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Annual yam festival a chance to reunite Annual yam festival a chance to reunite, participants say

By Christina Lane
Oct. 16, 2010 at 7 p.m.


GILMER - In 1979, at the Trinity Street Gym, a very nervous boy escorted a beautiful girl as she received a queen's crown and a community hailed her as one of its two queens.

The boy was a bit anxious but "at the same time, I was mostly thinking about how pretty I thought she was."

It was the only year there were two Yamboree queens in Upshur County. Twins Ann and Nan Poole each received crowns from then-Yamboree President Bill Taylor and a young man named Dean Fowler escorted his future bride in the annual coronation pageant.

Some 31 years later, Fowler will once again play an integral role in the Yamboree pageant. On Wednesday, he'll be acting as this year's Yamboree president and crown 73rd Yam Queen Kaitlyn Blair Tackett.

The East Texas Yamboree starts Wednesday and runs through Saturday. In honor of the county-wide event, all Upshur County schools dismiss students Friday and Gilmer schools do not have classes Thursday or Friday so students can take part in the annual event that is more like a family reunion for most people in the county and the way they and others have celebrated since 1935.

The First Yamboree

Texas counties were encouraged to hold celebrations to commemorate the Texas centennial. Since Upshur County was an agricultural area, the suggestion was made that the celebration be related to agriculture.

Yams were a good cash crop but a weevil problem caused a quarantine on shipping. The quarantine was lifted in 1935 and yam growers were back in business and the first of 73 celebrations began.

"One of the clearest memories I have is of the very first Yamboree," said Sara Dumas of Gilmer. "I was just 3."

Milton Greer Mell had a law office above First National Bank on the downtown square where the Gilmer City Hall now sits. "My dad was studying to be a lawyer and he was a clerk with Milton Greer Mell," Dumas said. "We lived out in the country so I didn't see a lot. In the 1930s highway (Texas) 300 was just a dirt road and that was where we lived."

On that fall day in 1935, Dumas saw quite a sight. Mell's law office had a big window overlooking the square. Mell held Dumas while her father held her sister and her mother held her baby brother. "We were up there standing in that big window," Dumas said. "It was up really high, which was kind of scary to me at the time. We watched the parade and saw the bands and the drums. I'd never seen anything like that before. That memory is impressed in my mind."

Yammin' around

The Yamboree took shape in the 1940s, '50s and '60s. The Yamboree has been held every year since 1935 with the exception of 1943-1945 when the celebration paused for World War II.

When it returned, it came back with gusto and a little fun to lighten up the mood.

"I will always remember the parades of years gone by when Cranfill Cox drove that car of his," Glenn Breazeale, of Ore City, said.

Cox was a noted Gilmer businessman who operated the local Dairy Queen. At the time of the Yamboree, Cox traded his business attire for a clown suit.

"He would really put on a show," Breazeale said with a hearty laugh. "He had a little car that he made that would turn in all directions. It'd even stand on its head."

In the 1980s, a trio of brothers carried on the tradition of clowin' around. Sam Barton put on a clown costume to continue bringing smiles to children's faces.

Barton described his first Yamboree performance 23 years ago as being a bit scary. He walked that year. Since then, he decorates his tractor.

"A little girl asked me, what's your name?" he said. "I didn't have a name picked out yet, so I tried to think of something that would go with the Yamboree. So I said, Tater. She said, 'See you later, Tater.' It just stuck."

Barton's brother Dale dons a clown costume under the name of Yambo and his other brother from Ed took on the name Ree. Together Yambo, Tater and Ree perform annually during the parades.

From the street corners

When Ann and Nan Poole competed to be queen yam in 1979, the Yamboree Association Board imposed strict guidelines. The twins were not allowed to sell tickets individually. They had to remain together at all times to make it fairer for their competitors.

Dean Fowler and Nan Poole had been dating for about a year and were in their senior year of high school when she and her sister became yam queen. And, he escorted her in the pageant.

