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Swamp Fest longtime volunteers honored

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As the 2023 Weeki Wachee Swamp Festival, or the Swamp Fest, reached a vibrant culmination on March 5, organizers paused to honor those who established this time-honored community tradition and who keep the Swamp Fest going strong year after year.

“This year, we are honoring the board members, vendors, and volunteers who make this possible,” said emcee and longtime Swamp Fest volunteer and performer John Hindman. “The people who help, giving sweat and tears to making Swamp Fest happen. And this is not a money-making venture. It’s all for charities.”

As the Swamp Fest celebrated three decades of beneficial festivity, offering a full schedule of activities, vendors, live entertainment, and even a Swamp Monster costume contest, numerous volunteers were called to the Family Chiropractic stage to receive applause and accolades for a job well done. Hindman stated, “Many of them are still here, and we remember those who have passed on.”

Thirty years ago, Weeki Wachee Swamp Fest was created by Shirley Butler and Linda Pedersen and their spouses, Jerry and Pete. It was to raise funds for the three local clubs: Weeki Wachee Area Club, Hernando Environmental Land Protectors (H.E.L.P.), and Weeki Wachee Crime Watch (currently Weeki Wachee Area Watch).

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Among those being remembered March 5 was Audrey Holley, who led the annual Swamp Fest T-shirt design contest. The Weeki Wachee Swamp Fest Coloring Book 2023, a popular event fund-raiser, is dedicated to Holley. “The enclosed artwork is original and submitted by local artists and students from Challenger K-8, West Hernando Middle School, and Springstead High School to the annual design contest for a Swamp Fest mascot. As 2023 is our 30th anniversary, we are using our original design of 1994 as the design on our Swamp Fest T-shirt,” read a description on the back of the book. “A thank you to Audrey Holley, who has worked hard volunteering for Weeki Wachee Swamp Fest since the beginning and leading the annual contest to design a Swamp Fest creature or scene to appear on the official T-shirt. Audrey Holley passed away in 2022. She will be greatly missed.”

“Holley was amazing,” said Hindman. “She cared so much.”

On hand to honor Trudy Wells, who oversaw baked goods sales at the Swamp Fest, were representatives of the four generations of volunteers that continue to sell baked treats at Swamp Fest: great-granddaughter Raine, granddaughter Rebecca LaBrie and daughter-n-law Jill Wells. “This is a fourth-generation family of volunteers, and little Raine is selling up a storm this year,” stated Hindman.

Swamp Fest Co-Founder Doras Boutwell was credited with incredible ingenuity and tireless effort in making Swamp Fest the major community event that it is today. “Doras will turn 100 years old in October and still drives,” said Hindman. “She couldn’t be here today. We honor her.”

Volunteers honored this year were:

Judy and Jake’s Happy Hives
Marlena’s Food Vendor
C&L Enterprises
(Charles and Louise, stained glass and hats)
Robin’s Nest
Annie Riley of Annie’s Antiques
Robin Duncan

Ongoing Volunteers since the early days:
Charlotte Fish
Don Fish (past president, now deceased)
Shirley Knotts
Jim Knotts
Jeanie Kessler
Buster Webb
Eddie McConnell
Kay Shaffer
Micki Hobbs
Tom Brimer
Karen Lenhard
Chuck and Paula Morton
Paul Morton
Victor Whayman, vp
Kathy Edwards, president
Jackie Farmer
Trudy Wells (baked goods, now deceased), her 4th generation of volunteers: great-granddaughter Raine, granddaughter Rebecca LaBrie, and daughter-n-law Jill Wells
Ida Cannariato
Don Dedrick (past president, now deceased)
Denise Montana
Janice Cox

Long-time volunteers (retired):
Dottie Westerfield
Roger Davidson
Norma Jean Rawson
Joyce Steele
Ed Steele
Doras Boutwell

Long-term members who have passed since 2022:
Audrey Holley
Joe Wachs–night security
Sandee Ardes

“This has been a wonderful experience,” said Eddie McConnell, a musical performer at Swamp Fest. Hindman agrees. “This event takes a lot of love, hard work, and dedication,” he said. “Let’s keep it going.”

Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey is a features journalist and author who is the winner of Florida Press Association honors and a certificate of appreciation from LINCS (Family Support Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Task Force) and Sunrise Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center for her newspaper coverage of these issues. She graduated cum laude from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., with a journalism major and English/sociology minor, and previously wrote for publications that include the Pasco editions of The Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times. A native of Indiana, she lives in Florida.
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