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Posted May 1, 2010 | comments Leave a comment

A fair to remember: Apple Blossom is a family tradition for local volunteers

By J.R. Williams -- jrwilliams@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- For Jack and Brookie Phillips, every Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival brings back memories.

The Winchester couple has experienced quite a few: They've been volunteers in one capacity or another since 1957.

"I don't think Jack and I have really missed a whole lot since we've been here, even if we weren't involved," Mrs. Phillips said on a recent afternoon at their home. "I still don't know how I got started."

Phillips has made his mark on the Stag Luncheon, which he helped organize before serving as director for 15 years, and eventually turned his attention to organizing the Men's Commonwealth Luncheon.

Mrs. Phillips worked on queen functions, including the coronation, and put together a display of festival memorabilia. For many years, she was in charge of the tent for large festival events. The Phillips have hosted the queen and her court several times.

They are "probably the most active people who have been around the longest," said John Rosenberger, the festival's executive director, who chose to feature the couple in this year's Apple Blossom program.

Some of Phillip's Stag Luncheon stories didn't make it in, however.

"When I was interviewing Jack for the article, every good story he told me, at the end of it, he said, 'You can't print this,'" Rosenberger said.

It takes an army of volunteers to produce the Bloom. Eight festival vice presidents have oversight of about 10 departments, which include nearly 200 chairpersons for ticketing, parades, sponsorships, risk management, parades, you name it.

"It goes way beyond the events," Rosenberger said.

But the Phillips seem to be the memories of record. They've met Presidents Johnson and Ford, saw Dan Aykroyd ride his motorcycle into the Stag Luncheon and Elizabeth Taylor become the first woman guest at the event.

Phillips once told Lucille Ball she couldn't smoke inside John Handley High School, saying the pageant's director, Garland Quarles, wouldn't appreciate it.

"I said, 'You can't smoke in Handley High School, Dr. Quarles wouldn't approve of this!'" Phillips said. "She was walking out the door with a cigarette in her mouth. We pushed her out the door. She was great," he said.

Mrs. Phillips said she remembers fondly pageant events at the high school.

"It was enjoyable and it was so beautiful, especially when the blossoms were out on Handley's campus. It was such a gorgeous time," she said.

Phillips said it's important to remember the contributions of Tom Baldridge, a former executive director of the festival who landed memorable celebrities because of his position with the MGM film studios.

The Phillips' knew Baldridge in Hagerstown, Md., where they lived before moving to Winchester. Baldridge landed countless big celebrities like Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.

"He stayed with Apple Blossom until he died," Phillips said. "You don't hear too much about him anymore. ... He was Apple Blossom."

When their two sons were younger, they said, they too participated in the festival, and have made it every year since.

"One of them was in the pageant, and the other one marched in the [John Handley High School] band," Mrs. Phillips said.

This year, the Phillips said they made it to the Queen's Dinner and planned to attend the fireman's parade. Then it's off to the midway on the Loudoun Street Pedestrian Mall and then to Handley to watch the fireworks.

Mrs. Phillips said while times have changed, the festival has never lost its excitement.

"For us, things are different," she said, "but for small children, it's probably just as great as it was 20 years ago.

"They're getting new people all the time to come in [and volunteer]," she said. "I know a lot of new people who are in it and they're just having a ball, just like we did when we were younger."


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