"As a child, my favorite thing was always being up on the square, riding the rides at the carnival and playing the games," Fowler said. "As we got older and married and had our kids, we watched them participate in those same activities."

Their daughter, Madeline Fowler, was a lady-in-waiting and their son, Jed, was in the queen's court as a child. Though Madeline now lives in Seattle, she's flying home for the Yamboree.

"One of the most unique things about Yamboree is that everyone here treats it like a homecoming," Dean Fowler said. "Family and friends are able to reunite and see each other again."

It is estimated that on the Saturday of the Yamboree 100,000 people will be in Gilmer from across the nation, from around East Texas and from across Upshur County.

"You see the same families watch the parades together from the same location around the square every year," Fowler said. "From the same street corners and the same building windows, you see the same faces. It really is like a homecoming."

Schedule of events

Wednesday

<strong>7:30 p.m</strong>.: Queen's Coronation at Gilmer Civic Center ($5 for auditorium seats; $4 for retractable seats)

Thursday

<strong>10:15 a.m</strong>.: Coffee for the Yamboree Queen and her court at First Baptist Church

<strong>11:45 a.m.</strong>: All-Service Club Luncheon at Gilmer High School ($15 in advance; $17 at the door)

7 p.m.: Queen's Coronation at Gilmer Civic Center ($5 for auditorium seats; $4 for retractable seats)

10 p.m.: Queen's Ball for the queen and her court (invitation-only event)

Friday

<strong>9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m</strong>.: Yam pie check-in at Yamboree Park

11 a.m.: School and youth parade downtown Gilmer

Noon: Area bands perform at the bandstand on the square; yam pie judging at Yamboree Park

3 p.m.: Yam pie results with a pie sale immediately following at Yamboree Park

4 p.m.: Gospel stage opens at the Gilmer Civic Center

Saturday

8 a.m. to 10 a.m.: Antique and classic car show on West Cass Street

10 a.m.: Fiddler's contest registration at the bandstand on the Courthouse Square

11 a.m.: Queen's parade on the Courthouse Square

11 a.m. to 2 p.m.: Yamboree barbecue at Yamboree Park ($8 in advance; $10 that day)

Noon: Gospel stage opens at the Gilmer Civic Center

1 p.m.: Fiddler's Contest at the bandstand on the Courthouse Square; marching contest at Gilmer High School

8 p.m.: Barn dance at Trinity Street Gym ($15 in advance; $20 at the door)

Ongoing events

9 a.m.: Exhibits open daily Thursday to Saturday at Yamboree Park (free)

9 a.m.: Bandstand opens at 10 a.m. Thursday and at 9 a.m. Friday and Saturday on the Courthouse Square (free)

<strong>10:30 a.m</strong>.: Historic Upshur Museum opens for display of queens' gowns (free)

<strong>8:30 p.m</strong>.: Street dance at the bandstand on the Courthouse Square Thursday to Saturday (free)

Carnival on the square

6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Wednesday: Youth night, all rides are half price

Noon to 11 p.m. Thursday: Armbands are $15

10 a.m. to midnight Friday: Armbands are $17

10 a.m. to midnight Saturday: Armbands are $20

<strong>Note:</strong> For information, including the livestock and special contests (decorated yams, home canning, etc.) schedules, see the 73rd East Texas Yamboree program guide at Gilmer convenience stores and at the Gilmer Chamber of Commerce. For information or to request tickets to the events, call the Gilmer Chamber of Commerce at (903) 843-2413. A schedule also is posted on the Yamboree website, <a href= "http://yamboree.com">yamboree.com</a>.

*

The Queen and her Court

73rd Yam queen: Kaitlyn Blair Tackett

Yam princess: Colin Elizabeth Coleman

Ladies-in-waiting: Marketa Lashay Brown, Lacy Nicole Hodges, Anna Elizabeth Hollis, Lindsey Jordan Hudson, Elizabeth Marie Williams

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