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Woodleaf Tomato Festival brings out veterans, family, friends

By Shavonne Walker
shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com

WOODLEAF — James Deal knows how to eat a tomato sandwich — just put it between your hands and dive in. At least that’s how he did Saturday at the 12th annual Woodleaf Tomato Festival.

The 95-year-old World War II veteran hasn’t missed many opportunities to eat a tomato sandwich complete with lots of Duke’s mayonnaise, salt and pepper. He attended with his daughter, Melissa Waller, and sister, Paula Hill. Deal, who two years ago with late brother, Lee, were grand marshals in the parade.

He said the event is an opportunity for him to see some old friends. He just returned from a New Orleans trip to the National WWII Museum. Deal served in General Patton’s third Army as a gunner. He was drafted at age 18 and now Deal, who is proud of his 95 and a half years, travels the short distance to the festival from his home just down the road.

Waller said what she likes best about the festival is that it’s “like a homecoming…like a reunion.”

Madalynne Sides, 9, has been attending the festival since before she could remember. Her mother let her know it’s been seven years since the fourth-grader had been attending. She enjoys the music, seeing her friends and getting ice cream, she said.

Before leaving she hoped to buy some jewelry from one of the vendors.

Theresa Athey, who has been attending the festival since it began has always had a booth to sell her canning, crafts and cakes. She made a few cakes that were quickly sold.

Athey cans all summer and uses the three weeks prior to the festival to get ready. She began canning at the age of 18 and uses many of her grandmother Carrie Pinkston’s recipes. Her husband and grandchildren create wooden birdhouses and Athey helps paint them.

Jennie Hemrick was pastor of Unity Presbyterian Church when the idea for the Tomato Festival was born. Hemrick recalled a declaration she made about the town being known for great tomatoes that they should have a festival to pay homage to the fruit.

“I made the statement during a meeting that as many tomatoes as are grown here why don’t y’all honor the tomato,” Hemrick said.

Even though she’s gone on to pastor other churches, she said attending is a time of “renewing friendships and honoring how God has blessed this community.”

Hemrick attended with her church members and family, including granddaughter Scarlett, 2.

Now proceeds from the festival benefit the church and missions.

Co-organizer Patti Safrit said this year they placed more emphasis on honoring military personnel.

“The festival represents everything that Woodleaf is about — old friends sharing a Cheerwine with their friends. It’s just the way it’s supposed to be in the world,” Safrit said.

Festival contest winners:

• Little Miss Mater — Lane Card

• Little Mater Sprout — Harper Durham

• Little Tommy Toe — Rylan Laine

• Tomato Eating Contest — Amy Brown, Junior Division & Franklin Bell, Senior Division

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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