NEWBERRY ‒ The Newberry Watermelon Festival was back for its 77th annual celebration on Saturday, May 21. The annual festival brought out thousands who enjoyed sweet and juicy watermelon, games and activities for the young and not-so-young alike, and entertainment.
The nation’s longest-running watermelon festival was held at the CountryWay Town Square. The festival featured more than 100 vendors offering items for sale, food and drink, nonprofits sharing information, and politicians promoting their 2022 campaigns. There was also plenty of activities for kids including bounce houses, face painting and pony rides. As in previous years, the free slices of watermelon were popular with the crowd.
The event started at 10 a.m. with a parade in downtown Newberry featuring floats sponsored by local businesses and organizations that included a golf cart decoration contest. At the Country Way Town Center, some 100 vendors lined the streets and at the gazebo, K Country 93.7 FM announced events along with singer and DJ Brandon McFarlan.
The previous week the festival committee had held its annual pageant for naming the annual Newberry Watermelon Queen, teen queen and junior queens. Kensley Catelynn Durrance was crowned the 2022 Newberry Watermelon Queen, Ashlee Thomas was crowned the 2022 Newberry Watermelon Ms. Teen Queen and Laney Grinstead was crowned the 2022 Newberry Watermelon Teen Queen. The Newberry City Commission also awarded Bethany Barfield with a key to the city. Barfield was the Newberry Watermelon Queen in 2019 and then went on to win the Florida Watermelon Queen for 2020-21 before claiming the National Watermelon Queen title.
Watermelon festival traditional events included the popular pet contest featuring four dogs. Link, Duchess, Callie and Ellie Mae won prizes for Best Dressed Boy, Best Dressed Girl, Best Behaved and Best Overall, respectively. There was a hog calling contest and the traditional watermelon seed spitting contest that has been held every year featuring local politicians competing for bragging rights for the longest spit.
Last year, Alachua County Sheriff Clovis Watson, Jr. took the crown from Congresswomen Kat Cammack with a 23-foot mark. The winning marks this year were much farther than Watson's record last year. Daniel Fisher, running for Alachua County School Board, launched a watermelon seed 41 feet. He won the contest with that shot, leaving Newberry City Commissioner Mark Clark in second place with 37 feet.
Newberry’s Watermelon Festival started in 1946 after the end of World War II. A group of local citizens decided to hold a festival celebrating the area’s watermelon production and the Newberry Watermelon Festival was born. The event has now been held yearly on the third Saturday in May.
The festival is organized and produced by a committee of local residents with the support of the city and business sponsors. The actual event is produced with a large group of volunteers, including Police Explorers who help manage traffic and parking. Sponsors provide donations either as cash or in-kind products. The festival also receives additional funds through a $5 parking fee. Some of the money raised funds four $1,000 scholarships for Newberry High School seniors to cover tuition and books to attend Santa Fe College. Any additional money goes to the schools for supplies and to the Red Cross for any local need that arises.
While last year’s festival was smaller due to COVID-19 health concerns, the crowds were back in full this year. Just like its beginning in 1946 after World War II, the festival again brought a sense of community and return to normalcy.
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GAINESVILLE– Celebrate Juneteenth with special programs across the Alachua County Library District throughout June.
All branches will host programs in June to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in 1865. Events include read-ins at the Alachua and Hawthorne branches, craft programs at Archer, Micanopy, and Waldo branches, and a podcast by the Library Partnership Branch featuring Dr. David Canton, director of the African American Studies Program at the University of Florida.
“We are proud to celebrate Juneteenth with a variety of programs for children, teens, and adults. We hope these events provide an opportunity for patrons to learn more about the holiday and celebrate the date,” said Library Director Shaney T. Livingston.
All events are free and open to the public. Registration is required for some programs and seats can be reserved at www.aclib.us/events or by calling your preferred branch. The full schedule of programs is as follows:
From Emancipated to Entrepreneur, June 5, 3 p.m., Newberry Branch, all ages, registration required
Antoinette Chanel, author and founder of Feathered Press Indie Publisher, will reflect on the importance of Juneteenth, and how its meaning informs her work as an author, an artist, and an advocate.
Juneteenth Celebration Read-In, June 12, 2:30 p.m., Alachua Branch, all ages
This mini festival will feature readings by Alachua County Poet Laureate E. Stanley Richardson and Carol Velasques Richardson, song performance by a local youth group, and speakers including Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper. Meet local author Tabitha Jenkins, visit the craft tent, and enjoy refreshments.
Creativity for Change, June 14, 3 p.m., Archer Branch, ages 12-18
Make buttons and discuss how we can positively create change in our communities.
