04/27/08 — Pickle festival pleases crowd, taste buds

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Pickle festival pleases crowd, taste buds

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on April 27, 2008 2:01 AM

MOUNT OLIVE -- This must be one of few festivals where you'll see thousands meandering along an old but active railroad line, crunching on green triangular sticks.

Those sticks are dill pickle slices, and this is Mount Olive's Pickle Festival, the town's 22nd. It's held in honor of the pickle plant at the corner of Cucumber and Vine, The Mt. Olive Pickle Company Inc., incorporated in 1926, which claims to pack 90 million jars of pickles, relishes and peppers annually.

But this is also a festival like you'd find in many towns -- complete with rides, vendors, farm animals and their related scents, and a Chamber of Commerce with organizers rooting for high turnout as proof of the event's success.

Those folks can feel pretty good about themselves, according to police Chief Ralph Schroeder, whose officers oversaw the event on foot and from a street corner booth.

"We had probably close to 25,000 people at the apex of all of this," Schroeder said while overseeing the transfer of cash from a collection booth near the rides to a safer location.

Schroeder said police ran into a few minor scuffles, but the chief reported the event was peaceful overall.

"It was a really orderly crowd," Schroeder said.

A dance Friday night in town also attracted a large number of people -- as many as 500, the chief reported.

Perhaps folks behaved themselves because there were a variety of things to do.

Duplin County-area Mount Olive resident Angel Horne reported a good time to be had on a mechanical bull near a stage at the corner of Chestnut and James Streets.

"It was just way awesome," said Miss Horne, hanging out with friends and schoolmates Cheyene Bain, 14, and Phillip Holland, 13.

Miss Bain said another nearby attraction was her favorite, mostly because she got to hit Phillip with a water balloon from long range.

"It has a water balloon, you pull it down, and it shoots the other person," Miss Bain reported.

Also out and about were relatives of Mt. Olive Pickle Co. employees, including Kathi Browne, the wife of the company's chief financial officer.

With her were sons Colby, 6, and Zachary, 11. Colby had a polo-style shirt the color of emeralds, lawns and, um, pickles.

"Colby wanted to wear his pickle colors today," Mrs. Browne said.

Elsewhere, Southern Wayne High School teachers Michael Klemiuk and Andy Sullivan strolled through town. Klemiuk was accompanied by wife Christy, a Mount Olive College registrar's office employee who expects to give birth to a girl this summer.

The couple and husband's colleague watched their friend Matt Bartlett, affiliated with their church, perform on the Chestnut and James Street stage.

Klemiuk, who moved from Columbus County to Wayne County in 1997 to teach high school, said he's made visting the Pickle Festival an annual tradition.

"Yeah, I would have to say this was the best one ever," said Klemiuk, who admits he's a proud and eager father-to-be. "It's been awesome. The church was well represented. Good weather, good food, everybody in a good mood."

Christy, who says her due date is in the end of July, said maternal hankerings may have affected her choice of the Pickle Festival's best offering.

"The ice cream," Mrs. Klemiuk said. "Strawberry, in a waffle cone."

Standing on Center Street were a gaggle of giggling young friends, who eagerly offered their opinions on the festival.

"I liked the (Keith King Bicycle Stunt Team)," said Johniece Edwards, 14. "He did a backflip, he went up and he did a backflip."

Sitting in a shop window with Johniece were her friends Brianna Flanagan, 13, Ekira Jackson, 9, Samyiah Sasser, 6, Shanaiya Best, 9, and Shaneka Braswell, 14.

Miss Best said despite the attractions, more traditional fare was the order of the day.

"The hot pickles," Shanaiya said. "I liked the hot pickles. And the funnel cake."