Records are made to be broken, and a few were broken at the 11th Annual Gardendale Magnolia Festival.
According to Festival Coordinator Kathleen Phillips, there were 200 vendor booths that offered a variety of goods and services. Phillips believes a record amount of money was raised, but accountants are still counting the haul.
“We say it every year, but it was truly the biggest and best ever,” said Phillips, who is already working on the next year’s edition. “The carnival was a huge hit.”
Festival leaders estimated that about 25,000 people visited over the weekend. That not only meant good business for vendors, but other local businesses as well.
Rated as a top-10 event for May by the Alabama Tourism Department, new additions included a Food Vendor Menu Contest in honor of the Alabama Department of Tourism’s Year of Food. Big Daddy’s Bar-B-Q and Catering of Warrior won the People’s Choice for its barbecue ribs. The Judges’ Choice was taken by Tropical Adventure for its loaded ribbon fries.
In the adult division of the Cookie Eating Contest, Aliant Bank manager Sharon Burton took home the honors. Phillips said Burton’s trophy cup had a lid and was stuffed with the best cookies.
The festival kicked off at 5 p.m. on Friday and ended with a fireworks show at night. Saturday was a big day as thousands of visitors came between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.
“Friday night was a pleasant surprise,” said Phillips. “The crowd just began to get there about 7:30 p.m. and it ended at 9, so we may extend it to 10 next year. The large crowd Saturday was spread out at the carnival at the church parking lot, and the rest was at the civic center so it wasn’t shoulder-to-shoulder. But it was definitely a record crowd.”
Money raised will benefit some local high school seniors with college scholarship money. The process to determine scholarship winners is ongoing, but the winners will be released within a week, Phillips said. The two local charities to benefit are Cornerstone Ranch and Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama.
“We were so excited to be able to add the charities,” said Phillips. “We wanted to share the blessings.”
Phillips said next year GMF officials will select two different charities as donor recipients, but no decision has been made.
In Elementary School Volunteer Program, second-grader Prestlie Sweat of Snow Rodgers Elementary School won the first place trophy.
The LEGOS and Lowe’s building stations stayed covered up all day. “When you put this many activities together for families and children, it can’t be anything but a success. I heard there were smiles all weekend,” added Phillips.
It wasn’t a surprise to Phillips, but she was very pleased with the cooperation among the hundreds of people who worked together to make the annual fund-raiser a success. There were so many city employees, department heads, church groups, elementary school students, event chairmen that worked hard to ensure a smooth operation.
“It wasn’t a surprise, but it was one of the most pleasant things was the way our team worked together,” said Phillips. “We had some coordinators do it a second time and they knew from experience how to do it and do it well. We had so many volunteers that we had to find them things to do. It was great to bring everybody together and everybody was pleasant.”
Now the festival leaders will compare their notes and suggestions from vendors on what worked well and what didn’t in order to make adjustments for next year’s edition. No dates have been set, but there are target dates being studied.
One reason for the large crowd was it did not compete with the A-Day spring football games at Alabama and Auburn.
”This is my seventh year (as coordinator),” said Phillips. “We pay attention to the vendors’ critique sheets, we really do listen to them. It is their festival and we want to make it good for them.”