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Good made better: Heritage Fest organizers field ideas for change / October 11, 2018

Celebrating 15 years of success, leaders of the Halifax County Heritage and Antique Machinery Festival invited some 70 guests to a seated dinner on Tuesday evening to thank the community and corporate sponsors for their support over the past years.

Bobby Conner, one of the originators of the event, said his group now wants to find ways to improve, change and make additions to the Heritage and Antique Machinery Festival to ensure that the next 15 years are as successful as past years have been.

Conner pointed out that the festival has never been a fundraising effort, although Larry Clark, executive director of the Halifax County Public Schools Foundation, acknowledged the Foundation has received $48,000 from the Heritage Festival over past several years.

That money, a grateful Clark said, has been used to fund numerous scholarships as well as mini-grants for teachers of all the county’s public schools. The mini-grants allow teachers to implement programs and trips they could not otherwise afford.

Clark led the discussion on numerous suggestions about how the festival could improve. A desire was expressed for more buildings in the historic site where the grist mill was finished just in time for last May’s event. Some suggested a tobacco barn, reflecting the county’s tobacco-growing heritage, could be added, while yet another speaker suggested building a small church where wedding vows might be renewed.

“We have to be careful to construct low maintenance buildings because it’s more fun to build new buildings than it is to maintain them,” Conner said.

Venetia Stebbins, who has worked with youngsters who want to learn how to operate tractors, said the festival needs more small tractors since that is a popular activity for youngsters.

Worth Hudson suggested more on-site demonstrations such as quilting would be attractive for guests.

A guest from neighboring Java said he would like to see tractor games where operators could display their tractor-driving skills.

Interim County Administrator Dan Sleeper advised Conner that water lines are being added to the property, expected by early spring, and that could open up additional opportunities for the festival’s growth.

With activities geared towards youngsters — such as the petting zoo and the play area — and the festival’s natural appeal for older generations, the question was raised about how to attract guests in the 30-50 year age bracket. Barbara Bass suggested a square dancing session might appeal to younger adults. Others suggested that a change in the musical entertainment might help.

Guests were satisfied with the entry fee and the fees charged vendors, although one aid he felt the entry fee was too low. Several said a split higher entry ticket might work if there was professional entertainment on the grandstand during the festival night.

In addition to Conner and Clark, other members of the original festival committee in attendance were Tom West, Butch Blanks and publicist Cathy Cole.

In closing, Conner stressed the festival is not about fund raising, but is about educating people to the importance of the history and heritage of Halifax County.

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