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  • Writer's pictureMason Edwards!

Weather Can't Stop the Strawberry Festival

Updated: Dec 23, 2023

By Mason Edwards, Contributing Reporting for The Herald-News

Despite surprise rain Friday, vendors and participants enjoyed a weekend of advocacy, commerce, food and entertainment. Thousands of locals and visitors crowded Dayton’s historic courthouse grounds for the 2023 Strawberry Festival’s vendors and events on May 13 and 14.

Dayton’s Clyde W. Roddy Library, pictured above, won first place in the Strawberry Festival Parade float competition. (Staff Photo)

In addition to the parade and marketplace, the Strawberry Festival goers also enjoyed a pageant, pickleball tournaments, strawberry shortcake, the carnival, a baking contest and art show.

Centennial Park Stage hosted live entertainment and the Dayton Rotary Club provided pancakes at their annual breakfast.

The Cruise-In event suffered some rainfall, slightly misting both antique and pristine vehicles throughout the evening. A transient sea of people circled around iconic station wagons and stunning sports cars. While many car owners love engaging with onlookers, some enjoy the collective atmosphere of car shows, like Nick Armour. He wore a white shirt and cap, matching the freshly waxed paint of waxed paint of his 2020 Mustang GT.

“A lot of people don’t stop at something new,” Armour felt. “I’m just hanging out with the guys, there’s nine of us.”

Rhea County Executive Jim Vincent visited most of the vendors, wishing them well and asking meaningful questions. At one booth selling candles, he mentioned that “all of our vendors come back every year.”

One new merchant struck awe in bystanders. They noticed ornate rocks strung about their tent. Despite it being Papa T’s Rock Candles’ first appearance at Dayton’s festival, the vendors felt they made meaningful connections. Dorothy and Tim Glover run the business as a fun retirement excursion.

“We only do festivals—we have no online business at all, because we like the interaction with customers” Dorothy said. “We wanted to keep this fun and make friends with the vendors.”

Advocacy groups, political parties and church organizations also set up interactive and engaging booths on the courthouse lawn. Rhea County’s Beekeeper’s Association handed out candy made with local honey as they tried to spread awareness about bees’ importance to the environment.

“Here, we’ve probably seen at least a hundred people today,” Rick Sharp, the treasurer for Rhea County Beekeepers Association, mentioned around midday Friday.

Other groups, like Rhea County’s Amateur Radio Enthusiasts simply wanted to share their passion with others. Their president, Daniel Headlee, explained how anyone can operate a HAM radio with a license, and that their club would volunteer to provide emergency communication between hospitals in the event of a disaster.

“I just love to tinker with it, I love the technology,” Headlee commented.

Hosted by the Dayton Chamber of Commerce, the city’s annual Strawberry Festival is a week- long celebration of its heritage. From humble origins as a one-day parade in 1947, the festival planted roots in the hearts of its community and now entertains thousands of visitors and locals.

The Chamber of Commerce’s Strawberry Committee, comprised of Chamber ambassadors, board members and volunteers, selected the “Boot Scootin’ Berries” theme from a group of several unannounced ideas. According to Chamber of Commerce Strawberry Festival Co-Coordinator Kayla Boyd, the theme represented the community’s attachment to Western trends and hard work.

“It was just a one-day festival, and it just kept growing, and now its over a week long of events,” Chamber of Commerce President Elect Molli Tallent said. “This is the second year of the faith and family night—that’s been a huge hit.”

Tallent’s words reflect the Strawberry Festival’s ambitions—to unite the county as a single community. Even as Rhea County grows and diversifies its industries, the Strawberry Festival will continue to remain a favorite hometown tradition among locals, guests and vendors alike.

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