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Clara Hayes Recalls Her Past Memories of the Watermelon Festival

From its first inception, the Watermelon Festival steering committee, which came from members of the Pageland Chamber of Commerce, recognized the importance of getting all committee members involved. A committee of twelve made up the Steering Committee. Each of the twelve were designated a certain responsibility.

My first involvement came with helping publish the annual program book, since I was employed at the Pageland Journal where the program book was printed. Photos of contestants and honor queens had to be obtained, plus advertisements had to be sold. This was the main fundraiser for the festival. Other fundraisers prior to the festival were events such as Hee Haw with local people participating. They portrayed singers like Elvis Pressley by Paul Price, Loretta Lynn by Jean Outen and many others. The one’s participating enjoyed the show as much as those attending for the enjoyment. Enthusiasm is the element of success and that was one thing each one had.

We did a womanless wedding, which was a big success. I wrote scripts for other shows. “The Honeycomb Inn” name came from a run-down building in Lake View, SC, that was once a night spot that Boyd and I passed on the way to visit his family. “Pots and Pans” was the name of another show. All shows were held at the Pageland High auditorium.

Each year we sponsored the Little Miss and Master pageant and the Miss Pageland pageant. Occasionally we sponsored the Mrs. Pageland Pageant.

We participated in the “Old Fashion Days” where merchants and employees dressed in old fashion day costumes. This was not a fundraiser but only to promote businesses in Pageland.

It would be impossible to write this without giving some attention to the accomplishments. One main accomplishment was entering Miss Pageland in the Miss South Carolina Beauty Pageant, which was held in Greenville, SC. Girls entering had to be Jaycee sponsored. We helped organize the Pageland Jaycees. I had the honor of accompanying Sandy Jowers, now Mrs. Mark Morrow, to Greenville. She made our town proud.

The festival was a two day celebration, which began on Friday with the Steering committee members traveling to the Charlotte Airport for a press conference with T.V. coverage and greeting Miss America. The Pageland High Band was also included. Other festivities on Friday were the Swimsuit Competition held at the American Legion building on the outside stage.

A Square Dance was held at the Pageland Watermelon Market featuring Tommy Faile of WBTV. Jean Outen and I attended many press conferences at the TV stations in Charlotte. That is how we became acquainted with Tommy Faile, Jimmy Kilgo and Russ Debuc.

A Melon Ball was held at the Pageland High Gym. This was a formal affair honoring Queens and special guest.

Saturday began with an early morning parade with floats, convertibles and Shriners. Queens were assigned which float to ride. Horseback riding was not allowed, due to insurance purposes.
Saturday at noon, an elegant Queen’s Luncheon was held at the First Baptist Church Fellowship Hall. This gave the judges an opportunity to observe the contestants, mingle with the local people and chat with Miss America.

Saturday night a Square Dance was held again at the Watermelon Market on Highway #9. I believe moving the Watermelon Market from downtown to the new location on Highway #9 hurt the festival.

Saturday night featured Evening Gown competitions and the crowning of the Pageland Watermelon Queen – which was the highlight. Miss Pageland did not compete. She was always the Hostess Queen.

In 1970, we obtained the right to crown the winner Miss South Carolina World. She was privileged to travel to Lake Tahoe, Nevada to compete in the Miss World Pageant.

I would like to pay tribute to one that was truly dedicated, Jean Outen would top my list. She was there any time, any day. Back in those days we had to raise funds to support all aspects and functions. No financial support was given. Outside vendors were not allowed. They said this took revenue out of Pageland.

Travel and decorations came from our own pocket or we had to create them. We used greenery and flowers from the woods. One wonders how the festival lasted as long as it did. How inspiring and thrilling it was when each year ended debt free.

The year 1973 marked the end and all serving felt that perhaps at some future time, with a younger generation, the Watermelon Festival would begin again.

Though the time for me to serve has ended, fond memories remain. To each committee member, contestant and each winner, I say thank you because without you and the watermelon growers, there would never have been a Watermelon Festival.

Clara Hayes