STILWELL – Just 25 miles away in Adair County, Stilwell is about to celebrate its milestone 75th Diamond Jubilee Strawberry Festival this weekend.
Volunteers have been planning for months and grooming for weeks to make a good impression when visitors and locals mingle downtown on May 14.
A parade, crowning the queen, berry judging and auction, live entertainment, arts and crafts vendors, and servings of free berries and ice cream are the main components of this event, always held the second weekend in May.
As of Monday, 193 vendors were signed up – the most ever.
It holds the title of longest, continuous festival in Oklahoma, and Kiwanis Club volunteers work hard to make it better every year.
Kiwanis President Tyler Davis said that each year, the Strawberry Festival generates a great deal of excitement for Stilwell and the surrounding communities, but this year offers more than ever before.
“This year brings the added elation that we'll be celebrating the diamond anniversary of the Stilwell Strawberry Festival. We have the author of the Strawberry Shortcake children's books; our parade marshal will be none other than the first Strawberry Festival Queen, and we'll have more arts and crafts vendors than historically before,” said Davis.
He’s especially excited about the second annual Stilwell's Got Talent on Friday, May 13, and showcasing all the local talent on the Kiwanis Stage downtown on the Adair County Courthouse square at 6 p.m. Performers will compete for $1,700 in prize money, to be earned by the top three winners in two categories of youth. Joe Mack, Stilwell Democrat Journal general manager, will judge the competition and perform.
“The inaugural year went really well, and as the event grows, I expect it to continue to draw a great crowd and amazing talent,” Davis said.
Festivities begin midweek with a carnival, and on Friday with the rodeo. Saturday kicks off with the annual 5K Run for the Berries and at 10 a.m., the parade. Other events include a car and motorcycle show, berry judging and auction, softball tournament, horse-shoe throwing contest and more.
The growers provide the impetus for the celebration.
The homegrown fruit may be smaller than its California cousin, but it's considered well worth the cost of $40 per "flat," or 8 quarts, because all growers sell out early that Saturday, so anyone intending to purchase that day will want to call ahead to reserve or come early, by 10 a.m.
Berries are usually available daily from mid-May for three to six weeks, depending on the variety. Also new this year, Miller Farms will have fall berries for sale.
Longtime grower Bobby Doyle, who has been showing and winning prize berries for 65 years, credits "churt" for the tastiest berries coming from Adair County.
A list of growers and contacts can be found at strawberrycapital.com.