Credit: Rotary Club of Needham

The rides have been inspected, the game booths are stocked with prizes, and the food stalls are ready to serve up deep fried treats: The Rotary Club of Needham’s annual carnival opens today. 

This much anticipated event is the local service club’s largest fundraiser. Ted Shaughnessy, who conceived of the carnival as a way to support Rotary service projects more than 10 years ago and who runs it annually, said he expects a few thousand people will come to Needham High School from Thursday to Sunday to attend the event. 

“It’s such a wonderful family event and just plain fun for everybody,” he said. “The only kids you see crying are the ones you see parents dragging out to go home.” 

Cushing Amusements, a longtime family-owned business, runs the carnival for the Rotary Club each year. Careful attention is paid to safety, with double inspections done before the rides operate. Cushing runs its own tests, and then a member of the state’s Office of Public Safety and Inspection, Amusement Division, conducts a final evaluation. This year, there will be 13 rides, including two new ones, and a variety of games for carnival-goers to choose from. 

Credit: Rotary Club of Needham

Shaughnessy said there’s no entrance fee, so people can come for a snack, or to ride one ride, or even just to people-watch. “One guy, all he does is buys fried Oreos. One year we had an elderly couple that just wanted to do one ride on the Ferris wheel,” he said. “We just want people to have fun and do what they want.”

The carnival first opened in 2017 after almost a decade of planning. The idea was born one afternoon when Shaughnessy saw a carnival in a church parking lot on the way home from lunch with his wife. He stopped to chat with the crew and quickly realized bringing something like that to Needham would be a huge success — for the town, for the club, and for the countless organizations the group helps. 

Bill Paulson, a former Rotary Club president who runs the publicity for the event, said the hardest part was finding a spot that could accommodate not only the rides, but also parking. “We had a few near misses, and finally got it approved at the high school.” 

The carnival is set up on the upper lot of the high school, with parking available in the lower Memorial Park lot, the Webster Street lot, and the staff parking between Admiral Gracey Drive and Webster Street. The strip of road leading to the entrance of the carnival is reserved for accessible parking. 

While admission is free, the rides require tickets. Prices range from $3 to $6 and must be purchased online with Magic Money; cash may be used to buy food. On Sunday between 12 and 5 p.m., carnival-goers can purchase an unlimited ride wristband for $30 in advance or $40 at the door. In keeping with its philanthropic mission, the Rotary Club donates tickets to the Needham Community Council, the Needham Free Library’s summer reading program, and the Charles River ARC.

Credit: Rotary Club of Needham

 “We’re just here for everybody to have fun,” said Shaughnessy. 

The Rotary Club of Needham has 25 members who meet every Tuesday for lunch. The group is part of a larger international organization with 33,000 clubs worldwide. The group partners with clubs in other countries where they do projects.

“We put a solar array on a school in India so they could spend less money on electricity and more on school supplies,” said Paulson, “We worked with a Rotary Club in Uganda to deliver food and supplies to 75 families during COVID. We made a huge impact. We couldn’t do that on our own from Needham.”

The group is always looking for new members who want to give back to the community, he said. 

To buy tickets or view carnival details, visit The Rotary Club of Needham.

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