Story Time on the Green programs, 10:30 a.m., ages infant-5
Gather for songs and stories, including readings of Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper and similar books.
- June 15 at Headquarters Library, Archer and High Springs branches, and Hawthorne Recreation Park with the Hawthorne Branch team
- June 16 at Waldo Branch and Veterans Memorial Park playground with the Tower Road Branch team
Juneteenth ArtSpace, June 15, 3 p.m. Waldo Branch, all ages
Celebrate Juneteenth with an art project inspired by Kente cloth from Ghana and discover the rich symbolism of colors and designs.
Teen/Tween Book Club, June 15, 4 p.m. Headquarters Branch, ages 12-18, registration required
Discuss the book Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes.
Patrons and Partners Podcast featuring Dr. David Canton, director of the African American Studies Program at the University of Florida, posting June 16 by the Library Partnership Branch
Dr. David Canton is an associate professor of history at the University of Florida. He teaches courses on civil rights, hip hop music and culture, and introduction to African American Studies.
Juneteenth Story Time, June 16, 10:30 a.m., ages infant-5, registration required
Share songs of jubilee, Juneteenth themed books, and a coloring craft.
Depot Park Story Time, June 16, 10:30 a.m. Depot Park, ages infant-five
Gather for songs and stories, including a reading of Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper.
Juneteenth Book Talk, June 16, 3 p.m., Zoom and Facebook, ages 5-11
Check out fiction and nonfiction reads for children to celebrate Juneteenth and Black history.
Juneteenth: Celebration of Freedom, June 16, 3 p.m., Millhopper Branch, ages 12-18, registration preferred
Learn about the history and importance of Juneteenth, and then explore what freedom means to you through a papercraft.
Freedom Collages, June 17, 3 p.m., Micanopy Branch, all ages
Explore what it means to be free by learning about the history of Juneteenth and creating your picture of freedom using images and words from magazines, paint, glue, markers, and more.
Juneteenth Celebration, 3:30 p.m., June 17, Cone Park Branch, ages infant-5
Come for story time and a craft to celebrate Juneteenth, plus contribute to a group mural.
Harriet – Juneteenth Movie, June 18, 12 p.m., Library Partnership Branch, adults
Watch the award-winning biopic, Harriet, starring Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Janelle Monae, and Joe Alwyn.
Juneteenth Read-In @ HAW, June 25, 2:30 p.m., Hawthorne Branch
Come for a program rich in African American history and culture and celebrate works by African American authors and artists.
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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ For many Americans, Memorial Day is a three-day weekend to travel, enjoy the outdoors or party. The original meaning of the holiday may be acknowledged, but oftentimes little is done to honor it during their weekend plans. For others, the true meaning of Memorial Day carries a more somber quality as we remember those who served and did not return as well as those who came back but have since passed. This is the real meaning of Memorial Day.
On May 28, the High Springs Lions Club will host a Memorial Day concert to raise funds for a Gold Star Monument in Gainesville. Although all who serve deserve respect and appreciation, those who did not come back deserve more in recognition of a life cut short by war, leaving families and friends to mourn the emptiness of their loss. Their families suddenly belong a singular group that no one wants to join, known as a Gold Star Family.
What sets Gold Star families apart and makes them special is the sacrifice they have made and the loved one they have lost in military service to the country. That death is not only a devastating loss of their loved one – it can often also seem like the loss of an identity, of a community, changing lives forever. There is another group that is strongly affected by these lives lost, and that group is their fellow soldiers who survived, remembering the comrades who didn’t come home.
Hershel “Woody” Williams was born on a dairy farm in 1923 in Quiet Dell, West Virginia. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served in the Battle of Iwo Jima. Williams’ actions, commitment to his fellow service members, and heroism during Iwo Jima were recognized on Oct. 5, 1945, when he received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Truman at the White House. Williams is now the sole surviving Marine from WWII to wear the Medal of Honor.
As War II began, Williams came into direct contact with families in his own community when he delivered Western Union telegrams informing the Gold Star families of the death of their loved one. Williams says that those experiences gave him a “greater appreciation for life and an understanding of a difference in death in the normal world as expected in life, and those lost serving in the military for their country.”
Williams noted that “consideration and recognition of the families of those lost in military service was very inadequate.” This observation and his personal commitment to veterans and their families brought about the creation of the Woody Williams Foundation The foundation’s goal is to honor these families by creating large granite Gold Star Monuments in every state. To date, Williams and his foundation are responsible for establishing 96 Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments across the United States with more than 79 additional monuments underway in 50 states and one U.S. Territory. They are currently building one in Gainesville.
