Photographer: Jayme Goetz
The Blueberry Festival, a summer staple of Marshall County, is quickly approaching, running from Friday, August 30, to Monday, September 2. The annual Labor Day weekend celebration is heading into its 53rd year. Festival Coordinator Sherrie Martin has been involved with the festival since its premiere.
It all started with a party in a local park to honor the sesquicentennial, or 150th anniversary, of Indiana becoming a state. Locals gathered for a softball tournament and picnic on Labor Day weekend and enjoyed it so much that they decided to have a yearly festival.
“Out of that first party, the county had such a good time with it that they decided they should try and do something every year,” Martin says. “So, in 1966 the festival was organized, and the first one was held in 1967.”
Being named after the blueberry was a tribute to Marshall County.
“They chose the blueberry because, at that time, Marshall County produced one-third of Indiana’s blueberries,” Martin says. “We had seven blueberry marshes, or patches, in Marshall County.”
Over the years, the festival has grown to enormous size, drawing between 450,000 and 500,000 visitors annually. It is simple to see why so many people love the event — with changing vendors, people are in for a new experience every year that they visit. There are, of course, some staples: blueberry donuts are a must-have. Made by a group of local churches, the donuts are a quintessential part of the Blueberry Festival experience.
“They make somewhere near 5,000 dozen or 60,000 donuts,” Martin says. “This is the only festival they make the donuts for. They only do the Blueberry Festival. The line can be anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes to two or two and a half hours, that people wait in line for these donuts.”
There are some other traditions that draw in visitors. Each year, the festival crowns a Blueberry Queen, as well as a Little Miss and Mr. Blueberry. This year’s queen, Abigail Powell, will help with promoting the festival.
The multiple stages at the festival also help to attract crowds. With all kinds of different acts, including musical headliner The Magic Bus on Saturday night, crowds are sure to find something to enjoy.
“Our Jefferson Stage has a lot of hometown people, and our Michigan Stage has more people from out of town,” Martin says.
Guests can be treated to the musical stylings like “A Journey to Woodstock,” by The Magic Bus, in addition to Dave and Daphne, musical guests from Nashville, Tennessee. More musical artists can be found on the festival’s website at blueberryfestival.org.
The festival’s theme this year is “Indiana’s Largest Meet and Greet.” A fitting title, seeing as how many people visit the festival each year. You are practically certain to “meet” someone new or to “greet” someone you already know.
“People do come back to meet family, friends and to greet new people,” Martin says. “There have been a lot of friendships made just over the festival. There’s somebody not here from Marshall County, so relationships and friendships have been made that way, too. There are a lot of graduating classes from the area high schools that will have their reunion that weekend also, so they can see the Blueberry Festival.”
While the benefit of their visitors is most important, the economic profit of the local organizations and businesses is a huge bonus to the festival. While local restaurants, hotels and shops get an influx of customers, the area non-profits really benefit from the festival, too.
“We have more than 111 non-profit organizations that make money off of this festival,” Martin says. “If this festival were not here, those organizations would have a much harder time making that money that they use all year long. For some of them, it’s their whole budget for the year, so this festival is very important to the economy and these organizations.”
There are a lot of moving parts to make a festival this large successful, and the credit for making those parts move smoothly belongs to the board and to the multitude of volunteers. Led by President Jason Jones and Vice President Travis Thompson, the Board of Directors works consistently to make the festival a success. The day after the festival is over, they have already begun their work on the next one. Sometimes, they even begin planning before the current festival is over; suggestions from visitors often make their way into board meetings that occur during the festival.
“This could not be held without volunteers,” Martin adds. “We have volunteers from every city in here helping, like the Bremen Kiwanis come in and help park cars. The EMTs and ambulance services from around, from different towns. Our security, our Merit Police Officers, who are from the surrounding areas, are here with us 24/7 during the festival.”
If you are interested in attending this year’s Marshall County Blueberry Festival, you can visit them in Centennial Park in Plymouth from August 30 to September 2, 2019. They are open from 5 to 9 pm on Friday, 9 am to 9 pm on Saturday and Sunday, and 9 am to 6 pm on Monday. Parking can be found at Plymouth High School for $8. This includes a ticket for the tram, which will take you from the school into the heart of the festival. For more information, visit blueberryfestival.org.