A Celebration of Bluffton Life~ Then & Now
By Laura Wilson
With permission from CH2/ CB2 magazine – media sponsor 2015 Bluffton Village Festival
Article to appear in their May 2015 issue
Once upon a time there was…and still is… a very cool, eclectic town renowned for the originality of its people, some truly stand out Southern characters, a town by the banks of the beautiful May, known for its artists of any genre, good food and lowcountry living. A colony of quirky, unique, folks who earned the saying, penned in the book, A Corner of Carolina by Edith Ingelsby, attributing the original, the first, way of thinking or State of Mind…as Bluffton.
Quirky, eclectic, different, unique are all descriptors that have been associated with this town and it then decided to be celebrated with the conception of the Bluffton Village Festival. Thirty-seven years ago, Babbie Guscio, a unique individual herself, came up with the idea to have a festival to celebrate the people of Bluffton and a place where children could experience the beauty and talents unique to this area. To embrace and support the arts, a get together of culture in Bluffton complete with fabulous foods, ugly dogs, music, crafts and art.
What seemed initially as a daunting task taken on by one very tenacious woman with a vision, the very first Bluffton Village Festival, also known as Mayfest turned out to be a great success.
Babbie’s moxie was evidenced as a child when her mother, who wanted her children to see and experience everything that they could, saw poet Robert Frost and told her daughter to go introduce herself to him. She did and at five years of age, young Babbie walks up to Mr. Frost, extends her hand and with a firm handshake, says, “Hello Mr. Frost I have read all of your books.” That, in part is an example of the uniqueness of the folks of Bluffton.
Babbie Guscio relays that, “in the beginning, many folks didn’t believe that anyone would come to the event and they weren’t interested in the idea. I then had several folks who grew up in the area, Tom Niver, Gilliard Heyward and Hassell Heyward, just to name a few say to me, ‘don’t worry Babbie’ and with their support, help and encouragement the festival came together.”
The ladies at the Church of the Cross were asked to make sandwiches so that festival goers had something to snack on and even with a bit of skepticism, a great amount of sandwiches were made resulting in sales of $500…and this was 37 years ago! Tomato sandwiches, egg salad sandwiches and the now ever popular shrimp salad sandwiches all were a smash hit.
What also was very important were the vendors for the Bluffton Village Festival. If there were to be a written description of criteria to participate it would be the same uniqueness, eclectic, original, descriptors to maintain the importance of integrity and originality. Local artists were provided a place where they could display and highlight their work and the notoriety of the level of talent became synonymous with the Bluffton Village Festival.
Will Guscio, Babbie’s son noted that what he felt made the festival a success was good taste. “My mother, Babbie has great taste and the vendors selected were chosen due to their unique talents and displays. It was important to our mother that the children had fun, saw and experienced people, arts, culture that they otherwise might not.” Will relayed with a smile how he and his siblings helped with the festival preparation and then relayed, ” we’d spend a few hours on the street, in the heat, where there was always something good to eat and then to the river to cool off.”
The family always helped, relays Babbie and she added she never slept nights right before a festival. “Often times I would be out in the evening, checking on things in my night clothes, yet added with a twinkle in her eye, “when you have on the right accessories it’s okay.”
Long time Bluffton resident and proprietor of Stock Farm Antiques, Emmett McCracken fondly recalls how back in the day, 20+ years ago, when he came home from the service, you could go to the Bluffton Village Festival and you would know everyone. He stated he always enjoyed a visit to Tina Fripp’s booth located near the Church of the Cross, checking out the work of potter, Jacob Preston and made a point to seek out Doug Corkern’s stand to view and admire his pen and ink portraits and drawings. “Now folks come from out of state and from all over, which speaks to the success the festival has gained over the years, relays McCracken.
The festival’s success, originating with Babbie Guscio now continues due to the work, dedication and efforts of the Rotary Club of Bluffton. Babbie decided in 2009 to turn the event over to the Rotary Club and is grateful for their commitment and willingness to carry forward her dream. “I am very happy that the Rotary Club of Bluffton has continued what I started.”
Rotary members are in full swing organizing for the upcoming 37th Annual Bluffton Village Festival. With the HUGE growth over the years of the festival, the Bluffton Village Rotary Committee members take care of everything from Vendor Coordination & Registration to Transportation & Sanitation to Insurances to Entertainment, just to name of few of the many responsibilities.
A “shout out” to Rotary members:
Steve Miller- Rotary President, Dot Jeger and David Hussey- Co-Chairs
& Lisa Carroll- Public Relations
and ~ Jim Hudson, Mary O’Neill, Barry Connor, Jay Parks, Pike Jones, Alan Butts, Mary Miller, Wil Saleeby, John Kirkland, Michael Putich, Robbie Eidson, Tom Faber, Joanie Iaco, Mike Tripka, Mike Raymond, Sarah Litchfield, Bob Ward, Deb Boshaw,
Mike Covert and Sam Connor.
The festival is just one of many areas of service provided by the Rotary Club of Bluffton to the town for which we all can give thanks. Thank you to Babbie Guscio for your gift of the festival to Bluffton and thank you to Rotary for its continued success.
Many moons ago, 37 years to be exact, Babbie Guscio started the Bluffton Village Festival, also known as Mayfest, because she said there was nowhere for townspeople and children in particular to get exposure to various artists, musicians and other craftsmen. It was such a small town and most residents didn’t have the means to travel.
The festival became a gathering spot for culture in Bluffton and just a day filled with fun. The vendors included local artists and musicians. Guscio said she wanted locals to experience the amazing art and crafts that were created in their very own town. She decided not to make the event a juried art show because she couldn’t bear the thought of saying “no” to any artist who wanted to display his or her work. She wanted the festival to showcase a variety of goods from watercolor paintings of the May River to handmade doilies and ornaments. The festival was “the people’s festival,” Guscio said and “a celebration of Bluffton life.”
The artists and musicians at each year’s event certainly have their own story to tell, but the food has its own reputation. The first year of the festival, Guscio had to convince the ladies of The Church of Cross to sell tomato and chicken salad sandwiches so festival goers had something to munch on. The ladies sold out so quickly that it convinced them to keep bring their food cart year after year. But it wasn’t until the introduction of their shrimp salad sandwiches that festival attendees began showing up at the church’s station with coolers to store as many yummy sandwiches as they could purchase.
Guscio remembers the man from Denmark, S.C. who came to make and sell his homemade peach ice cream, the crab cakes and shrimp burgers cooked up by Ronnie Frazier and the “famous Ulmer bread” that was sold by the United Methodist Church of Bluffton back in “the old days.” One food vendor Guscio always looked for is Tex, the lemonade man. He made the best lemonade from just lemons and sugar. Nothing says the South like lemonade on a summer day, according to Guscio.
Babbie turned the event over to the Rotary Club of Bluffton in 2009 so “other ideas could be embroidered into the fabric of the festival,” she said. The Village Festival is “my little gift to everyone in Bluffton.” “There’s a bit of romance and drama about the whole [festival] because you don’t know exactly what will be under the vendors’ tents,” she said.
Guscio moved to Bluffton from Paris, France in 1972 and has owned The Store on Calhoun Street since 1978. She and her husband have three children and two grandchildren who have all grown up in The Store. “We consider Calhoun Street the center of our universe,” she said.
General Tips for Festival-goers:
• A good pair of walking shoes, bug spray, sunglasses and sunscreen will keep you comfortable.
• Friendly dogs are welcome at the festival on a leash. Several of the pet nonprofits provide water and a swimming pool for hot dogs!
• Rotary volunteers will be available to assist you throughout the day.