The Fall Festival of Leaves will be celebrating its 50th year in Bainbridge when it is held Thursday, Oct. 19 through Sunday, Oct. 22.
“It’s a big year for us, kind of a milestone,” festival general chairman Keith Johnson said Wednesday.
While the festival committee will be selling various items commemorating the festival’s 50th year from its information booth, Johnson said that probably the biggest tribute to past years is the fact that all past festival queens have been invited back to take part in this year’s celebration. He said that at last count 27 or 28 former queens had indicated they would be at the festival. They will be judges and provide the entertainment at the queen pageant on Thursday evening and will ride on a float in the parade Sunday afternoon.
Another tribute to past festivals will take place at 12:30 p.m. Friday when the Bainbridge Historical Society and SALT Council of Chillicothe dedicate a garden in memory of June Gregg, who was believed to be the last surviving member of the original Fall Festival of Leaves Committee.
Gregg passed away on April 7 of this year, less than two months shy of her 106th birthday. The dedication will take place at the Bainbridge Historical Society building on North Maple Street.
“We’re sure going to miss her this year,” Johnson said. “Even last year she came in to help out at the festival office, handing out literature and doing whatever else she could to help.”
Another nod to festivals past, Johnson said, is that the committee has tried to schedule entertainers that have been well received by crowds at past festivals. He said the committee has also painted its festival office and has a new stage.
“We’re just trying to get a lot things caught up and spiffed up,” Johnson said. “We’ve got 50 years behind us and we’re preparing for the next 50.”
The Fall Festival of Leaves originated when the Bainbridge Lions Club sent letters to all the village businesses, organizations, churches and civic-minded citizens to attend a town meeting in February 1968. More than 30 people showed up and plans were made for the first festival to be held Oct. 17-20, 1968. Otis Brodess, Bainbridge Lions Club director, was named general chairman of the festival. Councilman Robert McCoy and Jim Krug, a past Lions Club president, assisted Brodess. Krug pointed out that the historical value of the area and the natural beauty of the surrounding hills in the fall made Bainbridge an ideal location for an autumn festival.
Since then, Johnson said, people have flocked back to the festival each year until it has become one of the largest and best attended in southern Ohio.
“It’s kind of like a family reunion for a lot of families in the area,” Johnson said. “Some of them have moved away and they tell their friends, and those people tell other friends, and they all come back for the festival. People in our area plan their year around it.”
The festival opens at 7 p.m. Thursday with an official ribbon-cutting at the intersection of Main and Maple streets. That will be followed immediately by a parade of the 19 queen contestants who will ride on vehicles down Main Street, exit the vehicles and introduce themselves, then head into the Paxton Theatre for the pageant that begins at 8 p.m.
The festival concludes with a drawing for prizes at 5:30 p.m. Sunday.
“We hope people will come out and enjoy themselves. We couldn’t have ordered any better weather than what they tell us we’re going to get,” Johnson said. “We always say that God provides the stage and we provide the entertainment, and it looks like the stage is going to be set for a beautiful weekend.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.