On June 16, 1955, only a little more than three years after the club’s founding, the Mattituck Lions Club celebrated its first Strawberry Festival and this year will be the Club’s 67th.
The club archives tell the story of the first festival held on the third Saturday of June, Father’s Day weekend. For a total of six hours Ed Buchak, the first Strawberry Festival Chairman and fellow club members entertained about 1,000 guests. Lions and their friends and families served food and beverages, which of course included local fresh strawberries and Strawberry Shortcake. Thanks to the generosity of the community, the 1st Strawberry Festival recorded a net profit of $787.00
From the beginning, club members realized their idea had promise and could grow into something very special, especially if properly planned and nurtured. It is doubtful the club’s charter members could have imagined what the festival would grow to become in those early days. Throughout 66 years of planning, the festival’s importance can be measured not only in the amount of money raised for charity but also its positive impact on the North Fork economy.
Through the years, planning for the Strawberry Festival has been the domain of the Club’s 1st Vice President assisted by the Festival Secretary. Tradition has given the Festival Chairman the latitude to build off what has been successful in the past and explore innovations that might help insure visitors enjoy themselves and want to return. The Festival Secretary is relied on by the Festival Chairman to help keep each of the approximate 25 festival committee chairman focused to meet the numerous festival deadlines.
Club records are not clear as to who is responsible for the innovations that today are Strawberry Festival traditions. In 1956, the club started baking cake in the school. It appears as though Hulling Night (to be held this year on Wednesday June 15th, beginning at 5PM) became a permanent fixture beginning in 1957. Many community volunteers still fondly recall gathering in what is now the headquarters for Kolb Mechanical Corp on Old Sound Avenue. In 1958, the late PDG Cliff Saunders, Jr., one of the most beloved Lions in New York State, was Festival Chairman and reported net profits of $1,638.00. Club records indicate as the number of activities and attractions increased so did the number of guests coinciding with an increase in net proceeds. For the first time the 1958 post festival meeting minutes show the formation of committees with committee chairman to assist in the planning process. The first Strawberry Festival Queen was crowned in 1956. Many thanks are extended to previous Festival Chairman who introduced other traditions including the craft show, carnival, midway, international food court, strawberry daiquiri’s, coloring contest, raffle, entertainment, fireworks, business vendors, LIRR excursion, media coverage, website, corporate sponsors, VIP seating, chocolate covered strawberries and the visual splendor of the Club’s tents and signs.
Innovations were not just specific to the attractions for guests. Some of the best innovations were for the distribution of the proceeds of the Festival. Because of the generosity of the visitors the Club found itself in the enviable position of being able to help more of those in need. Currently, more than 30 organizations and groups derive benefit from the festival proceeds, in addition to individuals to whom the Club becomes aware.
Without the support of countless family, friends, the East End Lions and other community volunteers, there would be no Strawberry Festival. The Club recognizes the financial support of our sponsors. Other important assistance comes from the Office of the Southold Town Supervisor, Southold Town Police and Public Works, Riverhead Town Police, Mattituck Fire Department and Rescue Squad and the Town of Southold Park District and Recreation Department. Additionally the club wishes to recognize the Police, Public Safety, EMS, Public Works, Health and Parks Department of Suffolk County. The club’s gratitude also extends to the vendors, media and entertainers who have been so supportive. Most of all, the Club appreciates our Strawberry Festival guests. For without them sharing their Father’s Day Weekend with us on the North Fork, the Mattituck Lions would not have been able to donate literally hundreds of thousands of dollars to those among us in need during the past 64 years.