On Saturday, the retired Broward County Sherrif Department pilot showed off the reassembled and working plane at the City of Williston’s second annual Miles of Smiles Touch-a-Truck event.

The event, hosted by the Williston Chamber of Commerce, brought together residents of the town and surrounding areas excited to explore the various trucks, planes and race cars contributed by members of the community.

Jason Whistler, who attended the event with his wife, sister, 14-year-old nephew and 10-year-old son, has lived in Levy Count since 1987. Whistler said his family had been looking forward to the event for several weeks.

“It’s events like this that really bring our neighbors together,” he said.

Kurt Richardson, chamber president and co-creator of Miles of Smiles, said he hopes the event will bring people outdoors, increase community participation and boost tourism in Levy County.

Residents traveled from as far as Pasco County to participate in the event, Richardson said.

Konrad Kasiski (right) drove himself and his brother Karl (left) to first place in the children’s car race. Kasiski says he credits his win to his Huffy Torex ATV being the fastest car in the race. (Anna Guber/WUFT News)

While in its first year in 2021, the event drew 2,000 people, Richardson said. He was hoping for 3,000 to 3,500 attendees.

Kayla Martin said she got the idea for Touch-a-Truck when she attended a similar event in Gainesville with her 3-year-old son.

“My original goal was to create a fun family event for kids in our area because there just aren’t enough of them,” Martin said. “We are a large farming and trading community, so an event like this is truly representative of the people who live here.”

Carolyn Ten Broeck, the chamber’s executive director, said she hopes the event will raise funds to pay off debts the city was facing, following the chamber’s attempt to host Wings Over Williston. , while remaining affordable for participants. Miles of Smiles was an event that enabled the chamber to pay off these debts by October 2021.

Residents who attended the event were charged a $5 fee. However, those with children under 5 could qualify for a fee waiver by bringing a non-perishable food item to donate to the local food pantry, Ten Broeck said.

Amid the pandemic, the Touch-a-Truck gave residents an opportunity to feel normal again, Mayor Jerry Robinson said.

“Parents have the opportunity to bring their children and give them the opportunity to interact closely with these trucks,” he said. “It’s like Disneyland for these kids.”

Justin Mirando attended the event Saturday with his wife and two daughters. He has been a member of the Williston community for a year.

“Williston is a very close community,” Mirando said. “A lot of people want to see him grow with things to do like the event we’re seeing today.”

Events like Miles of Smiles, Mirando said, highlight the importance of jobs that are often undervalued but have a huge impact on the region.

“These are jobs that people don’t always realize are so important, and the jobs and businesses represented here are pillars in making our community livable,” he said.

Williston is a community like no other, said Sgt. Dave Johnson, who has been with the Williston Police Department since 2009.

“It’s one of the only places in the world where you can be in a restaurant and you’ll see people paying for each other’s meals just because they have that kind of heart and they care about each other. others,” Johnson said.

Smiles of Miles represents the same level of care experienced throughout Williston and the Levy County community, he said.

“We do for others, and that’s what it’s all about,” Johnson said. “And with the kids involved, it’s about their characteristics, their joy, and giving them insight into what they want to do in life.”

In addition to exploring various vehicles, children who attended the event were able to take part in a battery-powered car race.

Five-year-old Konrad Kasiski took first place, riding his Huffy Torex ATV alongside his 3-year-old brother, Karl.

Organizing this event was what everyone involved needed to get through the pandemic, said airport manager Benton Stegall.

“The whole community and the surrounding areas really needed a morale boost following the pandemic,” he said. “And with Smiles of Miles, we were able to get it.”

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