After 35 years of sponsoring Greenfield’s summer festival, currently known as the Greene Countrie Towne Festival, the Rotary Club of Greenfield has decided to step down from the role of festival sponsor.
It appears a new organization is being formed that wants to carry on the traditions of the festival with some new energy and ideas, and likely some changes.
“We have talked about this for a while,” said current Greenfield Rotary President Wes Surritt, “and we feel that this is the right time for us to step away from sponsoring the Greene Countrie Towne Festival. Initially, we wanted to provide enough notice so that if another group wanted to sponsor the festival they would have time to make plans, secure funding, book attractions and so on.”
The good news is that a new organization is being formed for the purpose of sponsoring a new festival in Greenfield.
“From what we have been told, there will be a festival but it may have a different name, date and some format changes,” Surritt said. “The committee is still in the process of getting organized, and so we will leave it to that group to make a more detailed announcement when they are ready.”
Greenfield Rotary wishes much success to the new festival sponsors. “It’s time for new blood and new ideas,” the Rotary president said. “Running a festival isn’t easy. It takes lots of planning, commitment and dedication to the community. We wish them all the success in the world and will do what we can to help.”
Rotary was not the original sponsor of the festival, which dates back to 1967. It began with a classic car show, and by the early 1970s a group of community leaders created an organization to run the Greene Countrie Towne Festival each July. The festival enjoyed great success in the 1970s and ‘80s until bad weather in 1986 caused financial losses and the organization folded, cancelling the 1987 festival.
In 1987, the Greenfield Rotary Club decided to put on a smaller scale event simply called the Greenfield Community Festival. “We had a community meeting and there was support for having some kind of festival to bring people together in downtown Greenfield,” said Ron Coffey, who was president of the Rotary club at the time. We put on a one-day festival with volunteers providing the entertainment, and offering booth spaces to vendors at very low cost. It went pretty well, and at the end of the evening our local Rotarians folded up the chairs and swept up the trash. It was cool to see doctors, lawyers, a judge, plant managers and other community leaders rolling up their sleeves to clean up the festival debris and just wanting to do something for the good of the community.”
Over the years of Rotary sponsorship, the festival grew back into a three-day event and went through several name changes, including the Wheels of Progress Festival, and since 2011, the Greene Countrie Towne Festival using the old English spelling favored by Greenfield’s founder, Gen. Duncan McArthur, who described the village as “a Greene Countrie Towne.”
“We have had a lot of fun through the years providing an event where people could gather to enjoy some free, live entertainment and meet their friends and neighbors,” Coffey said. “But when we first started sponsoring the festival in 1987 I was 38 years old. As I’m now in my seventies, I have found it more physically taxing to spend three days in the summer heat.”
Surritt echoed Coffey’s sentiments: “We have some excellent members in their 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s, but most of us just can’t do everything we did 35 years ago. Even the things we still can do come with a higher price tag. As for the membership, some local Rotarians have retired and relocated and others have passed away. Frankly, service organizations are having a difficult time maintaining their desired membership levels. In the 1980s, I think we had at least 50 active members. Now we are down to about 30 members, and on any given Thursday our attendance at meetings ranges from about seven to 14 members.”
The COVID-19 pandemic also had an effect on the festival. “We had to cancel the whole festival in 2020 due to COVID-19, and there was some concern about variants in 2021 so we kept everything pretty basic,” Surritt said.
For Greenfield Rotary’s centennial year in 2022, the festival entertainment was amped up with an Eagles tribute band on Friday night and a Garth Brooks tribute band on Saturday. The crowds were nice and thankfully, the weather was not an issue.
“Giving up sponsorship of the festival does not mean the end of Rotary in Greenfield,” Surritt said. “Throughout our 100-year history the club has been involved in the life of the community. At various times the club has helped recruit doctors to Greenfield, taken on ownership of the Ralph W. Phillips Civic and Recreation Center (the former Greenfield armory), and raised money for numerous good causes. Together with the Hillsboro Rotary Club, Rotarians help support the Highland County Society for Children and Adults.”
As long as Rotary exists in Greenfield, good works will continue, Surritt said. “We are a service organization and will continue to support good causes and projects that benefit our community.”
The local Rotary club intends to do some strategic planning and focus on how best to serve the community during these changing times. “We need to examine who we are and what we are about, and try to connect with others who feel the same way about helping our community. We will even be looking at possible changes in our meeting dates and times,” Surritt indicated.
The club currently meets at 11:30 a.m. each Thursday (except holidays) at the Catch 22 Sports Pub, 250 Jefferson St. in Greenfield. For more information, visit www.greenfieldrotary.org.
This story was provided by Ron Coffey, Greenfield Rotary Club.