Leominster to Mark 25 Years of Fun
By Peter Jasinski
LEOMINSTER -- Rick Marchand estimates that he has taken thousands of photos at the Johnny Appleseed Festival over the years.
The City Council president and longtime festival organizer’s photos have captured moments like the impressive $17,000 four Boy Scouts were able to raise in 2005 for Hurricane Katrina victims or the awkward tension between Scott Brown and Sen. Elizabeth Warren in 2013, when the two political rivals each visited the festival on the same day.
He’s seen participants and attendees come and go, and charities be replaced as new causes have been taken up. The one constant through it all has been the Johnny Appleseed Festival itself, a tradition that marks its 25th anniversary this Saturday.
“We’re going to have a table set up with a lot of these photos on them,” said Marchand. “If people recognize themselves or a loved one, we’re asking they write their names on the back so we can keep them all at the Historical Society.”
Marchand, who has been one of the festival’s organizers for 20 years now, said much has changed since the tradition began. He estimates that only 10 percent of this year’s participating organizations and attractions were there for the first festival and said the crowds have grown steadily each year.
However, the overall mission remains the same.
“It’s something for everyone,” he said. “It’s something to bring people, all people, together for a nice day.”
Like a miniaturized state fair squeezed into downtown Leominster, the festival hosts the concessions, activities, and live entertainment expected at similar events.
The food court will feature ethnic foods ranging from Greek, Brazilian, and Spanish influenced dishes. Frequent attendees, like the Leominster Rotary Club with its clam chowder or the Leominster First Baptist Church and its apple crisp, will be returning this year. New additions include booths by Chick-fil-A and Holy Trinity Church, which will be serving Greek cuisine.
The festival has also historically served as a way for local nonprofits to interact with the community, though the participation of each group has fluctuated as social causes have come and gone over the years. As an example, Marchand said the Greyhound Rescue League had once been a frequent guest, but has become less involved in the years since dog racing being outlawed in Massachusetts. However, other organizations, like those dedicated to stopping opioid abuse, have grown in recent years, and new nonprofits, like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, continue to be added.
Roughly 90 percent of the booths being set up Saturday are run by nonprofits, and many of them are offering different activities. One of the newest attractions will be a pumpkin decorating craft for children hosted by Leominster High School’s Best Buddies program that will benefit the school’s life skills class.
Saturday will also feature a children’s Parking Lot Party, a petting zoo, pony rides, inflatables, and live music.
The performances will start with the Leominster High School Chorus at 9 a.m. followed by the LHS Jazz Band at 9:40, soloist Rachel Celli at 10:20, the Fall Brook Elementary School Songbirds at 10:45, the Leominster International Veterans Chorus at 11:15, local jazz band A Ton of Blue at noon, the Johnny Appleseed Big Band at 2 p.m., and the soft rock band Rhythm at 4:30.
The event is free and open to the public. It will be held in downtown Leominster from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday.
Any businesses still interested in sponsoring the festival or offering donations are urged to contact Rick Marchand at 978-660-2313.
Follow Peter Jasinski on Twitter @PeterJasinski53