Leicester's Top 5; Eat, play, watch, listen, learn.
LEICESTER - Trying to pick just five entities that make folks proud they live in Leicester is a lot harder than it sounds. We put the question to a lot of folks and got many answers. Here are the five we heard most often:
Hot Dog Annie's
When the Fyffe family opened the hot dog stand next to the family home on Paxton Street in 1947, no one dreamed it would become one of the most popular hot dog stands in Worcester County.
Folks who remember it from those days usually have just two comments: "Best barbecue sauce I ever ate" and "Eight for a buck on Wednesday."
The stand's official name was Silver Grille, but folks quickly got to calling it Hot Dog Annie's.
The stand was destroyed by fire in 1967 but wasn't closed for long. The owner had another stand in Webster, put it on a truck and moved it to Leicester.
The owner called it New Silver Grille, but it was still Hot Dog Annie's to its patrons. Finally, the Fyffes gave in and put the nickname on the sign.
Prices are higher and the stand has changed hands, but Wednesday is still "special" day and the barbecue sauce is as tasty as ever. Hot Dog Annie's was depicted on a quilt created for the town's 275th anniversary in 1997 and as a Cat's Meow replica.
For just one day each September - this year on Sept. 19 - the Common will take on the ambience of a country fair of the 1800s.
Harvest Fair 2009 will be the 10th annual version sponsored by the Leicester Arts Council, abetted by other local organizations and businesses.
Artisans will demonstrate quilting, stained glass art, photography and other skills. Children can play games, enjoy a hay ride or a train ride around the Common and decorate their bicycles for a contest.
Adults will enter their homegrown vegetables and homemade jams, jellies, pickles, baked goods and photos from last year's Harvest Fair in their own contests.
And bring your camera - you'll want to take a lot of pictures to enter for next year's contest.
Leicester Triple Drive-In Theater
In 1965, when Hanna Joseph built his outdoor movie theater off Route 9 west of Leicester Center, drive-ins were springing up all over the county.
The Leicester Drive-In then had a single screen, individual speakers to be taken into the cars and generally a pair of B movies.
Today, most of those drive-ins are long closed. But Leicester's is bigger and better than ever.
"I saw how the audience was changing, and I changed my operation to give the audience what it wanted" is how Mr. Joseph explains his venture's continued success.
In the early days, the audience was mostly teens. Nowadays, it's primarily families. And since not every patron likes the same movie, he installed a second screen and then a third. He replaced the speakers with sound broadcast over the car radio.
Most important, he started showing first-run movies. That meant a price hike, but the one-carful admission policy remained a bargain.
The Leicester Triple Drive-in opened for this season May 1, showing movies on Friday and Saturday only till school ends. Thereafter, shows will run seven nights a week until fall.
Concerts on the Common
Folks looking for fun on Wednesday evenings this summer need look no further than the Common.
Every Wednesday during July and August, the brick and wrought-iron bandstand on the east end of the Common will have a musical occupant to entertain what, if past practice is any indication, will be an enthusiastic crowd.
Judith Ivel, the Bandstand Committee member who schedules the concerts, says she has a great lineup of musicians for this summer, starting with the Blackstone Valley Concert Band on July 3. Jazz, a Spanish band and a Motown concert are also scheduled, along with Kathy's Clowns for children.
The concerts also involve other activities, such as a display of classic cars behind the bandstand. Local organizations choose a particular concert to attend in groups, with picnic suppers and occasionally Cat's Meow replicas for sale.
July concerts are held from 7 to 9 p.m., August concerts from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. In case of rain, the concert is rescheduled for Thursday. If it rains then, the concert is moved inside Town Hall.
Although Becker has been a center of education since 1887, when it was established as Becker Business College in Worcester, it has only had a Leicester campus since 1977.
In that year, Becker - then Becker Junior College of Business Administration and Secretarial Science - merged with Leicester Junior College. And since Leicester Junior College was what had originally been Leicester Academy, one of the first private secondary schools in Massachusetts and pictured on the town seal, Becker can trace its Leicester roots back before 1800.
Becker was firmly established on its Leicester campus on July 17, 1990, when Gov. Michael Dukakis signed the bill dropping "Junior" from the school's title, making it Becker College.
At that time, Becker offered two-year degrees in business administration and secretarial science. The college now offers four-year degrees in a number of fields, including one that has become a specialty at the Leicester campus, veterinary science. Reflecting the high regard shown for Becker's veterinary science program, its students have been accepted for internships at Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Fla.
Since coming to Leicester, Becker has maintained a close relationship with the town. The Leicester Historical Commission and the college worked together to obtain $380,000 in federal money toward a town visitors center and museum in the historic home of the Rev. Samuel May on the Becker campus. Rev. May was a Unitarian minister and ardent abolitionist whose home was a stop on the Underground Railroad.
ART: PHOTOS; MAP
PHOTOG: (1) T&G FILE PHOTO/DAN GOULD; (2) T&G File Photo/JIM COLLINS; (3) SEAN DOUGHERTY; (4) RICH DUGAS; (5) T&G File Photo/RICK CINCLAIR
CUTLINE: (1) Above, Vito Petrone and his son, Nick Petrone, of Oxford, enjoy a hot dog at Hot Dog Annie's in Leicester. (2) Right, Ashley Aucoin, 11, left, and Ryan Raymond, 14, both of Southbridge, watch a movie under a blanket at the Leicester Triple Drive-In. (3) Ed Anderson of the Aletheia Grotto Band plays tuba in a concert on the Common.(4) Leicester Middle School Peer Leader MacKenzie Fullen, right, leads her team in colonial potato sack races on the Common during the Harvest Fair. (5) Far right: The May House at Becker College.