Tradition beats rain at 113th Strawberry Festival | Local

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ALEX POWERS

Kaylin Varner had to travel more than 120 miles over a mountain pass with a 1-year-old baby to get to the Lebanon Strawberry Festival.

The Prineville woman said nothing would have stopped her from seeing Jo Dee Messina.

“I left my husband at home with a broken foot and all,” Varner said, laughing. “I said let’s do this!”

People lined up early Saturday afternoon, June 4th, to first get their vehicles onto the festival site, then to be admitted, and then for their usual slice of cake.

Many hundreds attended the concerts, parades and strawberry shortcake distributions during the weekend’s celebrations, despite weeks of rainfall that fell several inches of rain on the eastern edge of the Middle Willamette Valley — 300% or more of the historical average.

Varner said she usually makes an annual occasion to visit her sister Casaundra Varner, who told her about the Messina concert.

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She joined her family on the sidewalks of Lebanon as the parade, believed to be the second largest in Oregon, rolled by.

The festival was her first, she said, and the shortcake, which organizers say is the world’s biggest, was pretty decent.

“I thought, ‘Well, the biggest thing in the world probably won’t be the tastiest,’ but it was really good,” Varner said.

At the end of the huge parade, Samantha Hergenroeder said only strong winds kept her away from the celebration. Hergenroeder was among dozens who tore down floats, lost some balloons or began to sink under a heavy downpour.

Her team dismantled the tropical cruise and beach destination of the Freedom Football League youth contact sports program.

“We got our water, just not the way we wanted it,” said Hergenroeder.

She said the festival was her 10th and believed attendance at the parade was strong given the weather.

“People are quite engaged,” she said. “Especially after coming back from COVID, we’re glad we got to come back at all.”

Jessa French said she was 25 after her math. The 27-year-old partner from Lebanon said she had been in all but two years cut short by the coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

She stood in line waiting to eat a slice of the festival’s shortcake after registering for an eating contest.

French said she was nervous about eating in front of a crowd but was also determined to hit several men, whom she described as large, who were hovering around the cake nearby.

“I love our strawberry shortcake,” she said. “I couldn’t help it.”

There have been some changes from the pre-COVID era: Admission will be charged from the participant, not the car; Bag checks to get past a fence.

But mostly it was the same community event where she said she was seeing people she hadn’t seen in years.

French said she felt good about being back at the festival.

“I grew up with it,” she said.

Alex Powers (him/her) covers business, environment and healthcare for Mid-Valley Media. Call 541-812-6116 or email [email protected]

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