Annual patriotic festivities drape Eustis in red, white & blue revelry
With age, the bouquet of a fine wine can blossom and the robust flavor of a delicate cheese can develop, but who knew a maturing celebration with more than 100 years on the history books could only get better with time?
For the City of Eustis, Fla., the name of Sharron Semento would be a good guess. As Lake Eustis Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, Semento has helped organize the annual GeorgeFest celebration nearly a dozen times.
Courtesy of Photography by Dale Ramey
On Feb. 27, 28 and March 1, the City will show its patriotic spirit with the 109th Annual GeorgeFest, which is the longest-standing celebration of George Washington’s birthday in the state.
“Some people wanted to stop it after 100 years, and you just can’t stop something after everybody has been to it as a child,” she said. “People have grown up with this and we need to keep it going.”
GeorgeFest is a unique community festival as it spans three days. Friday night kicks off with the opening of the carnival and a $15,000 firework display on the edge of Lake Eustis. While the fireworks gets its share of “oohs” and “aahs,” the Saturday morning parade along Bay Street is the show-stealer.
“The parade is always patriotic,” Semento said. “We definitely try hard to make it special.”
Past parades have been highlighted by the U.S. Navy Band and families who were affected by the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Historians say more than a century ago GeorgeFest began as a simple boat parade that blossomed into a street parade and then into a full-blown festival. Through the years, the one constant has been the predominant theme of GeorgeFest is patriotism.
“The festival helps families celebrate our country and its presidents,” Semento said. “Some years we have people who come out dressed as Abe Lincoln and other presidents. That’s fine because we like to keep the patriotic theme to it and pay homage to our country.”
Semento isn’t sure how the festival began honoring Washington, but she suspects, “I think back then people celebrated their presidents.
“The patriotism displayed after the Sept. 11 attacks was unbelievable,” she said. “I think it was one of our most special events. With our country changing with new people in office, hopefully the patriotism will keep growing this year too.”
While the festival’s patriotic flair reigns supreme, fun activities and entertainment play a role too. The 2009 GeorgeFest includes nearly two dozen food vendors, business exhibitors and a row of artisans peddling their arts and crafts. Sunday activities are especially geared toward families with children-oriented entertainment.
The annual GeorgeFest is funded entirely through sponsorships, while the City of Eustis provides in-kind services, such as police patrols. For more information about sponsorship opportunities, call the Lake Eustis Area Chamber of Commerce, call (352) 357-3434.