The 66th annual Stilwell Strawberry Festival is now tucked away into the history books, but the sweet, red, delicious fruit is still available for a few more weeks this year.
Saturday was a beautiful day for the event, which is rarely rained out, but has been ended early due to storms.
“It was one of the best days ever for a festival,” said Betty Barker, who has never missed one of the 66 Strawberry Festivals. “We ordered perfect weather and we got it.”
Her daughter, Dianne Barker-Harrold, grandkids and great grandkids were also in attendance.
“We always have such a great time. We have another festival under our belts,” Barker said. “We always enjoy eating strawberries, and this year we didn’t run out as quickly, of berries, for sale. The growers usually bring all they have and they’re gone in an hour or so. But this time, one of the growers went back and got some more.”
An estimated 30,000 people attended the annual event, which featured a new entertainer, James Wesley.
“The entertainment was really good,” Barker said. “And the band at 3 p.m., River’s Edge, was really, really good.”
The parade had excellent entries, especially the tractors, she said.
“The tractors were restored; they were really nice. You could also see them later,” she said.
Only six growers participated this year, she said. Baird’s was not involved, because the drought and the deer damaged the crops.
Tyler Woods took first place; Jane and Bobby Doyle took second; and Bobby’s brother Burl Doyle, of Country Gardens, took third.
The queen was crowned, and that was lovely, Barker said.
“A Kiwanis regional officer used to crown the queen, now the outgoing queen does the honors,” she explained.
There are other people besides Barker who have never missed a Strawberry Festival, she said, “but I’m the only member of Kiwanis who had been to every one.”
Organizer of the berry contest, OSU Extension Educator Marty Green, said there was a good turnout and plenty of berries.
“People weren’t buying like they have in the past, when it’s been like a shark attack to buy the berries, but all the flats were sold by about 2 p.m.,” Green said. “The parade went really well, with a good turnout of tractors.”
Standing Tall Tractor Club from the Eufaula/Checotah area and Tired Iron Tractor Club from the Gentry, Ark., area participated, Green said.
Proceeds from the festival go back into the community.
“We spend the money back on the kids and the community, for parks, 4-H, FFA, burn-out victims, school activities, scholarships,” Green said. “We don’t keep any of it.”
Teresa Keen has attended the festival many times.
“I bought berries from Tyler Woods, a Westville grower. I saw more police presence than ever before. Kiwanis changed it up a bit this year by mixing food vendors with arts and crafts vendors, hoping to move the traffic in all directions instead of separating food vendors and arts and crafts,” Keen said. “I had an Indian taco for lunch, and it was amazing!”
Owner of the Eagle Theater, Alice Rankin, said she was pleased for such a nice day.
“It was a beautiful day,” Rankin said. “They showed the Wilma Mankiller movie, ‘Cherokee Word for Water.’ I really enjoyed it; it was really great. It made you want to know more.”
She hopes that next year, the food vendors won’t be so near the four-corners intersection downtown.
“The food was good. But the food generators were really loud and you couldn’t hear what was going on. Everyone gathers at the four corners to visit and see what’s going on onstage,” Rankin said.
It seemed to Rankin the parade wasn’t as big this year, but she said that was probably because there were no politicians in it.
The parade was one of the best aspects of the Strawberry Festival for Dan Collins, president of Kiwanis, the club that organizes the event.
“The parade lasted about an hour and 10 or 15 minutes and didn’t have a lot of gaps. We had two of the three marching bands show up. We’ve been trying to make an effort to get more marching bands to come, but I know it’s hard for schools to do it this time of year,” Collins said. “We were glad to have them.”
Also in the parade were the Shriners.
“They hadn’t been here in several years. And there were 148 horses that showed up – not a record but still quite a few,” Collins said.
Tyler Woods, who won first place for his berries, may have an extended crop.
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