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Melon Fest is ‘breathing’

MURFREESBORO – Mark Twain once wrote: “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

The same may apply to the 2015 North Carolina Watermelon Festival in Murfreesboro.

Despite announcing last week that this year’s event was canceled, the executive committee of the Festival’s planning group met Sunday night and are currently reconsidering their earlier action. This comes on the heels of a grassroots campaign by numerous individuals and businesses, to include a $1,000 donation by this newspaper, to save the 2015 event.

“We still haven’t reached a final decision on what direction we will take with this year’s Watermelon Festival, but it’s looking positive,” said Kay Thomas, a member of the executive committee, on Monday morning.

“We’re working hard to make this happen, especially now after hearing from the community that they want the festival to continue,” Thomas added.

Thomas said if the committee rescinds its earlier decision and the 2015 festival is held, it will remain a four-day event (Wednesday, July 31 through Saturday, Aug. 1).

“We will make some adjustments; we’re still in discussion over that so the only thing I can say that it’s a work in progress,” Thomas stressed.

One adjustment that has been confirmed is there will be an admission charge if this year’s event is held.

“We had talked about that at one of our earlier meetings and agreed to charge $1 per person for ages 13-and-over,” she said. “However, the admission will only be charged on the Friday and Saturday of the festival. People can still get in for free on Wednesday and Thursday.”

If the 2015 does take place, it will be a complete reversal of a decision reached early last week by the Festival’s planning committee. In a press release sent exactly one week ago, the committee said the deciding factor was an economic decision, but not the sole factor.

“Over the past few years the community and society have seen changes that have negatively affected the respect and desire for the mission of the festival,” the press release stated.

When asked for further comment, Lynette Bunch, one of the founders of the North Carolina Watermelon Festival in Murfreesboro, told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald that the committee did indeed make the final decision, but she felt that conclusion was reached after the Town of Murfreesboro opted to no longer support the event.

“We made the decision to cancel, but the town played the hand,” Bunch stated. “When we were informed that the town would no longer support us financially, it knocked our socks off. It was like being punched in the stomach.”

Bunch added that up until just a few weeks ago, everything for the 2015 Festival was, “on go.” However, upon learning that the Town of Murfreesboro would no longer cover the expenses incurred by the town’s police officers who serve as security at the festival, Bunch said the planning committee did not have the funds to cover that loss.

“We planned to try and get through this year, with it being our 30th year, and then Kay (Thomas, who also serves with Bunch and her husband, Percy, as the major planners for the event) and I were considering stepping down and turning the festival over, pass the torch so to speak, to someone else and let them do with it as they wish,” she noted. “We were hoping they (the town) could find some money to help us out for this year. If they didn’t then the risk fell in our (committee) laps and if there is rainy weather again then we pick up the entire bill.”

Murfreesboro Mayor John Hinton defended the town’s decision to halt the funding, which was reported at $13,000.

“We’ve had to make some decisions that we know will prove to be unpopular,” Hinton said. “We’ve cut our budget by $500,000 and will again go without giving our town employees raises for another year, just as they’ve done without for the past two years. We cannot support a public assembly, a festival, when our employees are going without raises.”

An editorial published by this newspaper on Saturday has sparked an effort to save the Festival. In addition to the News-Herald’s financial pledge, two other individuals have come forward saying they would also contribute $1,000 each. The Jefcoat Museum Board of Directors have voted to make a contribution as well.

Meanwhile, others stated they are waiting in the wings, saying they will see what final decision is reached by the Festival’s planning committee prior to making a financial contribution.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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