In a five part
series written for The Madison Press, John Hiles,
first London Strawberry Festival vice-president,
described the evolution of the former London Marigold Festival into the new
and growing London Strawberry Festival.
The following is the first installment of the series as it
was published in the May 9,
2001 edition of The Madison Press.
The London Marigold Festival first started in 1983, on the
downtown streets in London
where it flourished and grew rapidly during the following five years.
Although it became popular with the community, there were a few
who didn't appreciate the special time of fellowship it inspired among the
town people and their guests. It was a wonderful atmosphere of fun and
During that time, my family and I lived just a few blocks away
on East First Street.
We invited family and friends to come visit during the festival.
After enjoying a barbecue and time together, we’d walk the
couple of blocks to South Main Street and join the rest of our London
neighbors for an evening of entertainment, rides, games, and of course more
food. Festival food! Nothing like it in the world.
Each year the festival grew, adding on more rides, games and
food. Several local organizations got involved making it a grand ole time for
everyone of all ages to enjoy.
By it's fifth year, the London Marigold
Festival had grown very large in size and attendance. It was a very
successful and popular festival, destined for greatness.
Then came devastating news. The
festival was going to be relocated. It seemed that due to the efforts of one
individual, several merchants were persuaded that the London Marigold
Festival was not in their best interests. The argument was so compelling that
a few merchants were able to convince certain city officials the festival
needed to relocate.
Under pressure by a few, the festival was moved. It proved to be
a fatal blow to the longevity and continued success of the London Marigold
When I heard what had happened, somehow I knew this would be the
beginning of the end for our festival. I sat down and penned a letter to the
editor of The Madison Press which if memory serves me right took up nearly a
half page in the "Letters to the Editor" section.
Year by year the festival attendance dwindled. The interest of
the community turned away. What had been a great community affair now lay
wounded and dying. As the years went by, many people volunteered their
efforts and tried to keep the festival alive, but despite all their hard
work, an end was certain.
Eighteen years have passed and now we come to the year 2000. I'd
read in The Madison Press the festival organizers were considering closing
the London Marigold Festival for good. Sighting lack of community support,
failing attendance, thinning vendors, it shrunk to nearly nothing. It was on it’s last leg and ready to pass into oblivion.
Then several new volunteers came on board with fresh ideas and
enthusiasm. They brought with them a vision which could turn the festival
completely around. The seasoned and burned out committee members were very
skeptical and pessimistic at first. The members remained optimistic and
persistent. They knew it could be revived.
Reluctantly, the veteran members gave in and decided to go
another year and test these new uncertain waters. What happened surprised
The following is the second
installment of the series as it was published in the May 16, 2001 edition of The Madison
With new blood on board, life began to appear
in the old dying dinosaur. The committee had a long way to go before the
August 2000 London Marigold Festival would be deemed a success.
Success would not be defined by a super attendance and a
substantial increase to the amount of participating vendors and sideshows,
but how the community and its guests responded to fresh ideas and concepts.
I suppose the greatest new idea was to increase the live
entertainment and diversity it. Many suggestions surfaced and it came down to
three things: a battle of the bands; a following evening of live
entertainment by the top two winners; and an all out county wide invitational
gospel song fest.
A lot of preparation went into pulling off a successful battle
of the bands. This had never been attempted by anyone on the committee. A
media campaign to attract entertainment groups was successful. There were
enough contestants to ensure a full evening of entertainment for the
The winning band received a grand prize of $700. Second place
$300. Third place $100. First and second place winners became the Saturday
evening entertainment in order to collect their prize.
It was a great plan and it worked beautifully. In one effort,
Friday and Saturday night's entertainment was booked.
The gospel entertainment was only one invitational away.
A Christian brother of mine, Brian Musgrave, received an
invitation to attend one of the committee meetings to discuss the idea of our
church, the Apostolic Gospel Church of Mt. Sterling, hosting the gospel song fest. He
accepted the invitation and invited me along. (I coordinate the setup of the
sound equipment and operate it. That’s how I got involved with the festival.)
The invitation came as a result of our exposure in the previous
three years of putting on monthly gospel song fests, primarily in the
downtown gazebo of Mr. Sterling.
At that meeting, Brian and I decided to host the gospel song
fest as representatives of our church organization. It took months of work
and planning, but the pay off was tremendous. We were given the Junior Fair
Arena for a four hour sing.
