Watermelon festival attracts thousandsPublished 10:31am Friday, August 2, 2013
MURFREESBORO, N.C.—What started out 28 years ago as a four-hour event that featured royalty and watermelons has grown into a four-day festival, which still includes both, and also attracts thousands of people.
Among the multitude is Kay Thomas, event chairwoman, who’s been there from the start.
“The reason I started with the festival is that I was working with the Murfreesboro Chamber of Commerce at that time,” Thomas said. “We had a young woman from here (Whitney Culbertson) who was crowned the North Carolina Watermelon Queen. Her teacher and the N.C. Watermelon Queen coordinator, also in Murfreesboro, came to see me and in her honor we kind of put together a parade.”
Added to that were a seed-spitting contest, watermelon-eating contest and one food vendor, all of which only took a few hours.
“We thought it would be a one-time-only event. Everyone had such a good time, we decided we’ll do it again,” she said. The next event led to another and so on.
“We kept adding different things through the years, crafts, a food court and amusement rides,” Thomas said, and she added the main reason the festival lasts four days is the company that sets up the rides won’t come just for two.
“I see what it does for the community,” she said about why she continues with the event.
Watching the children’s excitement about the amusement rides in particular is especially gratifying for her, and even lifts her mood if she’s feeling down.
“We have a very large parade on Saturday, and the children really enjoy that, and so do the adults,” said Thomas.
Attendance has increased each year, and now she estimates that approximately 35,000 attend through the festival.
“People come from all over the place – California and foreign countries – though this is not the main reason,” Thomas said.
Retirees visit festivals, she added, and knows of one couple from Winston-Salem who regularly attend because they love to dance.
“The festival has grown into a homecoming, and people plan their get-togethers and reunions around this,” said Thomas.
She emphasized there’s free admission to the festival and also free watermelon slices.
“It’s a gift to the community, and a salute not just to watermelons, but also agriculture.”
Working with Thomas are Lynette Bunch, president of the festival’s Board of Directors, and Charles Freeman, also on the board. Another committee member is her husband, Hal Thomas, treasurer and self-described go-fer.
“The main thing about the festival is you get to see thousands of people you don’t normally see,” he said. “One of our merchants said before the event, ‘The streets look kind of empty.’ They’re not empty anymore.”
Like his wife, Hal Thomas is motivated to stay active with the festival because of the people.
“Everybody seems to be happy,” he said. “This day and time we need a bunch of smiling faces.”
Hal Thomas also urged folks to attend, and emphasized there’s no alcohol, but plenty of good food and free slices of watermelon.
Judy Hachey, executive director of the Murfreesboro Chamber of Commerce, is another active supporter of the festival.
“I grew up in Como, all my life, and also lived in Virginia Beach, but previous to three years ago, I never attended,” Hachey said.
Part of the Chamber’s involvement during the festival is to host a dinner. Steamed shrimp was served Wednesday, with 400 tickets sold.
“It was quite a success,” she said.
Then the Chamber also hosts the parade, which is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Hachey said she believes it to be the largest agricultural-theme parade in North Carolina.
“We do get visitors from all over,” she said. “We always get celebrity and local grand marshals. This year will be two news anchors from WRAL in Raleigh, N.C., and Colon Ballance, curator for the Brady C. Jefcoat Museum of Americana.”
He does lots of community service work behind the scenes, Hachey said about Balance. In March he was the recipient of the Chamber award for community service.
Promoting the festival is more than just work for Hachey.
“I guess the thing I enjoy the most is that people come out. It’s family-oriented, and there’s just a lot to do and see.”
The North Carolina Watermelon Festival continues from noon to 11 p.m. today, Aug. 2, and 7 a.m. to 9:15 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3. For more information, call 252-398-7695, email: firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit www.watermelonfestivalnc.com.