By Glenne White
“The Bloom,” as it is affectionately known, has been woven into the fabric of the community over its 90 year history. Festival President Mike Stanfield says “generations have grown up with the Festival and we welcome everyone back home for our 91st Bloom!”
Visitors come from all over the Panhandle. Many bands and floats are from the Panhandle. In fact, from all over the U.S. we have visitors. This year the theme and vision are about returning home. Along with this sentiment, some noteworthy changes are being made. Exciting times ahead!
The Bloom tradition began in 1924 (hiatus during WWII) with a one day event – a parade and the crowning of a Festival Queen. The Queen reigned over the Shenandoah Valley as it turned pink, white, and green when the fruit trees bloomed. Originally, the event was to celebrate the orchard industry and advertise the agri-business of the Valley. Now, nine decades later from those two original events, the Festival hosts over 40 activities during ten days. The Bloom still celebrates the blossoms of the apple trees as the cornerstone of community spirit.
The Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival® is noted as one of the top festivals in the country. It’s been named by Fodor’s Travel, Time, Southern Living, National Geographic, and USA Today as well as Event Crazy and the American Bus Association. The Festival volunteers, the Board of Directors, the Bloom Office Staff, Winchester City and Frederick County officials and employees, and area citizens will make you welcome.
This year’s theme has family stories behind it. Past-President Tom Scully tells how he never invited his school mates home for traditional holidays, but instead invited all of them for the Festival. Locals are making reservations at Winchester hotels because their homes will overflow with friends and family visitors. Over 2000 local volunteers make each year a success.
“It’s a love affair” says another volunteer. Indeed, with some 300,000 folks visiting the small city of 30,000, there is bound to be a lot to love. Love of some particular event, of making new friends, of seeing old friends and familiar places, and of being welcomed at many events.
Remember the words to the old song from the 1920s: “I’ll be with you in Apple Blossom time.” Yes, this song is sung during the Festival. And for fun, review the Beatles’ tune “Yellow Submarine” which now has a local adaptation – “we all live in the land of pink and green.” Yes, Festival folks sing this, too.
John Rosenberger, Executive Director of the past 19 festivals says, “I like the way the simplicity of the Welcome Home theme and its images embody the civic and community spirit as if it were pre-ordained.” And Rosenberger knows the Festival extraordinarily well. In 1956 he was the little “Crown Bearer” for Queen XXIX, Mimi McArthur. Years of committee work and volunteering led Rosenberger to the position of Executive Director.
Another longtime volunteer, Past-President, and Chair of the Celebrity Committee, Kay Bolliger, says, “This theme is perfect for both the Festival and the community.” Her vision, like that of many other volunteers, is the new excitement that comes from a growing relationship with Shenandoah University as the Festival, the University, and the community all change and progress together. This year will be a perfect time for Shenandoah alumni and the families of current students to visit Winchester for Festival fun.
For many months, the Northern Shenandoah Valley has watched Shenandoah University’s James R. Wilkins, Jr. Athletics & Events Center rise above Interstate 81 on Winchester’s east side. About the impressive structure, University President Dr. Tracy Fitzsimmons has proudly announced, along with Festival President Mike Stanfield, the Center to be a new focal point for the Festival. This beautiful, imposing building has seating capacity for 1600 at sporting events and 4972 for community events in its 70,000 square feet.
Many visitors will remember that BIG tent up on the hill behind the Winchester Medical Center/Valley Health as the home of many Festival events. Graciously the hospital allowed Bloom parking and for the 20,000 square foot tent to be erected on their grounds. But now, what was named “The Tolley Dental Tent” at the hospital venue, sponsored by Benjamin Tolley, DDS, is being moved. Housed in SU’s new Wilkins Athletics & Events Center, the Tolley Tent has been renamed “The Tolley Dental Zone.” Dr. Tolley said of the move from the tent to the Wilkins Center: “It’s exciting; the new spacious center is breathtaking, and it’s HUGE.” His enthusiasm is contagious.
Dr. Fitzsimmons enumerated many on-going connections with the Festival. Examples included princesses and escorts in the Queen’s Court, Concert Band and Jazz Ensemble competitions held on campus, SU’s Buzzin’ Dozen Pep Band in Saturday’s Grand Feature Parade, student finalists in past years’ Apple Blossom’s Got Talent competition, and this year’s Miss Apple Blossom, whose role is hostess of the Bloom, is SU’s own Dot Kelly.
“Now,” says Fitzsimmons, “we have an even closer link with the Festival. We are very excited for this new partnership, and are thrilled that the Wilkins Center will be the location of the Tolley Dental Zone. This is a great opportunity for collaboration…many additional partnerships with community businesses and organizations….”
James R Wilkins, Sr. who was instrumental in moving Shenandoah College from Dayton, VA to Winchester in 1960 instilled in his family a love for the community and a deep sense of the importance of giving. He and his son, James R Wilkins, Jr. were both Festival Presidents. The Wilkins family continually supports both Festival and University.
Now seven events will be taking place in the new James R. Wilkins, Jr. Center in The Tolley Dental Zone:
- Wed, May 2 – Valley Health Business at the Bloom
- Thurs., May 3 – Bloomtown Derby – A Wine & Food Experience
- Thurs., May 3 – Caribbean Nights Dance Party
- Fri., May 4 – Ferguson Bloomers’ Luncheon
- Fri., May 4 – Jim Stutzman Chevrolet 80s Dance Party
- Sat., May 5 – Country Music Party
- Sun., May 6 – Donegal Insurance Group Bluegrass Festival
Another volunteer said after visiting the Center to get a feel for the size and scope of the facility: “No matter how cold it is outside, it will be warm. No matter how hot it is outside, it will be cool. No matter how hard it is raining, it will be dry.”
Besides Festival favorites like the midway, the carnival, Weekend in the Park, the WineFest, the Firefighters Friday evening parade, the Saturday Grand Feature Parade, and the Coronation of the Queen, there’s also a Golf Tournament, the Kids Bloomin’ Mile, the certified USA Track & Field 10k, the Stag Luncheon, the Oldies Rock ‘n’ Roll, and just too many dances and luncheons to list. The newest activities are the Ladies Commonwealth event, the Winchester Cider Works tour, the tennis tournament, and the new Doors in Bloom contest which gives citizens another impetus to decorate.
And if you are a regular at the Festival, here are a few “insider ideas” for a Bloom bucket list:
- Get up early Friday morning and take the whole family to the Fire Truck Rodeo (it’s amazing what can be done with a fire truck!).
- Walk the along residential streets one mid-week evening to look at all the decorations. Watch folks setting up for the weekend.
- Ride around town mid-week to look for parking secrets. You’ll find a few – if you don’t mind a bit of a walk to your destination (try the local high school parking area by the tennis courts).
- Go to Shenandoah University and just drive around. Impressive.
- Drive some country roads to look for orchards in bloom (try the Marker-Miller Orchard on Cedar Creek Grade or the Winchester Cider Works on Rt. 522/N. Frederick Pike).
Winchester is only 75 miles west of D.C. and an easy day trip from all “around the Panhandle.” The 2018 Festival runs Friday, April 27 through Sunday, May 6. Check out the website: www.thebloom.com. Event details are given as is Festival news, celebrities, photos, and videos. This site also lists contests, maps, and an overview of what’s new in the souvenir shop. Rick Ours, Co-Chair of Publicity, asks you to “Follow us on Facebook. We will be constantly adding news and stories that show the inner workings of the Festival. And if you like us, please share.”
Welcome Home to the 91st Bloom.