It's official - the dates of the Lehigh Spring Festival will be held this year from March 14 through March 22 with events held at Veterans Park. A different date may have been publicized over the past few weeks, but Judy Carter, who is handling publicity and also the pageants, as she has for several years, said the date is set in stone.
"It's our 40th birthday and we are going to have a ball," Carter said.
Right off the bat, Carter laughed and said the festival was going to hold a Best Beard contest for the male residents of Lehigh.
The first officers of the Lehigh Spring Festival’s board of directors. They are from left to right, top row, Wally Nelson, Myra Kessler, Dottie Hime, Betty Anderson, Bob Oltman, and John Durkos. Front row, Charlie Matheny, Don Frankle, Ruth Anglickis, and Mary Archer.
"We're doing a lot of new things and this is going to be fun. We will be giving out prizes for the longest, the fullest and the best overall," she said.
"By starting their beards this early in January, they will have several weeks and in that time a lot of men can grow a good beard," she laughed.
This is Carter's first year on the board of directors although she has been one of the active members of the festival for years.
This year's event is being called "Lehigh Southern Fried Festival, Festive at 40," Carter said and just how the name came about, she says she is not sure, but the committee sat around and came up with the name.
"It denotes the theme of our festival, southern all the way with music and events; it's something we think will jazz up the festival," she said.
The Lehigh Spring Festival began in 1974 and an old photograph of the first board of directors was discovered showing those who were responsible for putting it on. Charlie Matheny, who passed away several years ago now, is shown in the photo. He was the first and only chairman of the board until his death, he used to say when he was alive.
Carter said the board is excited about this year's events. While many of the events that have been so successful over the years will be held again, there are more on the way and that makes the festival a "real must-attend" for Lehigh. Thousands attend the week-long event, including the gala parade down Homestead Rd. on the last Saturday morning of the festival.
The Lehigh Spring Festival is one of the largest such events in all of Lee County, second maybe only to the Edison Festival of Lights in Fort Myers. The Lehigh festival attracts visitors from all of Southwest Florida.
"One of the newest things that have us very excited this year is 'Lehigh's Got Talent.' Vicki Culver, another very active person who has served on the festival for years, will host this new lively event.
"It's like on TV, for those with any and all types of talent. In the past, we have been asked why when we have our Lehigh Idol Contest, that we can't have more than one performer at a time," Carter said.
"Now, anyone in Lehigh with any type of talent and with any number of participants, may take part in it. It will be held three nights, just like the Idol Contest and at the end, winners will be announced and they will perform again."
Also new to this year's festival will be a one-day Craft Show.
"People are going to love this because we have so many people in Lehigh who can make things, all types of crafts and items at home.
"The people can bring in their craft items to Veterans Park and sell them. It's set for the first Saturday, I believe," she said.
"These events and other new ones are featured on our website at Lehighspringfestival.com. On that website, will be a list of our activities and there will also be forms to fill out to get into some of the contests," Carter said.
Also new this year is a Car Show, a one-day event with Andy Reisinger in charge of that. He's also the chairman of our board and he also plans the parade down Homestead Rd. each year.
Carter said there will different classes to be announced later on the website.
"We really stress people going online to see the dates that many forms and applications have to be sent in to qualify for an event," Carter said. "That's why we are announcing the start or our festival already," she said.
Members of the board are all volunteers and all are very dedicated. They include:
Andy Reisinger, president; Vicki Culver, vice president and treasurer; Sandi Wheeler, secretary; Debbie Jackson, entertainment; Cheryl Dutka, contests; William Hoppe, (known only to all as "Hoppe." He handles the setup of everything at the festival; and Judy Carter, publicity and also the one who handles the Idol pageant contests.
Vicki Culver and Judy Carter will be the emcees at the parade, describing each entry as it travels by in front of the Union Trust Bank. It's also the site where the judges take notes and compare them to announce winners at the park where trophies are handed out.
"Oh and we don't want to forget to let everyone know that we are having our famous chili contest. We hope people will dig into their recipe boxes and into their memories to come up with the Best Chili in Lehigh. Winners will get awards as will others who win contests in a Barbeque competition and a cook-off.
"There will also be the vegetables competition as before and it will be held in a tent at the park," Carter said. Horse shoe tournaments will be headed by Ed Holscher in our big birthday party.
"We'll have bluegrass, rockabilly and southern rock music throughout the festival, music that is favorites to many throughout Lee County with many performers in Lehigh," she said.
Judy is the widow of the late Danny Stephenson, who died suddenly. He was known as the "Voice of the Festival," and acted as emcee at most of the events on the outside stage and also at the judges' stand.
To be picked yet will be a parade marshal and maybe a pioneer family of Lehigh.
Parking is free as usual but donations are requested and appreciated, she said. This year, members of the Lehigh Senior High School Band, known as the Lehigh Lightning, will direct parking for visitors. A portion of the donations are given to the band to help support it through the purchase of uniforms and instruments.