Sister Bay Marina Fest Celebrates Community on Labor Day Weekend

Sister Bay’s waterfront will be full of food, games, music and smiles on Labor Day weekend. 

Marina Fest is now a family-friendly weekend that features the Lions Club’s boat-building event for kids, a classic and wooden boat show at the marina, numerous bands, bounce houses and food. But at its roots, the festival celebrates a risk taken by people who had a vision for a new identity for Sister Bay. 

“The idea came from a brainstorming session with Jack Bunda, Peter Trenchard and me,” recalled Greg “Fuzzy” Sunstrom. “We had just expanded the marina, and we thought of this as a way to advertise it and celebrate its success.”

Sister Bay is now known for its expansive public waterfront, but into the 1990s, most of that area was private. During the late 1980s, a proposal to enclose the entire harbor to create a massive, 300-plus-slip marina was on the table, but that was quickly shot down. Instead, the village’s Marina Committee endeavored to expand the 38-slip marina by 43 slips. Even that more modest proposal split the village and enraged one of its louder characters.

Keta Steebs, a longtime reporter and columnist for the Door County Advocate, didn’t believe there was enough demand to fill the slips and feared the village taxpayers would end up footing the bill for the $1.5 million project. She was so much in doubt that she ran for village president to stop it. 

When she won, she put the expansion to an advisory referendum, which the pro-marina faction won, 188-183. Still, Steesbs refused to sign the loan documents for the marina, forcing the board to sue to compel her to sign them. Instead, Steebs resigned.

It was one of the village’s most contentious battles. In a column, Steebs challenged readers to pick the day when the marina slips would fill. Believing they never would, she offered $1,000 to the person who guessed correctly. Sunstrom – who was on the Marina Committee at the time and a staunch believer in the expansion – picked July 4, and he was right. To her credit, Steebs sent him the check, but Sunstrom never cashed it, instead cutting it in half and returning it to Steebs.

Out of that fight and ultimate success was born Marina Fest. 

“As I recall, it was a thank-you to the village and citizens for supporting the investment in the marina,” said Chris Hecht, who was a young member of the Sister Bay/Liberty Grove Fire Department at the time. “It was an attempt to heal the wounds of the marina fight a little bit as well.”

The fire department was invited to sell brats and beer; the Coast Guard demonstrated a water rescue by helicopter; and a boat show was staged at the marina. For several years, the Waterboard Warriors water-ski show also entertained; a Venetian boat parade graced the harbor; and the Lions Club added a boat-building tent for kids. 

Over time, the festival changed. The water-ski show was expensive, and when the village expanded Waterfront Park in 2007, the celebration gained a wider platform. Live music became a bigger part of the event, and bounce houses and kids games were added.

Marina Fest remains the fire department’s largest fundraiser of the year in that it profits not only from selling beer and soda, but also from holding a big pancake breakfast on Saturday at the village hall. 

Hecht said, “We’ve really tried to do two things: Make it local and family.”

Sunstrom served on the Marina Committee for three decades, and he still looks forward to the celebration. 

“We go down there because we love to see the local kids and families down there playing games,” he said. “I’ll take the grandkids to the boat-building tent, buy food from the nonprofits. It’s really a neat thing to be a part of.”


Saturday, Sept. 2

7-10 am: Pancake breakfast at the tent next to the bounce houses

8 am – 4 pm: Used-book sale at the village hall

9 am – 4 pm: Vintage boat show at the marina

9 am – 5 pm: Arts-and-crafts fair, plus a farmers market next to the village hall

9 am – 5 pm: Stained-glass mosaic workshop for kids and adults

10 am – 1 pm: Live music from Jerry Voelker and the Jolly Gents at the pavilion

10 am – 6 pm: Carnival and bounce houses for kids

11 am – 4 pm: Boat building for kids at the marina

11 am – 8 pm: Food and beverages near the pavilion

12-1:30 pm: Pedal-tractor pull for kids ages 4-12

1-4 pm: Live music from Mistrial

4-7 pm: Live music from Frank Maloney and His Big Country Unit

4:30-6 pm: Pedal-tractor pull for kids ages 4-12

7-10 pm: Live music from Big Mouth and the Power Tool Horns

7:45 pm: Norra Dorr fireworks/music cruise

7:45 pm: Edith Becker fireworks cruise

Dusk: Fireworks sponsored by Piggly Wiggly

Sunday, Sept. 3

9 am – 5 pm: Arts-and-crafts fair, plus a farmers market next to the village hall

10 am – 2 pm: Used-book sale at the village hall, ​​10693 Hwy 42

10 am – 6 pm: Carnival and bounce houses for kids

11 am – 8 pm: Food court 

1-4 pm: Live music from Conscious Pilot

5-8 pm: Live music by LynSkynyrd

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