Sweet, red strawberries are ripe and ready for the place of honor at the oldest continuous festival in Oklahoma.
The Stilwell Strawberry Festival is always the same weekend as Mother’s Day – this year, May 10 – and it’s a time of family celebrations and class reunions.
The morning starts with a 5K run, and the day’s festivities include a parade, car show, queen crowning, berry judging, live music, arts and crafts, horseshoe tournament, free strawberries and cake and much more. An all-school reunion is held at the high school and a rodeo is both Friday and Saturday nights.
And this year, helicopter rides have been added to the mix.
Strawberries have already begun to show up at places like Baird’s Farms store.
Like many women in Adair County, Jan Adair serves her fresh berries chopped with a little sugar and on fresh baked pie crust.
“I let people decide if they want whipped cream on top. I like mine without; Larry puts it on his,” she said.
And like most people in Stilwell, one of her favorite aspects of the festival is the homecoming.
“I always look forward to seeing old friends I haven’t seen in a while,” she said. “Hopefully we’ll have some nice strawberries to eat. We all look forward to strawberries and shortcake.”
This year strawberries are plentiful, and flats are selling for $25. Along with providing their best as entries for judging, growers will be selling in a designated area behind the Adair County Courthouse, instead of in front as they have in past years.
While they may be smaller than their California cousins, Stilwell berries have much more flavor and color. The old growers can even tell the variety of berry by its taste.
Two special celebrations will keep the Adairs busy this year. Jan and her twin sister celebrate their birthday on May 8, and for Larry, it’s the culmination of a year of planning his 50th high school reunion.
“Larry was president of his class; he’s been busy with that,” she said. “I’m making sandwiches and cookies.”
Since retiring as Oklahoma Speaker of the House, Larry Adair has not had a shortage of things to do.
“I’m very busy planning our 50th reunion,” he said. “We have a couple of graduates who have never been before, and a lot of interest. Facebook has a lot of school photos people have posted.”
The 50th reunion will be held at Rolling Hills Skating Rink, behind CV’s grocery store, Adair said.
“We’re expecting other classes to come and we’ve got a good band, Dennis Tibbits and friends,” he said.
“And some classmates have a band, The Phantoms; they will be there.”
A photographer will take a group shot.
“The festival will have more vendors than before, and there will be a lot of good food. It’s a full day of activities,” Adair said.
Kiwanis Club orchestrates the festival. Dan Collins is president this year.
“We have a great number of vendors this year and we think we have good talent. Kinsey Sadler will perform at noon and the River’s Edge Band at 2 p.m.” said Collins. “And the free strawberries and shortcake is at 2 p.m.”
There are plenty of strawberries, he said.
“We’ve already started picking, we started April 24, and there should be plenty for the strawberry auction,” Collins said.
The late Betty Barker will be missed at this year’s festival.
Even in her 80s, she was often one of the first to arrive on the grounds Saturday morning. All day, she would greet old friends and talk about Stilwell to anyone who asked.
A tribute to her is in the festival booklet, and a memorial scholarship has been established.
“We didn’t want to rush into something, we’re taking time with this,” Collins said.
Barker also was active with the Strawberry Queen pageant.
This year’s queen, Summer Taylor, will be crowned on the stage with her court. The queen helps serve the berries to the long line of folks in the afternoon.
Kiwanis president-elect Kelli Littlejohn said the entertainment is what she looks forward to.
“Kinsey Sadler is an up-and-coming artist; she plays a lot of the casinos. She’ll play country, rock and originals, and River’s Edge is a local band, with Shawn Crittenden. They played last year and play old country, new country, gospel and originals,” Littlejohn said.
“We expect a lot of people this year.”
For more information go online to strawberryfestival.com.