We sent an invitation to every Christian church in MadisonCounty, inviting gospel groups,
special singers, and choirs to perform at the 18th annual London Marigold
We gave a special invitation to a national gospel group,
"The Gunns" based in St. Louis, to be the top billed group. The
response from the churches and community was overwhelming. Over 20 some
gospel groups performed for over four hours to a crowd of several hundred
Before, during, and after the song fest, most of the crowd made
their way onto the midway of the festival, providing the vendors with
customers and bolstering sales.
Aside from these successful endeavors, there were others. All in
all, we were told that attendance at the 2000 festival was higher that it had
been in the previous three years.
What no one was aware of was an effort by the newest committee
members to make several changes to the festival which would require the
approval of many people and other governing bodies outside of the festival
The first and most important hurdle to overcome was getting
everyone on the committee to agree to the changes, so our pursuit for
approval would be unified and focused. We knew we were going to face some
outside opposition. From where and whom we didn't know, but we knew we had to
be prepared for anything.
These requests and subsequent changes to the 18 year old London
Marigold Festival were going to be drastic and would consume hundreds of
volunteer hours to achieve.
We met for weeks planning and working on the 2000 London
Marigold Festival while also discussing the 2001 festival and trying to bring
our thoughts and ideas into agreement.
One night following one of our regular planning meetings, the
new issues were discussed one more time. We took a vote, the result was
unanimous, then we committed ourselves to doing all
that we could to turn those changes into a successful festival for everyone
in our wonderful community to enjoy for many years to come.
The following is the third
installment of the series as it was published in the May 23, 2001 edition of The Madison
In looking to the future of the London
Marigold Festival, we gauged our thoughts on it's
past performance. Although the 2000 show was yet to happen, we felt that if
extreme changes were not made that all our efforts and new ideas would only
serve to prolong the inevitable demise of the festival.
We reasoned why the festival could not survive.
First, the festival followed too soon behind our county fair on
the same grounds.
Second, it was only preceding the Ohio State Fair by a few
Third, it came at a time when most families with school age
children are hard pressed for extra spending cash after purchasing all the
necessary back to school clothing and supplies.
Fourth, it’s too close to the end of vacation season when again, most families have exhausted all budgeted funds.
Fifth, even though it had been 12 years since it was removed from
the streets of downtown London,
the community was still sore and unsupportive over that move.
It was decided that three things needed to be done to overcome
all five of these problems. Change the time of year, change the location, and
change the theme to an edible item which would coincide with the date change.
The committee members agreed to the following: change the time
of year from the end of the festival season to the beginning, June; change
the theme from the Marigold to the edible item of the Strawberry, vine ripe
in the month of June; and the most drastic, locate the new London Strawberry
It seemed the most sensible plan if we were going to try and
overcome all the obstacles as I outlined above. We immediately began taking
steps to achieve our objectives. As a member of the Ohio Festivals and Events
Association, we had to apply to them to approve the changes. We were informed
that the OFEA seldom grants any requests for serious changes in the
established agenda of it's festivals. Also, never in
the history of the OFEA had it granted a festival three changes at the same
It was very fortunate that one of the long-standing members of
our festival committee is the secretary/treasurer for the OFEA, Donna Warner.
She currently holds the position of treasurer and director of queens for our London festival.
Through her insight and knowledge of the OFEA, we made proper request for
We had to wait for several months till the OFEA held a meeting
in late summer of 2000 and discuss the requests we were petitioning them for.
A month before the August 2000 London Marigold Festival, Donna
gave us their answer.
The following is the fourth
installment of the series as it was published in the May 30, 2001 edition of The Madison
Having waited for months to hear from the
Ohio Festivals and Events Association on the three requests we’d asked them
for, change of theme, change of date, change of location, we knew the odds
were against us. Without their approval, the history of London's longest running festival would
come to an end.
During one of our regular meetings, Donna Warner gave us their
answer. She told us the decision of the OFEA was unanimous.
Immediately I felt a rush of disappointment go through me,
knowing that the history of the OFEA turning down requests for single or
double changes in a festival's structure was the norm. A unanimous decision
certainly wouldn't mean that they all said yes.
YES! What? Did I hear Donna right? Then the whole committee
exploded with excitement and enthusiasm. She said yes. The OFEA unanimously
voted yes. The news was unbelievable. It set off a charge in our group that
has never died down. Yes! We could change our festival to the Strawberry
Festival, move it to the vine ripe strawberry month of June, and move it to
We were so excited! It simply made our day. We calmed down and
appointed Kerry Davidson to represent us before the London City Council. In
order to make it work, we had to have the approval of the city government.
At the next London City Council meeting, Kerry presented the
same requests. The council asked a few questions, and along with her answers
Kerry presented a petition to put the festival downtown, signed by a 90
percent majority of the downtown merchants!
