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Ice Cream Social Gives Taste of Rural Life

Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers perform at the DeWine Ice Cream Social.
Renee Wilde
Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers perform at the DeWine Ice Cream Social.

Ice cream socials have been a summer staple for community gatherings and fundraisers since the invention of the creamy confection.  The first ice cream social documented in North America was in 1744 at a dinner party by Maryland Governor, Thomas Bladen. In 1802, Thomas Jefferson hosted the first Ice Cream Social in the White House.

Today on County Lines, Producer Renee Wilde goes to Cedarville, Ohio, Home of Attorney General Mike DeWine, to serve up a slice of rural Americana, a la mode.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s kitchen smells delicious. There are freshly baked pies covering every surface, stacked in tiered pie racks along the walls, and even more baking in the oven.

Joshua Eck, press secretary for the DeWine/Husted Ohio Governor’s campaign, explains that these pies are going to be part of the 2018 DeWine Ice Cream Social that’s held annual at the DeWine’s home.

“This is a DeWine family tradition, that has become kind of an iconic piece of Ohio politics,” says Eck. “It’s a who’s who of people that just want to come out to the farm and spend a day. It’s a lot of local, cultural things. Local food, local people all coming together for this event.  If you want to see the heart of America, it’s on display in Cedarville, Ohio today.”

It’s a beautiful summer afternoon and the DeWines' Ice Cream Social is in full swing. White tables and chairs are clustered under the big shade trees in the yard of this 1823 historic former home of Whitelaw Reid, A Civil War Ohio journalist.

Joe Mullens and the Radio Ramblers are playing on a flatbed hay wagon decorated in red, white and blue bunting. Under open tents, family, friends and volunteers are doling out ice cream and Fran DeWine’s homemade pies to the large crowd that has gathered.

Tim Adams has been been coming here since 1990 or ‘91. He first started coming here with his parents who are both gone now.

“Look at this,”  Tim says as he eats an ice cream cone from the local Young’s Jersey Dairy. “It’s a beautiful day, there’s balloons and ice cream, melting all over my hand, and popcorn. This is America.  People like this.”

Tim goes on to say, “If we’re a flyover state. And we’re a don’t matter state, why then do so many companies use Ohio as a test market? Because at the essence of what Ohio people are, is, we’re a little bit like everyone.”

Ice cream social attendees wait in line to tour the DeWine house
Credit Renee Wilde / WYSO
Volunteers give tour of the DeWine house as part of the day's festivities.

The DeWines' house is open to the public for today’s event, and volunteers are placed around the house giving tours. Inside the DeWine House, I meet Buck and Nick Niehoff, brothers from Hamilton County. It’s Buck’s first visit here, but Nick has been coming to this event for years. He usually rides his bicycle the 63 miles from Cincinnati to Cedarville for this annual event.

Nick says, “The first time I came here the event was small, and Mike DeWine made all the ice cream himself with a homemade ice cream maker. But of course, now the event is so big they have to buy the ice cream.”

When Tim says it’s more than just a political gathering his brother Buck chimes in.

“I came for the pie and ice cream,” Buck laughs. “I don’t know if it’s political or social, but I came for the pie and ice cream.”

The DeWines have been inviting the public into their home for this annual fundraiser since 1976 when Mike was the Greene County Prosecutor. When I mention that this event feels more like a small town community gathering than a political fundraiser Mike DeWine agrees.

“People come up to me and feel like they really know us,” says DeWine, “ I think one of the reasons they feel like they know us is they’re been here before. They’ve been in our house. They’ve eaten Fran’s pies. And speaking of the pies, this year she set a new record for herself, 202 pies.  And I got a little nervous, I think she got a little nervous. Last night at about 7:00 I said how many pies do you have baked. And I think she only had 130.  I said ‘Ooh, are you going to make it?’  And she said ‘I’m going to make it.’ So I went to bed. She was still baking. I got up. She was still baking. So I think she slept sometime.”

With all this pie talk, I had to track down Mrs. DeWine, and find out how she does it.

“I get my mother, and my sister-in-law, and her mother who’s going to be 99, and a couple of other friends,” says Fran DeWine, “and we just all come together in my kitchen, and this year we did 2 days because we were trying to make more pies, and we just have a great time.  I make all the crusts and I do all the baking, but we put them together as a group. Which is fun.”

Pies cool on the DeWines' windowsil
Credit Renee Wilde / WYSO
Over 200 pies were part of this year's ice cream social.

Mingling in with the local crowd and enjoying the pie and ice cream, are state senators and former governors who have come out to speak to the public today in support of DeWine’s bid to become Ohio’s next governor.

“I’ve talked to people from Ashtabula County and Lucas County, you know, all across the state we have people here,” says Fran. “But it’s small town when they’re all here together I think, which is really cool.”

On stage a trio of local firemen from Cedarville called the Firehouse Friends are singing the National Anthem as the crowd stands with hands over their hearts softly singing along.

“In the years to come, Ohio is going to build up. That’s just the natural state of things,”  Tim Adams says, “But I really, truly believe that what we have here in this part of the state is going to remain it’s rural self. It will retain its rural character.”

When I ask him why he thinks that,  Tim says, “Because that’s the way it is. Because that’s the way people here want it.”

County Lines is WYSO's series on rural life, made possible by a grant from Ohio Humanities.