By Odalis A. SUAREZ
In celebration of juicy watermelons everywhere, the Sunland-Tujunga Lions Club hosted its 49th annual Watermelon Festival this past weekend at Sunland Park.
The event was a three-day affair filled with rides, games, contests, food and even free slices of watermelon.
With the help of other organizations such as the Rotary Club, the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council, the Sunland-Tujunga Alliance, Kiwanis Club, and Elks Club, the yearly festival welcomed approximately 15,000 visitors.
“This year was the biggest ever,” stated Rotary Club President Richard Stewart.
With tickets selling for $2, the funds raised for the event will be used to support Lions Club charities. The club’s donating organizations are divided into five
categories including art programs, community events, helping those in need, youth programs and sight conservation, the blind and the handicapped. In 2009, the festival earned enough funds to support 51 charities.
Entrance into the festival gave ticketholders a fun filled watermelon adventure. Not only did guests eat approximately 3,000 pounds of watermelon, but they also enjoyed participating in watermelon competitions.
“We [had] the watermelon seed spitting contest, we had the greased watermelon relay race, and we had the watermelon eating contest,” explained Marynance Schellenbach, Lions Club secretary and director of the Watermelon Festival.
“One of our Rotarians has a trophy shop. He made an Olympic-style medallion. First places [winners were] given
a medallion plus their photo,” said Stewart of the prizes awarded to the winners. First, second and third place winners will have their photos
published in the Voice of the Village publication.
With the amount of watermelon consumed, organizers of the festival had Ara Zeithlian to thank for bringing his newest creation, the WatermelonOmatic, which made preparing the fruit much faster. The device is a watermelon slicer, which can cut slices at different speeds.
“It can go up to 40 slices per minute, but that was too fast for the festival,” stated Schellenbach. “We had to slow it down to 20 slices per minute.”
In addition to the watermelon, each day featured various performances from a number of bands, including well-known local favorites. “Clean Slate and The Heist were the most popular bands. They are both local bands,” said Schellenbach.
The weekend also included the crowning of the Watermelon Queen. This honor is awarded to a young lady who sells the most tickets for the festival. The newly dubbed queen receives half of the ticket proceeds to donate to her own charity.
This year the crowned queen was Verdugo Hills High School student Paishence Williams who used her funds for the aquatics program at her school.
Others crowned were Princess Milly Abanilla, also from VHHS, who raised funds for her school’s Key Club. Junior princesses Rae Lynn Douglas from Sierra Vista School and Jennifer Thompson from Our Lady of Lourdes both gave their donations to the Lions Club.
Kids also had a number of activities to participate in, especially an arts and crafts section that used watermelon seeds to make jewelry and pictures.
“They loved the water slides, laser tag, petting zoo, and pony rides,” said Schellenbach.
Hungry tummies didn’t go unattended, as numerous food vendors dotted the park providing varied food choices. Guests indulged in favorites like barbecue food, Hawaiian food, corn, hotdogs, hamburgers and pizza, and international fare including Mexican, Chinese, Middle Eastern and Thai. Dessert vendors also enticed with funnel cake, candy apples, ice cream and slushees.
“We tried to go for international, one of a kind,” said Schellenbach.
As organizers prepare for the 50th anniversary of the Watermelon Festival next year, they realize how far-reaching their affair has become.
“[It’s become] a designated event,” Stewart. “Travel calendars list the Sunland-Tujunga Watermelon Festival if [visitors] go to Los Angeles.”