The arrival of Memorial Day weekends signals the unofficial start of summer, and in Utica - home to the Velvet Ice Cream Company for nearly 100 years - they celebrate with a festival honoring ice cream.

The arrival of Memorial Day weekends signals the unofficial start of summer, and in Utica - home to the Velvet Ice Cream Company for nearly 100 years - they celebrate with a festival honoring ice cream.

The three-day Utica Sertoma Ice Cream Festival is sponsored by the local Sertoma club, an organization devoted to hearing health issues. The festival seemed like a great way for my family to kick off our summer, so last year we attended.

We decided to visit on Saturday so we could see the parade. We left the house early and that proved to be a very good thing. As we got close to Utica, located about 40 miles northeast of Columbus, we began to see signs for the festival.

We followed the signs, pulled into a field and parked the van for $5.

As we started walking toward the festival grounds, I stopped and asked somebody where we needed to go to watch the parade.

Good thing I asked: The parade actually takes place in downtown Utica, not on the festival grounds. We got back into the van and headed into town. (Thankfully, the parking attendants gave us a note so we wouldn't have to pay to park when we returned.)

We found a shady spot along the parade route and eagerly waited for the show to begin.

We were not expecting what happened next. A Velvet Ice Cream truck inched its way down the street, stopping regularly to unload crates of ice-cream treats, which employees passed out to the crowd. The kids were delighted when someone handed them each an ice-cream sandwich and a Popsicle.

It was a warm day so we had to eat quickly because the treats were melting fast. Pretty soon, we were all sticky and gooey and wishing for a box of wipes or a container of hand sanitizer. I didn't have either with me, but a nearby mom took pity on us and handed us each a wipe.

You can bet when we head to the festival this year (its 37th edition), I will have plenty of wipes with me. I might even bring a small cooler bag since we were all given more ice cream than we could eat. Velvet Ice Cream passes out more than 12,000 ice cream novelties at the parade.

After the parade, we returned to the festival, which is held one mile south of Utica on the grounds of Velvet Ice Cream Company and the Energy Cooperative.

We really enjoyed the old-fashioned feel of the free festival, which includes sack races, balloon tosses, magic shows and lots of ice cream. Velvet serves more than 75,000 scoops of ice cream during the festival.

It was truly a sweet start to our summer.

How to Eat Ice Cream Competitively
Unlike the festival's Little Miss Ice Cream Pageant, where you have to be a local resident to compete, the ice-cream eating contest is open to everyone. Columbus Parent asked contest organizers and former competitors for their best advice for wolfing down a victory.

Here are their suggestions:
Don't enter unless you can handle the brain freeze (because it will happen). Consider skipping breakfast or lunch before the contest. Pace yourself at the start and then gobble fast at the end. Stop if you start to fill sick.