The Bainbridge community is poised to continue a tradition first established back in 1967: the Fall Festival of Leaves, which begins next Thursday.
Festival chairman Keith Johnson refers to the festival affectionately as a “family reunion” in Bainbridge.
“We’re continuing on with our traditions,” he said. “We have lots of free entertainment and plenty of good food; it’s just like a reunion for people here in the valley.”
Johnson told the Times-Gazette that the schedule of events for this year’s festival has something for the entire family, with each day packed with entertainment, contests, vendors and lots of “fair food.”
“One of the attractions that people of all ages enjoy is our great car and antique machinery shows,” he said. “We always have well over a hundred entries in the car show and it’s always looked at as one of the finer car shows in the area.”
Highlights of this year’s festival include a queen pageant on Thursday, Oct. 18 at 8 p.m., Aron Jones and the Kool Kats, a musical group that will bring back memories of Elvis on the main stage Friday, Oct. 19 at 6:30 p.m., the ninth annual 5K run and walk, which starts at 8 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, and on Sunday, Oct. 21, the Fall Festival of Leaves parade will get underway at 2:30 p.m.
A complete schedule of events can be viewed at fallfestivalofleaves.com
Johnson said the secret to the festival’s success rests with the planning committees and the community of Bainbridge.
“The magic, as far as I’m concerned, is the good committees we have and their chairmen,” he said. “They work all year long to plan everything for the festival, and we’re a tight knit community and much of the credit goes to the hometown folks who continue to support this year after year.”
He said that even with great planning and hometown support, “all that goes out the window if the weatherman doesn’t cooperate,” recalling a snowy festival in the mid-1970s.
“I remember back then we actually had snow during the festival,” he said, “and it snowed during the parade, too.”
The queen pageant director, Vicki Mettler, will be retiring after this year’s festival, and to honor her hard work over the years and to recognize previous queens, a slide presentation will be shown featuring the girls from the first pageant up to the present.
“Both myself and my daughter have been involved in the queen’s pageant for about 20 years now,” Mettler told The Times-Gazette, “so we’re handing the reigns over to fellow committee member Amanda Dyer.”
Preparations for the queen pageant began in the spring with the selection of judges and planning the decorations, in addition to getting the applications to the 10 qualifying school districts from which the girls have recently graduated or currently attend.
“We’d like the girls to have a little bit of knowledge of the Bainbridge area,” she said, “because whoever is chosen queen will be going around to the other area festivals and promoting ours, so we want them to know some of the little things about Bainbridge that are important to the people who call this little town home.”
She said the queen pageant judges also look for poise and personality, and there are scholarships for the queen and her court, provided by donations from local citizens.
A $1,000 scholarship goes to the queen, she said, with $500, $400, $300 and $200 scholarships going to the first, second, third and fourth runners up, respectively.
The scholarships are awarded in the memory of Lorraine Granger, a former teacher at Paint Valley Schools who was also involved with the festival.
Mettler said she was a substitute teacher for many years after she retired, and “had a love for the festival and for the kids.”
After the prize drawings Sunday afternoon at 5:30 p.m., plans will begin for the 52nd edition next year.
“I guess I’m just kind of old-fashioned, and my attitude is if it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” Johnson said. “The problem is, like a lot of people, I’d like to see it get bigger in the years to come, but we’ve only got so much room in this village to use.”
As chairman, he said he’d like to see things remain as they are “so people can come enjoy themselves and have a good time.”
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.