After a short discussion, the London City Council took a vote.
Their decision was also unanimous. Yes!
With the unanimous backing of the OFEA and London City Council,
along with 90 percent of the downtown merchants, we were off and running. The
foundation was in place for a brand new London Strawberry Festival.
We also are the only Strawberry Festival in the OFEA. We had
serious work ahead of us and the last Marigold Festival to finish out.
The downtown area had to be surveyed. State and local codes,
ordinances, and regulations had to be considered in every phase of planning.
All the downtown area had to be precisely measured. Every foot
of the festival grounds needed to be accounted for. Every fire hydrant, alley
way, business entrance, sewer opening, electrical line had to be drawn on a
map to scale. The placement of every vendor, game booth, entertainment stage,
and so on had to fit into the grounds meeting every legal requirement.
Follow up meetings with city council, the general public,
suppliers, heads of city departments had to be
scheduled. An agenda, a plan had to be made and worked. A tremendous job was
ahead of us.
The first step was to work closely with city government and plan
the festival grounds which would meet with everyone's approval and meet all
legal requirements. The map was a huge undertaking and took weeks to produce.
After each meeting with the city, it had to be modified to comply with the
wishes of the city officials.
After going through three modifications, the concerns and needs
of the merchants were next to consider. After having personally met with many
merchants who would be directly affected by the festival layout, the map was
modified a couple more times for a total of five modifications from its first
printing. This involved literally hundreds of hours at the computer.
Finally, at a meeting in mid January 2001, the plans for the
festival grounds met with approval.
In attendance at that meeting were: London Mayor David Eades, Safety-Services Director Steve Hume, London City
Council members, Police Chief Mike Creamer, Fire Chief Paul "Buck" VanHorn, Street Department Director Bob Verts, downtown merchants, festival president Mark Blazier, festival vice president John Hiles,
festival media spokesperson and director of entertainment Kerry Davidson.
With final approval on the festival grounds behind us, it was
time to work on filling the festival with a great lineup of interesting
things to do and enjoy.
The following is the fifth and
final installment of the series as it was published in the June 6, 2001 edition of The Madison
The work of obtaining final approval from
city management and government concerning the festival grounds, took us past
a critical time point. We had to wait for final approval before we could send
out our invitations to the vendors and entertainers.
This was a project that according to Chuck Jackson, president of
the OFEA, should have been done no later than the middle of December. We
would be lucky to find anyone who had not already booked into another event
on our date.
Immediately the festival was posted on three Internet sites.
Also, a list was compiled from the records of the past
several Marigold Festival. Over 150 packets were mailed which
contained the new festival rules, contract, and other vital information.
As time went on, other packets were sent to people responding on
the Internet. Eventually word of mouth spread the news of the new festival
and the response has been way beyond our expectations.
During the course of each day I receive several phone calls,
emails, and letters requesting admission in the festival or for information.
We've obtained a professional entertainment stage company.
They'll also be providing sound and lights operated by trained, experienced
technicians. This will help all the entertainers deliver a good performance
to our guests.
In a few months, the organizers of the first annual London
Strawberry Festival have put together a festival that other festivals take a
year to produce. We're not out of the woods yet. There's a lot more to go
before we can let up and catch our breath.
Our need for volunteers is huge. The time is growing shorter. We
need people who will take one of our projects and go with it. To get the
point across, let me share a partial list of our scheduled entertainment and
special events with you.
Seven bands to perform on the main stage, 5K race, baby contest,
three beauty pageants, raffles, first annual Governor Jim Rhodes memorial
parade, poker run, Strawberry recipe and baking contest, Karaoke contest,
just to name a few.
Barricades need manned, Coca Cola trailers need workers, helpers
for entertainment setup and tear down, assembly of both parades.
A couple of the things which will carry with us from year to
year will be the dedication of our Saturday night parade to the memory of our
late Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes and the addition of the world's largest
gathering of the Cobra Sports Car Show.
This first year we are expected to host over 200 Cobras. To date
the record gathering was 86. Media coverage will be at a premium for this
show. The car show will be raising money for the Cystic Fibroses Foundation
by raffle drawings for various merchandise, including an
unassembled Cobra car kit valued at over $15,000!
Although this is the first year for the London Strawberry
Festival, it is already being marked in many books as a place to visit. Calls
from as far away as Florida
have come in, as well as many other states.
