The festival has evolved into one of the premier events in the region from its humble beginnings as the Portage Borough Centennial Celebration in 1990.
The Portage Borough Centennial Celebration started out as an idea by the late Joe Vargo, a lifetime Portage area resident, who thought the community should have an event to recognize the borough’s 100th birthday. Mr. Vargo solicited area residents to form a volunteer planning committee beginning in 1986 to organize a festival and hold it at the Crichton McCormick Park in Portage during August 1990. The group started to raise funds over a four year period to cover the many expenses needed to have a successful first time event with a variety of entertainment and activities and offer free admission for the visitors. The committee also decided to donate proceeds from the inaugural event to the Portage Area Joint Recreation Commission to help maintain the Crichton McCormick Park, and since then, has provided thousands of dollars each year to the help the park.
Mr. Vargo had hoped the initial festival would be supported and well attended by the community members. He also hoped an annual festival would result from the committee’s hard work. Well, his dreams were realized and the volunteer group decided to continue on with the First Annual Portage Area Summerfest being held in August 1991. Since then, the festival has grown considerably and welcomes 15,000 to 20,000 attendees each August. Sad to say, Mr. Vargo passed away in the fall of 1990 but his memory, dedication, and hard work have endured all these years later.
The Portage Area Summerfest features three days of family fun events, entertainment, and activities including: live music, food, a large handmade craft area averaging 75 vendor booths, parade, 5K race, bingo, kids’ activities, golf tournament, community booths, commercial vendors, an antique and classic car and motorcycle show, magician, laser tag, inflatable rides, $10,000 community fundraising drawing, and much more.
In May 2016, the Portage Area Summerfest Committee became Portage Area Summerfest Inc. An incorporated IRS Section 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.