Lions Club prepares for 75th Peach Festival
Published 4:24 pm Monday, March 28, 2022
Editor’s Note: This article originally published in Progress 2022: Centers of Community. Copies are available at The Clanton Advertiser office, 1109 Seventh Street N in Clanton.
STORY BY ZACHARY SEIFTER
PHOTOS KEITH MCCOY AND CONTRIBUTED
The Peach Festival in Chilton County is an annual time of celebration in Chilton County. This year, there is even more to celebrate as this beloved festival turns 75.
Each summer, people make their way to Clanton to partake in pageants, auctions, parades and fun, celebrating the fruit and the farmers that put Chilton County on the map.
For over two decades, it has been the responsibility of the Clanton Lions Club to make sure that everything is ready to go for the festival. The first ever Peach Festival took place in 1947 as a fundraiser of the Clanton Jaycees. Since that time, it has grown into an event that most circle on their calendar each year.
In 2022, with the 75th annual Peach Festival on the horizon, the Lions Club is ready to go above and beyond to make this Peach Festival memorable.
“It’s such a big part of the culture of this county, the peach industry and the Peach Festival, to recognize the farmers,” Lions Club member David McCary said.
As a part of this momentous celebration, Former Peach Queen Julie Bentley created the Forever Queens as a sorority type of group for former Peach Queens.
Each Miss Peach Queen will now also become a part of this group.
This year, the Forever Queens will be recognized for the first time at the festival. They will be given pins that show that they are Forever Queens as well as a float in the parade.
“It is a rich tradition,” McCary said. “We felt like we owed them some type of acknowledgement with this being the 75th.”
The group will also be giving a scholarship to whoever is named Miss Peach Queen.
The Peach Pageant has been a large part of the festival for years.
Young ladies from around the county participate every year, looking to be crowned the Peach Queen for their age group.
What sets this pageant apart is that participants are not only competing to be part of an exclusive club of women that have been named a Peach Queen, but those that go for the crown in the Junior Miss and Miss categories are also competing for scholarships.
“There’s a lot of beauty pageants around,” Clanton Lions Club President Alan Childress said. “But we try to truly run this as a scholarship pageant. Of course, our ladies are beautiful, but we had a young lady that didn’t place last year, and I think she might have won the most scholarship money.”
Along with competing for money that goes a long way to help participants in their future educational endeavors, becoming the Peach Queen has other perks, such as participating in the long-standing tradition of taking a basket of peaches to the governor.
Along with the pageant, one of the most significant parts of the Peach Festival is the Peach Auction.
Every year, peach farmers from around the county bring a basket of their best peaches to be sold in an auction.
Judges are brought in to rank the baskets, and the farmers receive prize money based off what place their basket is ranked. Then, the peaches are sold, and all the money paid for the peaches goes to charity.
“I remember two years, 1995 and 1996, the first basket went for $5,000 and the next year the first basket went for $8,000,” Peach Auction Chairman Glenn McGriff said. “Those were the two biggest, and later on, a couple years ago we did sell the number one basket to Marion Bank for $4,600. Last year’s went for $4,200
… The first basket of peaches is going to dictate what kind of auction you’re going to have.”
In 2021, the Peach Auction was a huge success after it was cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19. The members of the Lions Club hope to see even more people come out in 2022 to buy peaches and support the community.
“Last year was the biggest money raising auction that I’ve ever been a part of in 40 years,” McGriff said. “We raised … almost $23,000.”
While the Peach Auction was a big hit in 2021, there is hope that the whole festival sees even more success in 2022.
The world is continuing to try to get back to a sense of normalcy since the COVID-19 pandemic started. It affected several things in the last two years, including the Peach Festival.
However, the Lions Club is pulling out all the stops for the 75th Peach Festival, and the hope is that everyone is going to attend what should be a very special event.
Not only will the event be special for Chilton County residents, but also for out-of-county visitors who come out to enjoy Chilton County’s premier fruit.
“The county is known for the peach industry,” McGriff said. “So, we don’t have to promote it. We do promote it, but we don’t have to because the crop promotes itself.”
Between the pageant, auction and all the other special events that will make up the Peach Festival, summer 2022 will be an amazing time in Chilton County.
Just as it was 75 years ago.