Several vendors, entertainers, and the like have been turned
away. Only a few booths remain for sale to crafters and miscellaneous
On June 20, at ,
the fun begins. Rides, a wonderful variety of food, entertainment, crafts,
and much more will be waiting to delight your senses. Invite your families
and friends to enjoy the newest premier sensation of central Ohio, the fabulous
London Strawberry Festival.
It has been nearly 3 years since that 5
part story was written for the Madison Press.Though the festival's have come and gone.
Lots of fun and memories. The festival now moves on toward the 2004 show and
we all hope to see you there. Come make history with us.
2003 Strawberry Festival
The festival saw
many changes during the preparations for this year.President John Hiles,
Treasurer, Debbie Hiles & Queens director Donna
Warner resigned.John Stahl became
president, and Holly Stockham was appointed as queen’s director with
assistant director Kelly Maynard, Melissa McClelland became treasurer, and
Kevin Stockham became concessions chair.The festival grew considerably and made many changes in operating
philosophy due to this growth.
The queens program
expanded by adding the Young Miss Division.Guidelines for the Little Miss Shortcake were amended and a float was purchased.
Royalty members visited approximately
50 different festivals throughout Ohio
and appeared in many radio, tv and newspaper
interviews. The entertainment committee, working with sponsors decided to
bring in a national level recording artist for the first time.
2004 Strawberry Festival
More changes and
growth occurred for the festival during this very hectic year.Assistant queen’s director Kelly Maynard
& treasurer Melissa McClelland resigned.
committee again opted for national country recording artist, Kevin Sharp and
the 1960’s group The Four Mints. They also included many local artists and
youth entertainers.The queens program
expanded once more by adding the Mr Shortcake
division.The float was also
redecorated and enlarged.In addition
to the queens luncheon a reception was held for the new court.The attendance for 2004 was just over
27,000 for the week. This is the largest recorded attendance for the festival
despite having rain on Thursday.The
COBRA car event continued to draw very well and we were a stop on the Cable
TV station The Outdoor Network as well as local radio stations K95FM and WCYC
The London Strawberry
Festival Board decided to involve more community organizations and activities
during this year’s event.
2005 Strawberry Festival,23rd yearJune 22-25
this year opened with McGuffey
Lane creating the largest opening night crowd in
the festival history.Friday featured
Pete Schlagel.His unique country act included the use of video screens to project
his stage show and to view his music videos, currently featured on CMT.The COBRA’s joined us Saturday.The festival was featured in Today’s RV
Magazine and Better Living magazine.Channel 4 news covered the festival during the royalty competition,
interviewing contestants.This year’s
queen, Sarah Green fulfilled her duties to the festival and left for Navy
boot camp the next day.
were revived and added this year.They
included the cake & cookie decorating contest, strawberry food contest,
art contest, floral contest, & coloring contest.
2006 Strawberry Festival 24th
Exile was our spotlighted entertainment this year.Members of this group were great to work
with & even permitted our dignitaries & royalty a behind the scenes
tour of their bus.Rain, unfortunately
put delays on our royalty competition.Despite the rain, several girls competed in one of the toughest
competitions ever.Maggie Pellow
joined the board and for the second year was instrumental in our information
booth.Entries in the contests
2007 London Strawberry Festival 25th
This was an exciting year as it marked our 25th
Anniversary.The festival celebrated
with several Commemorative items including a history/cookbook, special
charms, buttons, pins and shirts.Shenandoah and McGuffey
Lane headed our entertainment for the year.The queens float underwent major
redesign.We added the Little Mr. and
Prince to our royalty.Our Royalty
played hostesses to over 300 visiting royalty and chaperones.
2008 London Strawberry Festival 26th
T Graham Brown headlined our entertainment this year.We changed some of our youth contests this year
and added the Shoebox float contest.Our queen went above & beyond in her traveling, visiting more than
double the required events.The
festival went very well until our final evening when rain and high winds put
an early end to the festivities.Unfortunately
this canceled many of the royalty events & forced crowning of the 2008
Queen to be held in Jillian’s.Many
vendors and the stage suffered damage due to the wind and rain.Street lights were even damaged.The bad weather continued off & on the
remainder of the summer & fall.The festival was featured on TV with the morning show.
2009 London Strawberry Festival 27th
2010 London Strawberry Festival 28th
This year we shortened the
festival by one day.
2011 London Strawberry Festival 29th
2012 London Strawberry Festival 30th
This marked our 30th
Anniversary.Ricochet was our headline
act this year.They put on a good show
but were drastically late starting as the lead singer missed his flight and
arrived at the Columbus airport aft the scheduled start of the event.We dropped our Little Mr. & Prince
divisions this year.
2013 London Strawberry Festival 31st