By JOYANNA LOVE/ Peach Living editor
The Peach Festival and Peach Pageant, organized by the Clanton Lions Club, will mark 70 years since inception at this year’s peach festival.
“What this is all about, is promoting peaches,” peach auction chairman Glenn McGriff said. “80 percent of the peaches that are grown in the state come out of this county.”
At one time, the organizing committee received funding from the state for the festival, and the governor was among the attendees.
“It is very common for people in other states to plan their vacation around coming through Chilton County and getting peaches,” Tommy Patterson, this year’s peach committee chairman, said.
The event is traditionally held the fourth weekend in June, but was held in July once. This year the festival will be June 23 -24 with the Peach Pageants held the week before.
In 1947, the Clanton Jaycees began the festival and pageant. During the first year of the event, a girl’s father had to be a peach farmer in order for her to participate in the pageant.
The first event was held in Thorsby and Chick Jones was crowned Peach Queen and her King was Cecil Charlton. Charlton had been on the organizing committee and served as the Queen’s escort for the day. In 1953, Peach Queen PeggyAnn Poole chose Bill Blalock as her king. Peach Queen Martha Bell chose Russell Lewis Jr. to be her King in 1954.
This was the last year a peach King was named.
Bell holds the distinction of being the longest serving queen, since the pageant was not held for three years.
Bell’s planned trip to deliver peaches to Washington D.C was canceled after a plane crash on the final day of the festival killed three people, including two members of the Blackwood Brothers quartet. In 1955, a statewide destruction of the peach crop led to the festival being canceled. According to the 50th Anniversary program, when the festival was held in 1956 “most festivities were not schedule, replaced instead by a memorial service for members of the Blackwood Brothers quartet.”
A pageant was not held in 1951 and 1960 because a freeze destroyed the crop. It was not held in 1957 because the crop was damaged due to a lack of dormant hours.
In 1969, the pageant was expanded to include a Little Peach Queen competition.
The Jaycees continued to host the event until 1997.
McGriff, a former Jaycee now a Lions Club member, said the Jaycee chapter dissolved and he asked the Lions Club if it would be interested in taking on the Peach Festival.
“1998 was the first year that the Lions Club took it from the Jaycees,” McGriff said.
Richard and Gwen Davis were influential in making the pageant a success, according to
He said Richard Davis was a part of adding additional categories. Today, the Peach Pageant includes: Miss, Junior Miss, Young Miss and Little Miss.
“A bunch of parents came to him and said our kids have nothing to do in the summer. There wasn’t softball or cheerleader camp. There was nothing for these girls,” Patterson said.
Patterson said taking over the festival “had been debated in the club.”
“Richard Davis agree to run the pageant, if the club would take it on,” Patterson said.
McGriff said he would cover the Peach Auction.
Patterson said the club wanted to see the festival and the pageant continue because “it is a huge part of Chilton County.”
Peach Pageant today
The pageant is a scholarship opportunity with Miss Peach receiving $2,000 and the first alternate receiving a $1,000 scholarship. A portion of the money raised by the peach auction and other festival related fundraisers covers these scholarships.
The other queens and their first alternates receive cash prizes. Each pageant is held on a different night during the week preceding the festival.
“They are judged by independent out of area judges,” Patterson said.
This year each contestant will compete in casual wear, evening gown and interview categories.
Interview questions could be about the peach crop and Chilton County.
During the Peach Festival, peach farmers donate a basket of peaches for judging, the winning baskets are then auctioned off to the highest bidder. McGriff said the first prize basket went for $4,600 last year.
Peach committee member Britt Culpepper said T-shirt sales last year brought in an additional $4,000. Culpepper said caps were introduced for sale at last year’s festival also.
Culpepper said the top five farmers receive cash prizes.
Queen for a year
1959 Peach Queen Ola Faye was surprised when she was named Peach Queen.
“I had always admired the people who were chosen Peach Queen, but I lived out in the country and just didn’t know that I could do that,” Gilliam said.
She had not considered entering the contest until someone asked her to.
While her father was not a peach farmer, Gilliam had worked in a peach packing shed the year she was named Peach Queen.
Faye, who still lives in Chilton County, said the pageant was very different the year she won. Rather than the traditional judging, the queen was chosen by the community.
“There almost wasn’t a festival that year,” Gilliam said.
Various businesses had pictures of the contestant and ballot boxes for the community to vote for the next peach Queen.
“It was not the big glamorous thing that it is now or that it was many other years,” Gilliam said.
However, that did not ruin the reign for her.
“It was really, really a wonderful experience,” Gilliam said. “I was very humbled and thrilled.”
She said a store in Montgomery gave her two outfits for her travels as queen.
“It was an honor. It gave me a confidence that I could do just about anything I wanted,” Gilliam said. “It meant a lot to my family, too.”
Gilliam said she did not receive a scholarship, but she did get to travel Washington D.C. and was given some spending money.
“They put a dozen red roses in our room. We went down to eat dinner that evening and there was a band playing, and immediately when I walked into the room they broke into ‘Stars fell on Alabama,'” Gilliam said. “The next day … we were walking in the underground halls to get to the capitol and over not that far … from where we were was the vice president at the time Richard Nixon and he was talking to Nikita Khrushchev the reigning Russian at the time.”
She also visited The Smithsonian.
With the money they had left, she and her chaperone went to New York and saw “My Fair Lady” on Broadway.
A pageant was not held in 1960, so Gilliam was asked to crown the Peach Queen in 1961. She was attending Howard College at the time. She did not have a way to get to the festival until one of the out-of-town judges offered to pick her up on his way to Chilton County.
By 2014 when peach committee member Cindy Mazingo’s daughter Tayler was named Miss Peach Queen, the annual trip to Washington D.C. had been discontinued. However, the queens, wearing their crowns and sashes, were treated like celebrities everywhere they went.
“Tayler and my niece Makenzie [Ray] had always wanted to be the Peach Queen. That was a dream from 5 years old,” Mazingo said.
When Tayler Mazingo was named, it was the first year that a sponsor of the Queen was also the first-place peach basket in the peach auction.
Mazingo said the peach queens attend local open houses, the annual peach growers meeting and festivals and the Peanut festival in Dothan, and they deliver peaches to the governor.
She said the Peach Queen is also often approached for interviews at these events.
“It’s like a job, but it’s a rewarding job,” Mazingo said.
Orientation for this year’s pageant will be held May 7 at 1 p.m. at the Chilton County Senior Connection.