WINSTON — In its 49th year, the Winston–Dillard Melon Festival continues to thrill guests like Kimberlie Carlton, who never experienced festivals like this in Arizona.
“I think this festival is awesome; they don’t have free events like this in Phoenix,” Carlton said Saturday. “Getting the community together like this is important.”
The festival continues today from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Riverbend Park, 243 S.E. Thompson Ave., Winston.
Today’s festivities include a men’s knee contest, a frozen T-shirt contest, a chicken barbecue at noon, bingo, booths and a raffle. Joe Ross will play jazz/country at 11 a.m., while Michael and Teri Conn will play Americana at 1 p.m.
A favorite part of the festival is the watermelon-eating contest that festival promoters hold sporadically throughout the event to keep the festival exciting.
Competing for the first time was Carlton’s granddaughter Justice Logan, 5, who was the first-place winner of the 4- to 7-year-old category.
“It was a lot of fun, and the watermelon was pretty good,” Justice said.
While festival-goers perused booths and noshed on the free watermelon offered, bands like Sequoia resonated Americana music in the background.
LaDonna Munion, 26, of Roseburg has been competing in the watermelon-eating contest since she was 7 years old. She won first place then and competed again at 18.
“This event is fun, it keeps kids happy and adults happy, and adults can act like children at times,” Munion said.
Munion didn’t place in the contest this year, but her friend Ezra DeNino, 43, owner of Dino’s Ristorante in Roseburg, placed second in the adult category.
DeNino came with his wife and two kids to eat watermelon because “we can’t eat Italian all the time,” he said. He enjoyed the festival because “it’s about making good memories and having a good time.” His daughter Stella, 5, competed as well.
In the 8- to 12-year-old watermelon eating category, Gabe Konig, 10, of Green, won first place. This was his first time at the festival.
“I didn’t know that I was going to win, so I started swallowing it without even chewing it, it was making me choke a little,” he said.
While many folks came to the festival for the first time, others have been attending the event since it first started 49 years ago.
Robert Zuver, owner of Winston Realty and Insurance, remembered the days when his father, Larry Zuver, started the melon festival.
At 8 years old, Robert Zuver remembers when his parents were in the living room and said that Winston needed a festival. Dillard melons were popular at the fruit stand at the time, so the Winston-Dillard Melon Festival was born.
“I was selling pop at the festival for the Lion’s Club and my dad did the barbecuing,” Robert Zuver said. “The family all worked at the festival.”
Douglas County celebrities like Cassidy Smith, Miss Douglas County 2017, also made an appearance. She rode in a Corvette club car in the festival parade on Saturday to promote the Miss Douglas County Scholarship Program.
“It’s always fun to go to different festivals to see what the communities come together to put on,” Smith said.