The Grand Tradition: Blossomtime Festival marches into 108th year
Published 9:45 am Thursday, April 24, 2014
ST. JOSEPH—The pageantry started last fall, and the excitement built over the winter months as each of 22 southwestern Michigan communities crowned its own queen and court members.
Now, with the buds forming in the orchards of southwestern Michigan, the time has come for all of those communities to join together to celebrate the long-awaited coming of spring.
“The Blossomtime Festival is the largest multi-community festival in Michigan, and it is the second-oldest festival in Michigan,” said Sabrina LaSota, who has served as the executive director of the festival since 2008.
This year will mark the festival’s 108th celebration, and organizers will be honoring its many traditions over the course of the coming week, beginning with the Blessing of the Blossoms on April 27 and culminating with the Grand Floral Parade on May 3.
“The annual Blessing of the Blossoms will take place at the Michigan State University Research and Extension Center,” LaSota said. “It’s a non-denominational service for the 22 participating communities. All of the queens will bring sprigs from different trees—peach, cherry, and so forth, and those are blessed, and then the queens will then exchange them with each other.”
That event is scheduled for 2 p.m., and the address of the MSU extension is 1737 Hillandale Rd., Benton Harbor. It is an event that dates back to 1906 when Rev. W. J. Cady first conducted a ceremony recognizing the importance of agriculture to this region. Once again, the free event will be sponsored by H. Paul Florin.
In fact, as a long-time supporter of the festival, Florin will be honored this year as one of the 2013 Volunteers of the Year and as an Honorary Grand Marshal of the parade. He will be joined in those capacities by Gertie Johnson, another tireless supporter of the festival. Heroic firefighter Doug Bell and well-loved, local physician Dr. Robert Tichnor will also be honored at the Grand Floral Parade, as will Grand Marshal Larry Michal.
Directly after the Blessing, spectators are invited to attend an old-time baseball game at Eastman Field in Benton Harbor. The House of David “Echoes” will play the Blossomtime “Royals,” a team made up of this year’s pageant winners.
On Monday, April 28, organizers will stage the annual “Shoebox Float Parade.” Children will be displaying shoeboxes that they have decorated in accordance with this year’s theme, “Blossomtime Gets Animated.” The parade will begin at 4:30 p.m. at the corner of Broad and Main Streets in St. Joseph, and award-winners will be announced at a reception at the Whitcomb immediately following the parade.
That evening, the Dinner with the Queens will be held at D.A.N.K. in Benton Harbor. Tickets to the event are $15 per person, which includes a dinner of spaghetti, salad, garlic bread, dessert and a non-alcoholic beverage. Dancing, karaoke and a “Big Hair Contest” will round out the evening’s entertainment, which begins at 6:30 p.m.
Tuesday evening will witness the annual Mayors Banquet, where the accomplishments of the community kings and queens will be celebrated, and they will each receive the keys to their respective cities from their mayors.
The public festivities will resume on Thursday at 5 p.m. with the annual Youth Parade, which will be held at the St. Joseph High School stadium. Only children will participate in this parade, which will include floats, bands, scout troops, 4H units, cheerleading teams, pets, costumed individuals, costumed groups, and decorated wagons and bikes.
Finally, on Saturday May 3, the Grand Floral Parade will take place at 1 p.m., but not before the Run/Walk for the Buds, which is scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m.
“We have a 5K run and walk on the morning of the parade,” LaSota explained. “It starts at the post office in St. Joseph, goes over the bridge into Benton Harbor, and comes back to St. Joseph. It’s a 35-year-old tradition.”
Participants in the 5K enjoy the event because many parade-goers will have already staked claim to their spots along the route.
“It’s nice because the runners have the encouragement of the parade-goers,” LaSota said. “It’s a nice event.”
A portion of the $25 participation fee will be used to provide T-shirts to participants. The balance will go into the Blossomtime scholarship fund, as well as helping with the festival’s operating expenses.
“We’re a not-for-profit, so the events help to support us,” LaSota explained.
Perhaps the most anticipated event of the festival is the Grand Floral Parade.
“This year, we have 127 units in the parade, and many of the big favorites will be coming back,” LaSota said. “This will be the 51st year that the Indianapolis Motorcycle Drill Team will be participating. We’ll also have some black-and-white Clydesdale horses from Tennessee. There will be a 14-foot-tall tricycle and a stilt-walker who has walked across Michigan.”
With only four paid employees, volunteers perform the vast majority of the work that goes into making all of Blossomtime’s annual events successful.
“My favorite part of the festival is the volunteers and the communities coming together,” LaSota said. “We love to have new volunteers, so you can call the Blossomtime office if you want to volunteer. You can call, or email, or just stop by.”
More information about all of the events can be obtained by calling the office at (269) 982-8016 or by visiting www.blossomtimefestival.org.