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As we all celebrated Thanksgiving with our friends and family, I had to take a moment to submit this letter. I am thankful for the Wilson community, and surrounding region, for attending the 14th N.C. Whirligig Festival. We are grateful for everyone being flexible with the new layout and inviting friends and family to join the fun in the new whirligig park.
The bigger layout brought more attendees, more vendors, more activities and more community partners. Incorporating the park into the festival was definitely the right move and creating “the loop” has brought many, many rave reviews. The top response we’ve heard is that the new layout helped attendees see everything and really enjoy the whole festival.
At the top of my thankful list is sincere gratitude to the dedicated volunteer festival planning committee. This committee cares about the people of Wilson and their dedication showed. We made many jokes during this year’s planning that the festival certainly felt “14” years old. Like a typical teenager, it had outgrown what it was before, needed more stuff and tested the patience of the “parents.” But, the volunteers held steady, worked around obstacles, added new activities, welcomed new sponsors and carried the festival to the next level.
I believe it is imperative to personally take a moment to thank them for balancing the festival planning with the responsibility of family, full-time jobs and more. We had about 20 dedicated volunteers on the team this year. While I am guessing there may be newspaper policy against including the names of these incredible people, I am going to do it anyway and hope all the names are printed.
I must say how thankful we are all to Judi Thurston, Sheryletta Lacewell, Kendra Howell, Michael McHarg, Angie Harold, Stuart Haste, Amelia Bain, Diane Chambers, Cindy Boring, Caitlin Fowler, Tia Stewart, Dave Allgood, Jeremy Munn, Dindy Perry, Stefanie Keen, Susan Kellum, Danny and Barbara Harrell, Drew Barker, Jeff Bell, Kathleen Ujlaki, Paula Furiness, Rebecca Agner, Blake Holloman, Jim Campbell, Cathy Brown Hardison and their close friends and family who got “volun-told” to help with festival activities.
In addition, we are grateful to our community sponsors. Their generous donations and support ranging from financial sponsorships to sharing their parking lots made the festival possible. The city of Wilson, the Wilson Medical Center, Wilson Tourism, and our first presenting sponsor, PNC Bank, were the financial backbone of this year’s festival.
Their donations, along with the combined sponsorships of many community businesses, kept this festival free to all who attended. The entertainment was free. The kids’ zone was free. The music was free. The parking was free. The extreme challenges and Whirligig Warrior course were all free. These sponsorships have kept the festival true to our original mission set forth 14 years ago, to be a free festival and open to the entire community so that all children may attend and create memories with their families.
The one question I hear the most after the festival is “How many came?” I wish I could give an answer to this question. But since our festival is free, there are no tickets to count so it’s impossible to know for sure. I’ve heard estimates ranging from 40,000 to 75,000. I would guess the truth is somewhere in the middle.
While it would be nice to know, I wonder if the head count is really important. The festival planning committee does not measure success by attendance numbers, beautiful weather or even by vendor sales, but rather by the smiles on the children’s faces, by the joy of watching families and neighbors spend time together, by seeing visitors to Wilson from across the state and across the state lines and by seeing the diversity in those celebrating what is unique to Wilson — Vollis Simpson whirligigs!
We want to express our appreciation for everyone who participated, planned, attended and supported the festival and we look forward to seeing you back in 2019 to give the 15th N.C. Whirligig Festival a whirl!
The writer is director of the 2018 N.C. Whirligig Festival.