Festival combines books, history, and fundraising

First Posted: 4/25/2009

ARARAT, Va. On Saturday big beefy men dressed in kilts were throwing around logs and large stones at Laurel Hill, showing off their physical prowess and their respect for and understanding of some Old World customs.
Just a few miles up the road, at the Ararat Ruritan Building, more men and women were displaying a different sort of prowess, but respect for and understanding of the past permeated everything they did Saturday.
The event was the first, and possibly annual, Free State of Patrick Festival, organized and paid for by local historian and author Tom Perry and sponsored by Pages Book Store in Mount Airy.
Perry said he came up with the idea a couple of months ago for several reasons. First, it was meant as a fundraiser to help the Dan River Park Association raise money for continuing work and upgrades at the park.
Second, he wanted local authors and historians, as well as a few select writers from elsewhere in Virginia and North Carolina, to gather for a time of selling their books and getting to know one another.
The idea was just to have a festival where people could come and talk and have fun, Perry said. And, the big thing we wanted to do was raise some money for Dan River Park.
Mission accomplished on both fronts, it would seem.
Janet Epperson, a volunteer with the Dan River Park Association, said her group raised more than $250 in concession sales during the day.
We did really well, she said. When Tom called me with the idea, I said yes. Whenever we can raise money for the park, Im going to be there. Saturday the association sold hot dogs, hamburgers, sodas and other snacks to people browsing the collection of books inside the building and the offerings of crafters and artisans set up on the grounds outside.
Epperson said the park already has a soccer and baseball field, as well as a concession stand and a gravel parking area. Were about half-way through with the development, she said. Next we want to get a picnic pavilion and a playground built. And Saturdays event put a little more money in the coffers for that work, she said.
The days main attraction was set up at tables around the building, where 13 writers had their books for sale.
Among them were a number of works by Perry, including his latest, Notes from the Free State of Patrick.
Historian Randle Brim was also on hand, whose publications include Tragedy to Triumph, an account of the 1957 fire at Flat Rock Elementary School. Others on hand included Frank Levering, who has written or co-authored a half dozen books as well as a number of plays and poems; Joe Tennis, a Bristol Herald-Courier writer who has penned several books; Libby Bondurant, a Franklin County, Va., writer who was on hand selling the book she co-wrote, Grazing Along the Crooked Road; and Neva Bryan, in from Johnson City, Tenn., showing off her novel, St. Peters Monsters; as well as Amy Snyder, on hand to show off a display of historical artifacts from the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History.
Were here trying to promote history, Snyder said. People can come in and touch and pick up artifacts. We want them to realize we have a regional history museum right in Mount Airy. Its (the festival) been a fun experience.
The writers, in addition to being appreciative for a chance to sell a few books, all seemed to take great delight in simply being around other writers for the day.
I think the greatest experience today was not in selling books, but in meeting other people, said Brim. Its been a great day for writers and people who have an interest in local history to get together.
This has been a lot more fun than manual labor, joked Levering, who said had he not been at the festival his day would have been spent working in his orchard.
You might not get to meet a John Grishim, Levering said. But, you get a chance to meet people who share a common interest, that being local history and events. The genius of Tom Perry in organizing an event like this is that there are some pretty good writers in the area, he said as he glanced around the room. And he got them all together.
That spurred another round of story telling and comparing notes between Levering, Brim, and Tennis, with laughter punctuating many of their statements.
Id do a repeat if theres another one (festival), Brim said. Its been like a revival meeting.
Amen, brother, Levering replied, eliciting another round of laughter.
During the day a constant crowd of visitors and book buyers filtered through the Ruritan building, and as the event wound down, Perry said he felt it had been a success.
I wanted to put on a community event … books, community history, meeting people. I think it went pretty well, he said. Id like to do it again next spring.
John Peters can be reached at [email protected] or by calling 719-1931.

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