Ashfield Fall Festival: Celebrating the town and its people for 50 years

  • The Ashfield Fall Festival is celebrating its 50th anniversary this weekend. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/10/2019 5:56:04 PM
Modified: 10/10/2019 5:55:54 PM

ASHFIELD — This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the Ashfield Fall Festival. With that anniversary some of the festival’s organizers reminisced on the ways the festival has changed — and has stayed the same — since its beginnings. 

In the late ’60s, St. John’s Episcopal Church had a few fundraising fairs in the summer, and, when those fairs were moved to autumn, other groups joined the event, said Laura Stravino, secretary and publicity person of the Ashfield Fall Festival Committee.

“We’re counting this year as the 50th festival,” Stravino said.

The festival, which is free, will take place in Ashfield Town Center from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday. 

Over the years, the festival has morphed into its current version, which aligns with five principles that guide the fall festival, said Sandy Lilly, who has chaired the committee since 2001. 

First in foremost, the festival is a celebration of the town of Ashfield and acts as a showcase for the town’s artisans and businesses, Lilly said. 

“That’s one of the founding principles of the festival: to showcase and support local artisans,” said Beverly Duncan, the chair of the Arts and Crafts Committee. 

“We select Ashfield artisans first,” Duncan said, of the selection process to fill 44 slots with artisans. “Then we look at other artisans that come in. We try to choose quality work and something different, something not offered by our local people.” 

Booths will be inside Ashfield Town Hall and in tents outside.  

As the years progressed, people noticed at the graduation for what is now Mohawk Trail Regional High School, something was missing for Ashfield students. 

“There were other scholarships given out by other towns, and Ashfield didn't have one,” Stravino said. “So, that was the impetus to make this [festival] a bigger fundraising event.”  

An added emphasis on fundraising highlights an additional two principles of the festival: it can act as a fundraiser for the scholarship fund, as well as for local organizations and businesses. 

All vendors, from artisans to food sellers, give a portion of their proceeds to the Ashfield’s Citizen Scholarship and Community Fund, which can be given to any Ashfield resident seeking high education, Stravino said. 

“The scholarship fund gets money at the end of festival when vendors calculate what they owe the scholarship fund, based on their sales,” Duncan said. “There’s a formula.”

In 2018, the scholarship fund awarded $12,800 between 18 students, Stravino said.

Over the years, youth games have moved from the fringe to being incorporated as a fifth guiding principal: they are a way for Ashfield youth to develop and use their creativity, as well as their social and business skills.  And the youth also have dedicated lawn space to do it. 

Lilly said it’s “really amazing” to see children in elementary school build games, and, when they grow tired of them, sell them to other children who haven’t lost interest. 

“It really teaches the kids about business, that’s for sure,” Lilly said with a laugh, adding “The kids have a great time.”

As the years have passed, some goodbyes have been said.  

In December, Marian Gray, one of the “founding mothers” of the festival died. 

“She was the only surviving member of the original Fall Festival Committee,” Lilly said, adding that Gray “never resigned” and worked up until last fall.  “She was a wonderful, wonderful person.”

As a former chair herself, Gray was a source of wisdom for Lilly.

“She was really my rock,” Lilly said. 

This year, in the Town Hall foyer, there will be a small memorial to Gray. 

Although this will be the first Fall Festival without a founding mother, to Lilly, the festival is bigger than the people that put it on; it’s about celebrating the town and its people. 

“It just shows how the community has always been united to put this big event on,” Lilly said. 

Maureen O’Reilly can be reached at moreilly@recorder.com or at 413-772-0261, ext. 280. 




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