*** Originally Published June of 2021***
The 76th annual Rush Springs Watermelon Festival is set to make its long-awaited return on Aug. 14. The event was postponed last year for the first time since World War II due to the ongoing pandemic.
Each and every year, on the second Saturday in August, Rush Springs, a town of roughly 1,200 individuals, watches its population surge anywhere from 25 to 35 times its normal size, for a day.
In the build up to the special day, there is a parade, rodeo, and two carnival nights. Once festival day arrives, there is seemingly limitless amounts of entertainment. It begins early in the morning with a 5K run. Afterwards, there is “Tiny Tots,” a contest for young children and the Watermelon Queen is crowned.
Live performances take place throughout the day with bands and singers. The carnival is provided by a local man, Joe Lujan, of Great Plains Amusement. There is even a watermelon seed spitting contest in which two individuals share the record of 52 feet.
A watermelon exhibit is available for visitors to wander through and inspect the delectable vegetables. It is here that the melons are judged, and champions are crowned in select categories before they are auctioned off. The largest recorded watermelon was in 2012 when the Miller family displayed a whopping 214 pounder.
According to Festival Committee Chairman Mary Hill, there are “125 vendors.” Each vendor is different and offers a wide variety of purchasing options.
The main attraction, undoubtedly, is the 4 p.m. free watermelon feed. This is quite the undertaking and requires a strong partnership between the festival committee and the local farmers. Hill says that each year, they purchase “30,000 pounds worth of watermelons” to distribute to the public.
Local minister and watermelon farmer, Paul Phipps, who is in his third year of growing, expects to contribute to the watermelon stockpile. Phipps said, “My goal, personally, is to have 800 melons on festival day that we grow.”
The Rush Springs Watermelon Festival is unquestionably the lifeblood of the small town. Without the festival and the school, the economy would be almost nonexistent. It is a special event that is near and dear to the hearts of many.
Lisa McAdoo is the daughter of the man who the watermelon exhibit building is named after, the late Morris McAdoo. As a daughter of a farmer and a former Watermelon Queen herself, she understands the impact that the festival has on the community. “The Watermelon Festival is keeping Rush Springs, America alive,” McAdoo said.
The second weekend in August is not just a time for economic resurgence, but also for reuniting.
Phipps said, “It is the official gathering time of our entire town. Everybody’s class reunion is that weekend and everybody comes home to see their family that weekend.”
He continued, “The festival is Rush Springs’ family reunion. It’s the family reunion of the entire city. We just happen to invite 30,000 other people from the state of Oklahoma to come.”
Rush Springs proclaims itself to be “the watermelon capital of the world” and can make a compelling case for it.
The annual Rush Springs Watermelon Festival is a consistent economic success, but it is much more than that. It is an avenue for families to reunite and reconnect. It is an opportunity for families to create memories that will last a lifetime. It is the heartbeat of a community that would otherwise fall into obscurity.
Simply because of the festival, even if it is just for a single day in August, Rush Springs can experience economic prosperity and relevance.