By Jackie HOUCHIN
More than 1,600 watermelons were sliced and served at the 50th Annual Sunland-Tujunga Lions Club Watermelon Festival last weekend, providing free refreshment and entertainment for thousands of visitors.
“It’s basically a fun family place to relax and have fun,” said Corey Crabtree, who was working the ticket booth. “People are happy to see it every year. It’s a fun place to go when you are almost done with your summer.”
Folks lined up for free watermelon plus rides, games and other activities for the family. Rides included a roller coaster, swings, Ferris wheel and giant slide. Rides were 3-5 tickets with each ticket costing a dollar. Guests also had the option of buying an all day access wrist band earning admission to an unlimited number of rides for $25.
In addition to munching, whole watermelons were professionally carved into delicate swans and flower baskets or greased and used in relay races.
Vendors tried to out-do each other with exotic watermelon concoctions such as watermelon ice, watermelon lemonade and deep fried watermelon on-a-stick topped with powdered sugar and strawberry sauce at Cardinali’s Wood Fired Pizzas. The Q Spot BBQ served slices of bright yellow watermelon with its ribs.
Chef Jessie Sanchez, culinary instructor at Los Angeles Mission College, demonstrated three original recipes: Pickled Watermelon Rind, Super Watermelon, a power drink, and Pico de Gallo Watermelon, a salsa. Samples and recipes were available to attendees.
Local S-T residents competed in a watermelon recipe contests. Pre-submitted recipes were judged by Chef Sanchez. Taking first place was David deMulle with his Tonga Chief Watermelon Chile, a main dish; second place went to Guyaba Kitchen for Spicy Aqua Fresca de Sangria, a beverage; and third place was awarded to Dyan McManus for Watermelon Gazpacho, an appetizer. Kristina Eileen Lalor got honorable mention with her Festival Sunland Summer Salad.
Humongous Texas Watermelon seeds – three times the size of regular seeds – were used for the seed spitting contest. Each contestant was given three seeds for a buck and blew, spit or flung seeds along a red vinyl measuring strip. The festival record set in 2009 was more than 69 feet. A $500 prize awaits anyone who can beat that. This year’s record on Saturday stood at 29 feet, two inches.
With an admission discount for anyone wearing a watermelon costume and a prize awarded for the best wearable art, many used their imagination and talent to dress in watermelon garb. Three guys stood side-by-side to display a large melon slice across their T-shirts. One fellow wore a hollowed out melon as a helmet and carried a mini melon in a blond wig.
Many melon hats, visors, shirts, dresses and capes graced the grounds. But the winning prize went to the three young Hamilton sisters: Bridget, 5, Emma, 7, and Maggie, 3, for their matching watermelon dresses and hats.
Kids of all ages competed in watermelon eating contests, and long lines formed to spin the Melon Wheel for a prize.
Carnival rides, arcade games, face painters and the nightly raffle prize drawings were also popular. Carnival game prizes included inflatable hammers, stuffed animals and posters.
“It’s fun,” said Marc Ellis of the festival. Ellis came to Sunland Park with his wife Nicole and their 5-year-old daughter Ava. “We are enjoying the food and the music.”
Ava won five prizes at the carnival games including an inflatable ball and chain and a few stuffed animals.
“The $2 ribs are the best deal and the corn on the cob,” Nicole added. The ribs had a watermelon tequila barbecue sauce. Other food included funnel cake, nachos, quesadillas, taquitos, hamburgers and hot dogs.
Bands from classic rock and jazz to bluegrass and blues provided live entertainment on the Melon Stage.
On Saturday, Aletheia’s Multi-Cultural Dance Team performed authentic English Morris and Israeli Folk dances.
A highlight of the festival came on Friday night with the coronation of the watermelon queen and her court. Contestants for king and queen earned points to win the crown by selling raffle tickets, performing community service projects and through votes from the public during July. Income from ticket sales will be divided between the Lions Club and the organization sponsoring each candidate.
For the first time in 50 years a king and crown prince were also chosen. Former Rotary Club president Richard Stewart announced the winners and Councilman Paul Krekorian thanked and congratulated each.
King Tom Harman was sponsored by the Verdugo Hills Family YMCA, Queen Geraldine Bellue by Boy Scout Troup #315 at Our Lady of Lourdes, Crown Prince Harrison Simblet by the VHHS football squad and Junior Queen Faith Bare by the VHHS aquatics program. The royal princesses were Cassidy Swick, Renee Menart, and Melissa Cervantes. Junior princesses were Michelle Mesta, Raelynn Douglas and Ashlie Makohon.
Lions president Ed Choi and secretary Marynance Schellenback were also acknowledged and thanked by Councilman Krekorian for their efforts in bringing the 50th Watermelon Festival to Sunland-Tujunga and its neighbors.
“What an accomplishment!,” said Krekorian. “How many other cities can boast any kind of event that continues for 50 years? Congratulations!”
One hundred percent of the funds raised by the Watermelon Festival are used by the Sunland-Tujunga Lions Club to support local youth and community activities, disaster relief and vision conservation programs.
“The watermelon festival is unique,” said festival goer Aaron Brown. “I’ve been here since I was a little kid … I can eat a whole watermelon by myself. It’s a unique community event.”
Maddy Pumilia contributed to this story
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