Eric “Roscoe” Mattingly is a 100 percent disabled veteran of the Iraq War who was injured during the battle for Taji. When he returned from the war and mindful of his injuries, he sought a career that was achievable. Mattingly had always loved music and earned a degree in Live Show Production from Full Sail University. He has continued producing music shows and as a veteran he became involved with the Woody Williams Foundation and their Gainesville project. By organizing a benefit concert to raise funds for the Gold Star Monument.
The High Springs Lions Club and the Military Vets MC Club have a large stage and plenty of audience space. They have hosted a number of benefit concerts at their location and were happy to coordinate with Mattingly to produce the show. Mattingly contacted regional bands he had worked with who would provide their time and talent for a concert. The concert will be dedicated in honor of four local soldiers who paid the ultimate price—including Sergeant Campbell, Lance Corporal Clark and Staff Sergeant Reiners.
On May 28, the High Springs Lions Club will host Mattingly's “Roscoe's Memorial Day Celebra-Jam” featuring four Florida bands. Starting at 2 p.m., The Huligans from Jacksonville will take the stage. Dustin Monk and the Hustle are another Jacksonville band. Trae Pierce and the T-Stones are based in Miami and are four-time Grammy winners. Jesse Smith is originally from High Springs but is now based in New Orleans and New York. His band, Jasper Smitty & Gumbo Funk will close out the concert.
The show costs $25, which, after expenses, will go to fund the Gainesville Gold Star Monument. The concert takes place at 26900 U.S. Hwy 27 in High Springs. Gates open at noon in an outdoor venue and chairs are suggested. On this Memorial Day weekend, this is a concert for a good cause to honor the soldiers who paid the supreme price and the shattered families they left behind.
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Barton will continue serving on the Florida Supervisors of Elections Board of Directors, representing district four of the association, which includes Marion, Putnam, Levy, Dixie, Gilchrist, Columbia and Alachua counties. She is the past chair of the association's scholarship committee.
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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Giving back to the community and supporting children are the forces behind the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe. And on May 14 under a sunny Saturday morning sky, the club held their second annual Kids & Family Mini Golf Tournament at the Pink Flamingo Diner in High Springs. The event is organized to help raise funds for projects the Kiwanis support for the children of High Springs and Alachua.
After the Pink Flamingo Diner opened last year with a nine-hole miniature golf course, the club saw it as an entertaining way to raise funds and involve the community. Last year’s event featured teams divided into two categories of adults and children, but this year the groups were combined with no age limits. Eight teams played for high scores, prizes and bragging rights. The teams signed up in groups for an $8 entry fee for each adult and $6 for kids under 13. The Pink Flamingo kicked in half the entry fee to the club, raising $2,750 for Kiwanis projects.
The Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe is one local club out of the Kiwanis International, which was founded in 1915 by a group of businessmen in Detroit, Michigan. The name "Kiwanis" was coined from an American Indian expression, “Nunc Kee-wanis,” which means, “We trade.” In 1920, the motto of Kiwanis became “We Build.” It remained the motto until 2005, when members voted to change it to “Serving the children of the world.” In the early years, members focused on business networking, but in 1919 the organization changed its focus to service — specifically service to children. The organization now has more than 550,000 members in 80 countries. Worldwide the Kiwanis host nearly 150,000 service projects each year.
At Saturday's competition, the teams consisted of local residents, along with two teams from the fire and police departments in a friendly rivalry between city employees. The fire department won the competition and was awarded a trophy that is returned each year for the city employee team competitions. Local residents filled out the remaining teams, which they named.
The community effort had a number of local sponsors that provided services or funding. This year’s event sponsors included Pink Flamingo, Porta Serve, Campus USA, Waste Pro, Hampton Inn, Great Outdoors Restaurant, Winn Dixie, Capitol City Bank, and Thomas Weller, attorney. Prizes for first, second and third place were provided by Publix, Pink Flamingo Diner, Hitchcocks and Hardee’s.
The Gator Boys team took first place and a $100 gift card from Publix, a $50 Hitchcock gift card and Payday candy bars. Second place was won by the Dough Boys who received a $75 Pink Flamingo Diner gift card and a $25 Hardee’s gift card. The fire department took third place and received a $50 gift card from the Pink Flamingo Diner. A tie between the first and second place team forced a third-round playoff with the Gator Boys coming out on top with the last putt.
“This event has been a great success in helping raise funding for our projects” said Kiwanis President Tom Hewlett. “It's a fun event where the community can have a friendly competition and enjoy playing at this unique miniature golf field. We are grateful to all the volunteers, teams and sponsors, especially to the Pink Flamingo for providing the course to make this possible and we look forward to continuing the tradition yearly.”
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