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Festival Queen

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Judge C. Ashley Gore

Diligent Volunteers Make Festival Successful
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Volunteers imageThe N.C. Pecan Harvest Festival brings an estimated 18,000 people to downtown Whiteville every November, but a small number of hardworking people make the free annual event possible.

Said festival director Joan Ward, "The committee is so well organized and really know what they’re doing, so the job of director is just to keep the wheels rolling. It isn’t hard at all. Some of them, like Suzanne King and Sara Thompson have served since the beginning. I think Charlie Duncan has organized every parade since the first one.”

Not only does the festival offer free entertainment for adults and children but, through vendor fees, it actually generates enough money to fund a scholarship for a high school graduate from within the county each year.

The only portion of the festival that costs the public any money is the Friday Queen’s Luncheon and Home Tour. Said King, the meal is provided at cost and doesn’t create profit for the festival, but the modest tour charge does help to recoup just a little bit of the money that the festival costs for bands, children’s activities and publicity. Tour home owners are not paid for the use of their homes.

A combination luncheon/ tour wristband costs only $20, which King calls "a great deal,” and a tour-only wristband is $10.

Tour-only admission can still be bought at the Reuben Brown House on the day of the festival, but luncheon/tour reservations needed to be made by Wednesday, Oct. 25.

A Look Back
King was on the scene in 2002 when the "very successful Harvest Festival,” originally begun by Ginger Littrell of the Whiteville Downtown Development Committee in 1994, began to be transformed into the NCPHF.

Members of the Chamber of Commerce met that year with county commissioner Kip Godwin and some of the Harvest Festival committee members, she said, to brainstorm about how they could get more people to come visit Columbus County.

"We needed a brand,” she said, to set the festival apart as unique. "We thought, ‘What do we have here?’ and the answer was ‘Pecan trees.’ Whether you’re in the city or the county, there are pecan trees everywhere.”

Godwin then mentioned that the N.C. Pecan Growers Association was looking for a way to promote "the superior nut.” King got in contact with the NCPGA’s president, Bill Bunn.

King and Cathy Lashley of the festival committee visited the next meeting of the growers’ group to suggest a partnership. Whiteville’s already well-established festival could become the home base that the pecan growers needed, they said, while pecans could become the brand that the festival needed.

It did not take long for the festival committee and the growers to reach an agreement, and the annual event took on the name "Pecan Harvest Festival” in 2003.

"Cathy Lashley and Thomas McLam were our first directors” of the Pecan Harvest Festival, King said.

Proud to be Free
The committee’s goals were to promote pecan education with a celebration that would be free to the public, unlike some festivals that charge admission, King said. As far as atmosphere, she said, "We decided to make it like a mini Azalea Festival by having a celebrity queen, a parade marshal, and a court of belles and military academy cadets.”

The NCPGA sold trees and nuts. The forestry museum was a perfect location for the wellrounded educational program designed by N.C. State University’s Mike Parker. In addition to scientific talks about pecans, there were demonstrations of tree shakers used to bring the nuts down at harvest time. N.C. Boys and Girls Home lent a shaker for the demonstrations.

Now operating as the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences at Whiteville, the facility continues to offer educational events coinciding with the festival, whether pecan-oriented or otherwise. Last year a traveling animal exhibit was available. Primary school students attend a program on pecans every other year, still organized by Parker, whom King calls "a brilliant professor.”

This year the museum will host a special event focusing on Native American history, arts and culture, said Natural Sciences Education Coordinator Kellie Lewis. An upcoming article will describe the program.

The first year home tours were offered was 2003. "Over 80 homes have been opened for tours in the past 15 years,” King said.

"We have been blessed with our entertainment, and motivational speaker and author Stedman Graham spoke two years,” said King.

Since then, said King, she is proud of the way the festival has grown. "I always feel so fortunate,” she said, and she believes the other members of the planning committee feel the same way.

Originally, the job of festival director was meant to be a one-year position, but "our directors have found that it’s so much fun they want to stay for two years.

"Our chairs over the years have been wonderful to work with,” said King. "We’re all volunteers. Nobody gets paid anything. Most of us are people who have jobs, but we enjoy doing this.”

Joan Ward is in her second year as director. Other current planning board members include these hard-working individuals in the following leadership roles:

Steven Bryan, website and parade; Cody Bunch, kids’ block; Charlie Duncan, parade; Meleah Evers, cooking contest; Sally Mann, Scott Kelly and Jonathan Hester, vendor relations; Suzanne King and Sara Thompson, luncheon and home tour; Boyce Lennon, car show; Jeannie Fisher and Mary Alice Stanley, belles; and Rossie Ward, liaison with NCPGA.

By Diana Matthews (dianamatthews@nrcolumbus.com)

Article and Images Courtesy of and as Published October 26, 2017 in The News Reporter www.NRColumbus.com


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