Its name must have been Blackjack. There really may not be any other explanation.
One of the most popular attractions annually during St. Clair’s Freedom Fest celebration are the turtle races sponsored by the Medows family of the Lonedell area. The event has been a mainstay for a long time and in recent years has taken place in memory of Tracy Medows, who died from cancer in 2011.
The Medows family brings the turtles with them to Orchard Park, and they set up the racing circle in the big pavilion.
Children of different age groups get to select which turtle they want to race. Three youth age divisions take place with the top three finishers in each getting a trophy and other prizes.
After the youngsters pick their turtles and names and numbers have been duly noted, the turtles are placed under a box in the middle of a circle. When the box is lifted, the turtles, well, most of them, start moving and the one that crosses the circle circumference line first is the winner.
In all three of Saturday’s races, the winning reptile was No. 21.
“We decided we were going to stick with a winner,” said Cindy Brown, whose daughters Molly and Abby both earned first-place trophies in the second and third races for selecting No. 21 as their turtle after watching it win the first race. “He was a fast guy that just seemed like he wanted to keep moving around.”
The turtle races were one of several events that dotted Saturday’s schedule before a prolonged evening thunderstorm drenched Orchard Park and forced the fireworks to be postponed for a week. The sky-lighting show tentatively is scheduled to take place at about 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 28.
Seating and parking will be first-come, first-served.
City Administrator Rick Childers told The Missourian that J&M Displays Inc., the company that provides the fireworks “are good to go” for this coming Saturday. J&M company employees arrived shortly after noon last Saturday to begin setting up the 1,100 shells that are part of the St. Clair show.
Childers did indicate that no vendors will be allowed back into Orchard Park to sell their wares, including food.
Saturday’s severe weather came with little warning. The National Weather Service out of St. Louis first issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the St. Clair area at about 6:45 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. The warning later was extended until 8 and then 8:45 p.m.
J&M already had things in place for the fireworks show. When the rain first hit, workers covered the shells, but too much rain fell too quickly.
When the bad weather hit shortly after 7 p.m., individuals started to scatter from the park. Most of the vendors packed their gear and headed home. A few hearty souls, most of whom were St. Clair Parks and Recreation Board members and city employees, stayed until the inclement weather had passed.
Heavy rain fell for more than an hour, and it was still raining a couple of hours later.
The festival started at noon with opening ceremonies. The St. Clair High School Air Force Junior ROTC presented the colors, and Karen McGlenn sang the national anthem. Mayor Ron Blum then welcomed everyone to the party.
The Freedom Fest pageant took place after that. Greased pig races started at 2 p.m., with the turtle races getting under way at 3.
A watermelon eating contest was on the agenda at 4, followed by a hot dog eating contest at 4:30. A nickel in a haystack search ended the activities at 5.
Local band James & Truesdell with Tools of the Trade began playing on the stage area at about 6 p.m. and stayed until the rains came.
Three years ago, the Freedom Fest fireworks were delayed 24 hours after severe weather swept through the area during the afternoon. A tornado warning actually was issued for the area.
The following night, it was discovered that many of the fireworks had gotten wet, so the show had to be canceled after only a few shells had been ignited.