By Cara Henry
How’s this for tradition? Every single year for nearly half a century, people have gathered in downtown Albion for a huge celebration. As you probably know, since you were probably there last weekend, Festival of the Forks is an adored Albion tradition featuring food, music, friendly crowds and a car show.
Gilbert and Rexine Cockroft show up for the food; not to eat it, but to serve it. The couple owns a food cart where they sell delicious snacks at the festival. They have done this for the last 48 years, never missing a Festival of the Forks. “We show up around seven or eight on the night before the event. This isn’t one of those things where you just park and you’re ready,” Rexine said Friday afternoon during a quick break from preparing for the evening.
Gilbert and Rexine both sported friendly smiles and vibrant red hats with the name of their business, Uncle Gilly’s Concessions. The air around their cart smelled amazing. That’s because inside, dozens of apples were bathing in tubs of warm sugary caramel, and the popcorn popper was adding another favorite aroma to the Superior Street atmosphere. Gilbert and Rexine serve their classic festival foods year after year. In addition to the caramel apples and fresh popcorn, there’s caramel corn, cotton candy and snow-cones. You may notice your sugar high wearing off not long afterward, but none of these snacks will withdraw more than $3 out of your pocket.
The Cockrofts’ food cart, much like the festival, brings people together. “When you’ve been doing this as long as we have, you tend to get a lot of little helpers,” said Rexine. Indeed, their grandchildren used to help out when they were younger. Nowadays Gilbert and Rexine are waiting for a few of their 17 great- grandchildren to be old enough to lend a hand.
Not only has the cart brought their own family together, but it has also brought the Cockrofts together with many friends, community members, and old classmates. Rexine is originally from Albion, so it excites her each time she gets to head back to downtown Albion from the neighboring town of Springport, where she owns a farm with Gilbert.
It’s not too soon to look forward to next year’s Festival of the Forks, especially as the Albion community continues to revitalize itself.