Casey Phillips ate four-and-a-half pints of ice cream in four minutes. 

The Utica resident won the 18-and-up ice cream eating contest on the first day of the Utica Ice Cream Festival on May 25, 2024.

Two years ago, he ate six pints. 

After polishing off the four and a half pints he said he “could go for some ice cream,” and he planned to participate in the next ice cream eating contest later in the afternoon. 

“Just a perpetual love of ice cream” is all Phillips needed to secure his wins.

Casey Phillips ate 4-and-a-half pints of ice cream in 4 minutes and won the adult ice cream eating contest. Credit: Caroline Zollinger

This year’s Utica Ice Cream Festival was sponsored by Velvet Ice Cream, a regional ice cream brand headquartered in Utica, Ohio. Festivities began Saturday and will continue through Monday of Memorial Day weekend. The weekend included ice cream eating contests, a parade, a visit from the Columbus Zoo, Performance Dogs of Ohio, a magic tent, bounce houses, local vendors, food, musicians, and of course, “Dipsville,” the Velvet Ice Cream stand.

One of the weekend’s performers were The Cedar Valley Cloggers, a dance troupe based in Wooster that travels around Ohio performing traditional Appalachian clogging. The ladies dressed in blue Appalachian dresses, and the men wore red suspenders for Memorial Day weekend. The cloggers that performed on Saturday ranged from ages 13 to 92. The group persevered through the heat in their traditional outfits. 

“We had a girl that played fiddle for us and she always told everybody it was hillbilly aerobics,” said Cindy Coy of Shreve, Ohio. “And that’s what it’s like when you dance in this kind of heat.”

Brittany Brown, owner of Brown Farmstead, brought her highlands cows for people to pet. She works a full-time job and runs her Utica farm on the side, making money through donations which she then gives right back to the community. She often brings the highland cows to events like the Ice Cream festival. 

“[It’s] a great partnership of being able to bring a woman-owned business like Velvet with a woman-owned farm,” said Brown.

Brown also sold hats that people could customize with patches and other accessories, as well as highland cow merchandise.

Fourteen-year-old Haylie Kovach from Crestline, Ohio came to the festival in a gown and tiara, representing the Crestline Harvest Festival Pageant as their 2023 first runner-up queen. 

“I really wanted to come to this one because I love ice cream,” Kovach said. 

Part of her role is to travel around and visit other local Ohio festivals like her hometown’s. 

Haylie Kovach, Harvest Festival first runner-up traveled from Crestline, Ohio to go to the Ice Cream Festival. Credit: Caroline Zollinger

For the past 48 years, the festival has been put on by Sertoma, a nonprofit organization that helps people with hearing loss. This year, Velvet Ice Cream took over. 

“We wanted to keep this festival going for the community,” said Luconda Dager, president of Velvet Ice Cream. 

Luconda Dager, the president of Velvet Ice Cream, joined the company in 1994, though grew up surrounded by Velvet after her great-grandfather founded the company in 1914. Credit: Caroline Zollinger

Ice cream runs in her blood. Her great-grandfather started the company in 1914 in Utica and now its products are sold in five other states: Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Michigan, West Virginia and Indiana.  

Dager’s childhood was naturally marked by a love of ice cream. 

“We didn’t just have like one carton at home, mom would have like seven different flavors in there at all times,” Dager recalled.  

Now as president, she oversees day-to-day operations of the company as well as sales and distribution, relationships with key customers and human resources. 

All the profits from the festival will be put back into the Utica community, with the help of Sertoma and the Utica Merchants Association. The money will be used for college scholarships and hearing aids for the elderly. 

Ellie Owen and Caroline Zollinger write for, the nonprofit news organization of Denison University’s Journalism program, which is supported by generous donations from readers. Sign up for The Reporting Project newsletter here.