Stilwell hosts damp but successful Strawberry Festival
Junior Miss Cherokee Kaitlyn Pinkerton, left, and Miss Cherokee Whitney Roach toss plastic hoops from a float in the Stilwell Strawberry Festival parade on May 11. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Draydon Butler, 7, of Stilwell, watches a strawberry-themed float pass at the 72nd annual Stilwell Strawberry Festival on May 11. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
New Stilwell Strawberry Festival Queen Sydney Ritter waves to parade-goers on May 11. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Allie Dart, 8, of Grove, tries to stay dry while watching the parade during the annual Stilwell Strawberry Festival held May 11. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Traden Johnson, 6, of Grove, watches the Stilwell High School marching band approach during the parade at the Stilwell Strawberry Festival on May 11. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
STILWELL – This year’s Stilwell Strawberry Festival was a damp yet successful affair packed with parade-goers, vendors, entertainment and umbrellas.
“I would like to say thank you to all the people who came to the festival on this rainy day,” newly-crowned festival queen Sydney Ritter said during the May 11 event. “I know that it’s kind of miserable, but I think if everybody comes together they can still have a good time.”
Despite the weather, thousands of people filled the streets for the city’s 72nd annual event that pays homage to a once-abundant crop.
“Today, we claim the title of ‘Strawberry Capital of the World,’ but that’s not based on volume or production,” past Stilwell Kiwanis Club President Ralph Keen said. “It’s really based on quality over quantity. We still grow some of the best strawberries you will find in the world. We’re very proud of that.”
According to the event’s Facebook page, early rain prevented planned helicopter tours, a BMX bicycle stunt team and a children’s obstacle course.
“Some of the vendors also canceled due to the weather, which also affected the strawberry supply,” the page states. “But we had great entertainment Friday and Saturday and most of the vendors did a booming business on Saturday.”
Vendor Jim Burns, of Claremore, was pragmatic about the event’s slow start early Saturday.
“I guess it’s because of the weather,” he said. “We can’t control weather. But the people are still coming.”
Held each spring, the event is sponsored by the Stilwell Kiwanis Club. Keen, current governor of the Kiwanis Texas-Oklahoma district, said the festival has been twice voted best in the state.
“We have something for everyone,” he said, citing a 5K run, parade, live entertainment, craft vendors and other events. “This is and always has been a family-friendly event. Kiwanis is all about helping children. All the money we raise through this event will stay right here in the community to help the children of Adair County. This is a fundraiser for us, and it’s a major one. We’re blessed to have it because it’s grown so large.”
Historically, Keen said, the festival “really came about as a means to promote our local agriculture. It started back in 1947, I believe it was. Back then, we had a lot of strawberry growers. It was a big crop for the county.”
At one point, the Stilwell area had more than 3,500 acres of berries, Keen said.
“Now, that’s greatly diminished for various reasons,” he added.
While the Kiwanis Club is noted as the festival’s official sponsor, Keen said it’s turned into a community-wide event.
“We couldn’t do it without our partners,” he said. “We couldn’t do it without the city of Stilwell, the fire department, the police department. Cherokee Nation has really become a real strong supporter in recent years. So it really takes a community to put something of this magnitude on.”
Following the traditional parade, Ritter, 18, a Cherokee Nation citizen, began her reign as the newest Strawberry Festival queen.
“It is an honor,” she said. “I am so proud to be a more influential part of my community. I feel with the crown, I will be more able to make a difference. I’m very proud to be Cherokee and represent the crown.”