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A peachy celebration

Community gathers for Peach Blossom Festival

By Tyler S. Witkop
Staff Writer

For the first time in seven years, Fountain Park underwent a peachy transformation, with folks from Wilbraham, Hampden and beyond coming to the former state pheasant farm to see what the community has to offer.
This past Saturday, June 17, thousands flocked for the first Peach Blossom Festival for a sampling of food, music, games and a celebration of history and talents. All profits from the one-day event supported local nonprofits and to go toward next year’s event.
“It couldn’t have gone much better,” Amy Smith, one of the Festival’s coordinators said. “Attendance was phenomenal.”
She noted there were some hiccups including vendors running out of food and some groups running out of carnival prizes, but she didn’t hear any complaints from those who attended. “I feel like it was an overall consensus [that people were happy],” Smith said. She and her fellow coordinators are already looking ahead to next year to make an even better experience.
Despite the gray skies and humidity, folks of all ages gathered at the park and could be seen tossing footballs, dancing to the varied musical talent, taking pictures with Silly the Clown, and snacking on the affordable food options dished out by service groups like the Rotary Club, Hampden Lions Club and the Junior Women’s Club.
Among the many attractions was the Homemade Carnival, where service groups and Minnechaug clubs had fun games for people of all ages. The Moms Club of East Longmeadow offered “Fish Pong,” which played on the classic carnival game of tossing a table tennis ball into a cup to win a fish. In this case, everyone won, and there was no chance of a fish dying as it was a colored plastic toy.
The Wilbraham Women’s Club set up a fun “pig corral” game, where kids took a hand-shaped fly swatter and smacked a pink balloon around an obstacle course to win prizes like a pig snout mask and pig ear head bands.
Minnechaug students Anna Gorfinkel and Sebastian Karpinski manned a game of chance to raise funds for the school’s Business program. Participants purchased a chance to unlock a door with a key. Only one key would open the door, but if it did, the winner received a large Mickey Mouse plush toy.
One of the biggest carnival attractions was the “Kissing Booth” by the Friends of Wilbraham Seniors. Those who made $1 donations received Hershey’s Kisses and lip stickers.
The Red Barn underwent a transformation into a celebration of the town’s history. A collection of hats from Times photographer Dave Miles, known as the “Funny Hat Man,” was on display next to a mock window of Greg Lockhart’s barber shop where people could make their own messages. Also on display was the town quilt that normally hangs in the Old Meeting House, made for the town’s Bicentennial in 1963. But the star of the room was a display of Peach Festival memorabilia including the official crown and a gown worn by former Peach Queen and Peach Blossom Festival coordinator Carolee McGrath.
Emilie Hisgen, who coordinated the History Barn, said she couldn’t have been happier with how the day turned out.
“I knew I made a big commitment when I signed up,” Hisgen explained, “but it was so worth it. I wanted my children to appreciate being in a small town.”
She thanked everyone who volunteered their time and talents in any form, as it made a big difference toward the day’s success. Hisgen also appreciated the support of Peach Festival coordinators and town icons like Helene Pickett who greeted people in the barn.
At one point in the day, former Peach Festival coordinator Patti Diotalevi greeted those who entered the barn. Diotalevi ran the Peach Pageant and was known throughout town as the “Peach Mom.” She said she couldn’t be any happier to see people back at Fountain Park for a community celebration.
“It’s a new generation of people taking over a tradition in Wilbraham,” she said of what it means for her to see the Peach Blossom Festival take root. “They’re going to find out what they need and make improvements … I’m just totally delighted.”
Near the gazebo and on the front lawn, members of the local Rett syndrome community raised funds for Rett Syndrome Research Trust. Rett syndrome is an incurable, non-inherited mutation of the MECP2 gene along the X chromosome that prevents people from speaking or moving normally.
The fundraiser offered chances at a “cow plop” fundraiser. For $10, people could buy a number on a grid and if the animal dropped manure on the number, the grand prize winner received $200. Rather than a cow, they had to use a horse, as the cow gave birth in the early morning hours.
Wilbraham mother Maggie Wurm explained Wilbraham student Will Powell, son of her neighbor and Festival coordinator Jennifer Powell, donated his first communion money to RSRT and to help get them to do the fun fundraiser. Will served as the official judge.
“He inspired us,” fellow Rett parent Carl Sweeney said. “You never know where it’s going to come from.”
Near the stage, various vendors participated in the Vendor Fair, which included local crafters and nonprofits. Groups like the Wilbraham Public Library and the Department of Children and Families had information booths and products for sale. Even Wilbraham Firefighter Jason Dimitropolous was there spreading good vibes for his nonprofit #Positivity, which encourages folks to do good deeds and donates money to local charities.
“This is beyond my wildest expectations,” Patrick Brady, president of the Wilbraham Nature and Cultural Center that manages Fountain Park, said. “This is all about the team [Jennifer Powell] put together.”
In addition to Powell, Smith, Hisgen and McGrath, coordinators included Shelly Capen, Carly Ludbrook, Dacia Hoskinson, Kristi Tessier, Meggan Maloni, Keri Tichy, Marcy Griguoli, and Stephanie Lemlin-Bliss.
Brady noted the volunteers Powell and her fellow coordinators needed to make an event such as the Peach Blossom Festival come to fruition, such as high schoolers and family groups, would be largely unavailable in the late summer, which to him showed a great deal of vision and forethought. As evidence, he said the group was already planning a post-festival action meeting to discuss what worked, what didn’t and how to improve for next year.
He also said he was impressed with the variety of entertainment and options available to attendants, and noted the community shouldn’t be surprised if they see some of those ideas come to other events in the future.
“This has been more successful than the vendors’ wildest expectations in spite of the iffy weather,” Brady said.
Both Hisgen and Smith said there will be another festival next year, although the exact date has not been finalized. Those with ideas or who would like to get involved next year are encouraged to contact 596-9628 or email thepeaches@peachblossomfestival.org.
“I hope we gave everybody a chance to see what it was all about,” Hisgen said.
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Early deadline

The Times will have an early deadline for news and photo submissions because of the Fourth of July Holiday. The deadline is noon, Wednesday, June 28 for the July 6 issue.
Send news and photos to Editor Tyler S. Witkop at tyler@turley.com.
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OPRO performance canceled

SPRINGFIELD - Due to the impending weather, tonight's free Old Post Road Orchestra performance at Shriner's Hospital for Children has been canceled. There is no rain date available.
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