100-Year Sunday Story: Strawberry Festival

Throughout its history, the YWCA of Sioux Falls has hosted countless fun events for the community that work to raise money for the organization’s scholarship fund. One of these events was the Strawberry Festival of 1962.

Strawberry Festival picture of hand drawn straweberries, program and Edna G. Thompson

This event occurred on May 24, 1962, at the beginning of the strawberry season. The festival was a day-long celebration that featured many exciting activities.

The highlight of the festival was the bake table. Throughout the event’s entire duration, a giant table was set up on one side of the room. This table held a large variety of strawberry-flavored treats and drinks. People were welcome to eat as much as they pleased, and many ate three complete courses of strawberry desserts. Some of these treats included: strawberry cream pie, strawberry shortcakes, strawberry cream tart cakes, strawberry jelly rolls, strawberry turnovers, strawberry napoleon slices, strawberry kettle tart donuts, strawberry coffee cakes, regular strawberry cream tarts, strawberry lemonade, strawberry cream soda, and much, much more.

At the end of the festival, the girls of the YWCA converted the bake table into a bake sale and sold the remaining treats to people who wanted to take them home.

Another key feature of this event was the art gallery. The spring oil-painting class had painted portraits of strawberries and strawberry-themed things all semester, displaying them in a gallery during the festival. For the willing students, the paintings were auctioned off to help contribute to the fundraiser. The highest selling piece was a painting of a mountain landscape with a strawberry field in the valley. Another notable item was a portrait of a woman wearing a strawberry-print dress; this painting sold for $6.50.

The main event of the festival was the speaker, Edna G. Thompson. Edna was originally from Liverpool, England, but she spent most of her life as a traveler. In her speech, she said she had spent the last several years as “a wanderer over the face of the earth.”

Edna started her journey when she left England for Germany in World War II. There, she worked in camps for people displaced by the war. Edna left Germany in 1947 and ended up in New Zealand, where she worked for two years in a nursing camp for immigrants. She then traveled back to Europe and worked in an immigrant camp in Austria.

After a few months, Edna traveled to the United States and ended up in New Mexico. From there, she traveled to Oklahoma City, Tennessee, Frankfort, Lexington, Des Moines, and then Sioux Falls. She spent her time as a nurse in local hospitals in each place she traveled.

Edna was a member of the YWCA her entire life and always found solace amongst the members of the different communities she lived in. Edna said she was surprised at the amount of work the organization was involved with in the camps. Immigrants in these camps needed something to occupy their time, and the YWCA provided them with social activities and English classes. The YWCA staff was also very involved in supporting those who had lost people in the battles.

When in Sioux Falls, she met Mrs. W. A. Arnesen, the president of the YWCA board of Sioux Falls. She became friends with Mrs. Arneson, and when they talked about Edna’s role with the YWCA, she was asked to speak at the Strawberry Festival.

During her speech, she laid out her plans for her future. From South Dakota, she planned to travel to Canada and spend a few months traveling the cities. Then, she wanted to tour the west coast before leaving for Australia, where she planned to make a permanent home.
“I lived in England during the terrible days of the bombing, and now I long for the quiet and peace of the countryside which I find I can get in Australia,” she said.

When Edna was done speaking, the YWCA choir performed a musical program featuring a song about strawberry picking. The festival concluded with a strawberry eating contest between the YWCA girls.

All the money raised from the festival was used to send YWCA girls to summer camp. These scholarships were given annually, and the girls created a new, fun way to fundraise each year.

For the past 100 years, the YWCA’s scholarship-fundraiser events have been a community highlight. As EmBe, we hope to continue this tradition and provide scholarships to all who need them. We’re achieving this goal today through the core-to-core fundraiser happening through September 28. The money raised with this event will help contribute to the over $350,000 EmBe gives away in scholarships each year.

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