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KATIE PEARSON | INDEX-JOURNAL

The butterfly has landed in front of Caffe 312, next to the seahorse in uptown Greenwood. These topiaries are on display for the upcoming Festival of Flowers.


In many ways, the golden anniversary of Greenwood's Festival of Flowers is a return to its roots.

Yes, organizers have introduced a new commemorative logo and will unveil a special 50th anniversary topiary.

But they're also bringing back beloved events like the Lake Greenwood flotilla and beach party, and have named four-time festival chairman Ruple Harley Jr. to head the event next June.

"The festival is in my heart," Harley said. "I'm excited about bringing old things back and I think it's going to be one of the best, and it's not because of me, it's because of the volunteers and the excitement."

With nearly a year of marketing opportunities ahead of it, festival organizers have rolled out an aggressive public relations campaign starting next month with a completely redesigned website.

Also new to the 50th will be a special exhibit at the Greenwood Museum showcasing memorabilia from previous events, said Greenwood Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Angelle LaBorde.

On Monday, the City Council agreed to give the Festival of Flowers $23,463 in accommodations tax dollars to help its efforts -- recognizing it as a powerful economic driver.

This past summer, the Festival of Flowers and Festival of Discovery combined to pour more than $5.5 million into the local economy.

The Festival of Flowers generated $3.3 million and drew 85,031 people.

"We tend to attract different people throughout the month based on the events that we offer," LaBorde said. The Roswell, Georgia-based Southeast Tourism Society named the Festival of Flowers as one of its Top 20 events of 2016.

"You know what my wife calls me? 'Mr. Festival,'" Harley said. "I was about 25 years old when it started, and I was active in the community, and I grew up with the festival, and I think that's one of the reasons I care so much about it."

In his inaugural year as festival chairman in 1974, Harley helped get author James Dickey, writer of "Deliverance," to speak at Greenwood High School.

Ellesor Holder, who served as the executive director of the Festival of Flowers for four years, said the homegrown flavor and strong base of volunteers has allowed it evolve into a regional draw over the last half century.

"I'd say its people's love of it. When you have a town like Greenwood that has history and has families that have been here forever or have come back, it's what makes us unique," she said. "I think no matter where you come from or how you look at it, a lot of people just get behind this."

LaBorde said sponsorships and long-standing partnerships have provided it stability.

"Over the years, we've been inspired by businesses that have gotten plugged in or volunteered to help out," she said. "And as they volunteer, they offer to lead in the future."

 

Contact reporter Adam Benson at 864-943-5650 or on Twitter @ABensonIJ.