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Crowds Gobble Up Festival Fun
Young Matthew Gleason, 2, didnt even need a Chocolate Challenge to get immersed in the star attraction in Oakdale this weekend; he managed to get more chocolate pudding on him than in him, the free sample handed out on Chocolate Avenue by ConAgra employees. - photo by Marg Jackson/The Leader

After several days of near triple-digit temperatures, Mother Nature cooperated with pleasant weather for the 22nd Annual Oakdale Chocolate Festival.

With this year’s theme “Chocolates Gone Nuts,” thousands came out to experience the entertainment, food, classic cars, merchandise and crafts, and most of all, the chocolate.

Ruby Oliva brought a bit of both chocolate and nuts with her booth from Ruby’s Rocky Road of Escalon. This was actually her third appearance at the festival.

“Sales have been steady and the weather is perfect,” said Oliva, as she gave out a sweet sample which resulted in a customer purchase. “I always enjoy this festival.”

Terri Sue Van Dusen was a first-time vendor with her delectable Terri Sue’s Toffee along Chocolate Avenue.

“We came to the festival after being urged by a Red Cross volunteer at another festival,” Van Dusen said. “We contacted the festival, and here we are.”

Van Dusen added that she knew the Oakdale community and frequently came to the area for the almonds she uses in her toffee.

The crowd enjoyed the entertainment throughout the grounds during both Saturday and Sunday.

John and Bria Pagliaro of Tracy posed with their 10-month-old son, Silas as pictures were taken with the Congressional Gunfighters of America, an award-winning, professional western reenactment troupe that performed and wandered the grounds.

“Wild Bill Hickok” displayed his six-shooter to Silas who was amazed at the gunslinger.

“We’re having way too much chocolate today,” said Bria. “This was the perfect day to bring out the family.”

The festival saw more than 100 classic cars with Mustangs, Camaros, Mopar muscle cars, Corvettes, and many others from the 50s, 60s, and 70s.

The Chocolate Festival even brought international visitors to attend.

“We come every year to attend and this year we brought visitors from New Zealand,” said Nicky Faulkner of Hickman, pointing to Owen Coldicuitt of Tighems, New Zealand.

“It’s an awesome town to visit,” said Coldicuitt. “We’re enjoying the weather here too.”

The band Threshold and their amazing horn section entertained those grabbing a beverage or snack at the Sierra Railroad Dinner Train.

“These guys are great,” said Mark Bueno of Merced. “I come out to see them here every year.”

According to Oakdale Chamber of Commerce CEO Mary Guardiola, this year’s festival brought out over 70,000 people for the two-day event. Last year saw 65,000 attend.

“We heard from many patrons that it was the best Chocolate Festival so far,” said Guardiola. “This is nice to hear since it does take a lot of hard work and many hours, both staff and volunteer, to pull off an event of this capacity. The Oakdale Chamber is a proud host of this event for the community of Oakdale.”