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Conejo Valley Daze

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Maybe it was the names of the rides: Kamikaze, Sea Dragon and YoYo. Or the chance to sample “ice cream of the future.”

What drew an estimated 5,000 people to opening night of the Conejo Valley Days midway Wednesday is anyone’s guess, although those meatball sandwiches at the Veterans of Foreign Wars booth were a big hit.

Lines were forming when the gates opened at 5 p.m. to kick off five days of carnival at Conejo Creek Park, put together in large part by one woman who event organizers like to call “Mom.”

June Wimer has been coordinating the midway for 30 years. The woman in the blue, wide-brimmed hat patrolled the 60-acre carnival grounds all day Wednesday, overseeing everything from electrical hook-ups to beer deliveries.

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“She gets in their face and tells those big, burly guys what to do--and they listen,” event worker Frank Lussier said. “It’s a tough job, but she is the mom.”

Wimer knows how to run a well-oiled midway and handle trouble when it comes. Consider 25 years ago, when the carnival was held in the parking lot of the Janss Mall and a pack of rodeo bulls escaped their fence, stampeding toward the stores.

“It was exciting,” Wimer said. “The police finally helped us round up the bulls. But the merchants were mad and wouldn’t let us come back the next year.”

The wildest thing facing this year’s carnival probably was the chest-high weeds that volunteers had to hack down to prepare the site. Heavy rains this season choked the park with vegetation, giving organizers an extra weekend of work. But no one is complaining.

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“We’re just excited El Nino passed us by this week and gave us great weather,” publicity director Mary Alva Anderson said. “I think our grand marshal, the Ropin’ Reverend, had something to do with it. He must have prayed to the right people.”

Anderson was wired Wednesday, roaming the carnival site while fielding an onslaught of questions and requests from her cell phone, beeper and walkie-talkie.

After doing this for three decades, Wimer is no stranger to Conejo Valley Days-related stress.

“Everybody wants everything right now and they want it changed too,” she said. “You’ve got to have a cast-iron nervous system.”

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But Wimer, who won’t reveal her age other than to say she’s “old enough to vote and young enough to dream,” admits that she can’t imagine not being a part of Conejo Valley Days.

“I love it; they’re my family,” Wimer said. “It’s a real lifter-upper for me.”

Thousand Oaks Mayor Mike Markey was there, sporting a bright yellow jacket labeled “Security” and giving orders on a radio. This is his second year heading carnival security.

“Being a cop, I came in to help out,” said Markey, a former Compton detective. “We’ve cut down on fraud at the carnival by about 45%; it’s really strict to get in now. This is a family time, but is also a major event, so security is important.”

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Organizers expect more than 50,000 people to attend over the five days, which gives Markey and his crew plenty to handle.

“There’s a lot to worry about: traffic control, lost children, monitoring alcohol sales,” Markey said. “But I’ll take a break and have some fun. My kids are coming Friday.”

Carnival-goers Wednesday took advantage of a special $10 pass for 43 rides. There were also 70 food and game booths run by area charities. In the commercial tent, 120 vendors were selling everything from candy to chiropractic care.

This is the eighth consecutive visit to the carnival for John Shramm of Thousand Oaks and his son Michael, 8. Six-year-old Patrick has also been coming every year since he was born.

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“We’ve been coming from diapers to strollers to pony rides,” Shramm said. “But this year, it’s forget the ponies and on to the bigger rides. This is a great family event that has given us a lot of nice memories.”

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Conejo Valley Days Events

Here are the highlights of this week’s Conejo Valley Days festival:

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TODAY

Conejo Valley Days Carnival, runs 5 to 10 p.m. at Conejo Creek Park

Elvis impersonator Raymond Michael and headliner Mitch Ryder, Main Stage, 6:30 p.m.

FRIDAY

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Interservice Club Lunch, Hyatt Westlake Plaza, 11:30 a.m.

Carnival, 5 p.m. to midnight

Chase and headliner Wild Heart, Main Stage, 7 p.m.

SATURDAY

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Conejo Valley Days Parade, 9 a.m., Thousand Oaks Boulevard

Carnival, noon to 10 p.m.

Rodeo at carnival site, 1:30 and 4:30 p.m.

Tin Drum and headliner Ambrosia, Main Stage, 7 p.m.

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SUNDAY

Carnival, noon to midnight

Rodeo at carnival site, 1 and 4 p.m.

Fun Fly Air Show at Club Field, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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Philip Norris, Mark Insley and Mighty Mo Rogers, Main Stage, 1 p.m.


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