WINSTON — The Winston-Dillard Melon Festival was established in 1968 to honor the local melon growers — and even though the event has turned into a large fall festival there is still plenty of melon-eating.

This year, organizers brought back the Melon Festival Court and many of the past court members for the event’s 50th anniversary, bringing the former royalty back to compete in a watermelon eating contest.

“We got all the past queens and princesses together,” said Clay Caldwell from the Melon Festival Committee. “We thought for the 50th anniversary, it was a good time to do this. We haven’t had a queen’s court in quite some time.”

Seventeen ladies who were crowned between 1971 and 1997 came to the event this year. Rita Osborne, from the festival court of 1972, was the first to consume a large chunk of watermelon and took first place in the messy event.

“I grew up in Winston eating watermelon and I like the event,” Osborne said. “It wouldn’t be the same without the contest — and I won a free ice cream.”

The melon producers were mostly in the Dillard area when the festival began, though organizers say now the melons come from Brosi Sugar Tree Farms in Winston now. Caldwell said Brosi produces both cantaloupes and watermelons.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is that it’s not really a watermelon festival,” Caldwell said. “Years ago, in the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, Dillard was known nationwide as the cantaloupe-growing capital, and Dillard melons were even requested by some of the presidents in the ‘40s.”

The theme this year was “Now and Then — 50 years of fun,” and the festival committee added some new family activities and entertainment to try to attract more of the younger crowd this year. They brought the popular mud volleyball back, and even added a fireworks show Saturday night. They were pleased with the attendance.

“We’ve got quite a few young people here,” Caldwell said. “We have a lot of kids’ games, and the watermelon eating contests. On Friday, our gate count was about 350 over the average, and today (Saturday) it looks like it’s going to do real well again.”

Caldwell said attendance averages about 6,000 people on weekends, but he expects more than that this year. The entertainment level, he said, was a big reason for the increase, with a wide variety of talent.

Tracy Seeidel brought his wife and kids over from Klamath Falls to take in the Melon Festival.

“It was very nice, they had a lot of stuff to do. My wife grew up here and we’ve been coming for four years,” Seeidel said. “But I think probably my favorite was the parade, and watching our son march in the band.”

The festival runs from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday at Riverbend Park on Thompson Street in Winston. There is no charge to get into the festival, but Dillard-Winston Food Pantry is collecting canned food at the gate for the pantry.

Reporter Dan Bain can be reached at 541-957-4221 or e-mail at dbain@nrtoday.com.

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Dan Bain is the health reporter for The News-Review. He previously worked at KPIC and 541 Radio.

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