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Gilmer streets alive during Yamboree Festival

By by Reese Gordon rgordon@news-journal.com
Oct. 17, 2013 at 11 p.m.


GILMER - Carnival rides and live music had the streets of Gilmer buzzing Thursday as the annual East Texas Yamboree Festival got underway.

Margo Trotter said she loves this time of year because it puts extra money in her pocket. She is one of many licensed vendors who sells yam sweet potatoes and other produce every year during the festival.

"The people here love sweet potatoes, and they love turkey legs," she said. "This weekend, I'm going to sell about 500 or 600 boxes of sweet potatoes."

While Trotter said she travels to Grand Saline to purchase her yams, she said it once was a popular item grown in Gilmer, and its prevalence led to the creation of the Yamboree.

According to Yamboree.com, Gilmer Chamber of Commerce Manager Brogoitti established the festival in 1935 - when yams were a cash crop for farmers in and around the town.

"Nobody grows them here anymore," Trotter said. "They stopped that many years ago."

She said the festival has brought people to Gilmer from across the United States and abroad.

"We've had people come from Chicago, New York, Africa, Canada, as well as Dallas and Houston," she said.

Terry Henson said Thursday that she has been attending the festival for as long as she can remember.

"I grew up in Gilmer and I don't think I've ever missed one since I've been born," she said. "Everybody comes and gets together. I had a friend who I went to school and she lives in Dallas now, but she's coming back for the Yamboree."

Karlie Carrol White, a senior at Gilmer High School, was crowned the 76th Yamboree queen and will be at the forefront of the Queen's Parade at 11 a.m. Saturday.

In addition to the pageantry of the festival, the Yamboree has also served to help members of the community.

Proceeds from previous Yamborees helped Gilmer resident Patricia Davis move into a new home.

"I got a (Habitat for Humanity) house nine or 10 years ago," she said. "For three and a half years at Yamboree, a friend of ours had a concession stand that sold turkey legs and funnel cakes. They gave us half of what they made to help me get my house. That's what Yamboree is all about."

Davis said she has been involved with the East Texas Yamboree for 35 years.

Her daughter, Paula Gentry, is the Pct. 1 commissioner in Upshur County.

Gentry said she moved back to Gilmer 19 years ago during Yamboree weekend and sells her own yam treats, including a sweet potato bread she bakes in coffee cans.

"I've been doing the bread for three years for the Yamboree," she said. "I've been making sweet potato pie for three years as well. I started doing this 12 years ago so I would have Christmas money."

Gentry said her three favorite food items at the Yamboree are turkey legs, funnel cake and roasted ears of corn.

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