Festival celebrates ‘goober’ history

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 4, 2002

This year marks the Silver Anniversary of Suffolk’s famed Peanut Fest, and according to 25th Chairman William D. &uot;Billy&uot; Wyatt, it will be a festival to remember. Typical of his good nature and volunteer spirit, he said he is honored to serve as chairman.

&uot;Just to be able to serve with the fine committees and the many volunteers who give so much of their time, without pay, just to put on a festival to remember,&uot; said Wyatt. &uot;I also look forward to meeting a lot of people who will attend Peanut Fest at our parade on Saturday. It starts at 10 a.m., and begins on West Washington Street and goes on to Main Street.

&uot;I will be in one of the cars in the parade, and there will also be plenty of other local celebrities and one lady all &uot;Survivor&uot; fans will easily recognize. &uot;Mad Dog,&uot; from the CBS-TV show will be here, and we think she’s going to be a lot of fun, both in the parade and at the Peanut Butter Sculpting Contest on the midway at Peanut Fest next Saturday, 12 noon. Look for her to be just as much fun as she was on the program!&uot;

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Wyatt, who will also celebrate his 25th year working with the festival this year, has served on the festival’s board of directors, and worked with the festival committees on behalf of Planters Peanuts. He worked for Planters for 38 years, retiring as supervisor of the Suffolk blanching plant. He is just as dedicated to Planters today as when he worked for the old Planters Peanuts with his good friend, the late Ted Locascio.

Locascio was one of many friends to Amedeo Obici, the founder of Planters Peanuts, a company headquartered in Suffolk on Factory Street near where the company is now located.

&uot;Ted Locascio was the one who first got me involved with the Peanut Fest,&uot; said Wyatt. &uot;That was back in 1978 when Suffolk was still a peanut town. We had peanut processing factories and shellers and storage facilities everywhere back then. Back in 1960, there were more than 1,800 employees at the plant. When I retired, technology had replaced manpower with machines and employees number around 300.&uot;

Wyatt added that Locascio was one of the first chairmen of Peanut Fest, but it was not known by that name. &uot;We called it &uot;Harvest Festival&uot; back then,&uot; he added. &uot;We celebrated the harvest of all the crops and the economic bounty they brought to the city of Suffolk.&uot;

According to Wyatt, some people have asked the question: How can Suffolk still hold a Peanut Fest when local farmers are facing great losses due to the lack of a good Farm Bill and peanut price supports? Since the Great Depression, farmers have raised &uot;goobers&uot; (that’s peanuts to all our Yankee friends) under the Farm Bill that paid $610 per ton. Now, without price supports, farmers are lucky to get $335 per ton. &uot;We still want to honor what peanuts have done for the city and we also want to continue to honor Amedeo Obici for what he did for the city,&uot; said Wyatt. &uot;Mr. Obici gave this city a hospital and he did so many other things for the city. Also, companies like Birdsong, Gold Kist, and Planters, and facilities like the cold storage warehouses and the trucking companies also help the city’s economy. We are sorry for what our farmers are experiencing this year, but all these men, like Obici and Birdsong, have been instrumental in making Suffolk the great place it is today and we do believe there is still reason to celebrate with the Peanut Fest in Suffolk.&uot;

&uot;I do want to say we are very fortunate to have Linda Stevens, the director of Suffolk Festivals,&uot; said Wyatt. &uot;She and her assistant, Lisa Key, do an outstanding job of keeping everyone organized and making sure that Peanut Fest comes off a success. Our mission is to make sure that the festival has something for everyone of all ages and we hope that everyone will come out to enjoy the food, the entertainment and the amusements, rides, games and all the rest, and don’t forget the fireworks. It’s going to be a truly remarkable event this year!&uot;