Chester Rotary seeks ‘competent organization’ to take over Fall Festival

Jeffrey Gale demonstrates traditional basketmaking during the 2012 Fall Festival. Telegraph file photo.

By Cynthia Prairie
©2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Chester Rotary is hoping that a “competent organization” will soon step forward to take over the annual Chester Fall Festival “for the sake of the community and the town,” said Rotary President Ian Montgomery on Tuesday morning.

The festival, which was in its 45th year with the latest festival in 2019, is held on the Chester Green in September and features more than 60 arts, crafts and food vendors and thousands of visitors from the Northeast. For at least the past 12 years, it has also been a fund-raiser for Rotary scholarships, raising about $3,000 annually. It also attracts a slue slew of other vendors on property surrounding the Green, including high school and elementary classes, the Chester Fire Department, the Whiting Library and community organizations that use it to raise funds and awareness.

The 2020 Fall Festival was canceled due to Covid-19.

“Fall Festival planning,” said Montgomery,  “requires starting now — if not yesterday — to get it together.”

Montgomery said the Rotary board made the decision on Monday night, after “agonizing over it long beforehand.” He added, “We … had to make a decision: We have to inform vendors.”

Montgomery said a number of factors went into the decision. First, the Rotary has only 16 members, four of whom are educators who have been “working flat out,” and others who are older. Also, he said,  “We can’t have the meetings. And Zoom doesn’t make up for that,” referring to the online platform for holding distanced gatherings. Montgomery then recalled that two members left Rotary — “the Two Nancys” — Nancy Davis and Nancy Rugg — who had managed the festival for several years. For the 2019 festival, Rotary member Lyza Gardner took over and “she worked hundreds of hours,” he said.

“I regret we are unable to run something so important to Chester because we are unable to organize it in a quality way. … We deeply regret having to make this decision, but it isn’t fair to the town to not do it well.”

As for whatever organization takes over, Montgomery said, “If someone can pull something together, maybe a consortium of individuals … if the town government would like to do something with it, this is logical. … might this not need someone like an event coordinator?”

Someone is already stepping forward. On Tuesday morning, Scott MacDonald, a Rotary member who is acting in a private capacity, began asking residents through the Chester, VT Facebook page, if residents would be interested in participating to take over the festival. He said his effort is in the “trying to come up with viable ideas to make it happen stage.”

“We don’t know how this is going to take shape.” MacDonald said, “We’re just trying to put our heads together.”

Personally, he said, he hopes the next Fall Festival can be a celebration of Chester and of Southern Vermont with more of a “country fair mentality.”  He added that if the Covid-19 pandemic continues to mean gatherings are banned, “at least there will be a mechanism in place to have it in 2022.”

Montgomery said, “It does put Chester on the map!”

If you would like more information about running the Fall Festival, you can contact Montgomery at frianm@yahoo.com.

If you are interested in joining MacDonald’s efforts, contact him at scott@customguitars.com or through the Chester, VT Facebook page.

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 30 years. She has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. Linda Diak says:

    Thank you to the Rotary, and especially the Nancys, for an excellent event each year. The quality of vendors they brought in each year, the range of offerings, the excellent music, and the involvement of the high school classes and community organizations made it an event for the town and a destination event as well. No small feat. I hope that it can continue in the same vein.

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