Build a festival around a berry? It just might work! |

Build a festival around a berry? It just might work!

Sometimes it’s just too much of a temptation to take a little liberty with a news story.

Sometimes you’d just love to go back in time and talk to someone who made a difference here, to get into his head a little bit. With Strawberry Days coming up this weekend, we thought we’d take a trip back in time to 1900, the turn of the last century, and talk to one of the originators of the event, George William Hoover.

George William Hoover is a man of drive. As the agricultural correspondent for the Avalanche, a Glenwood Springs newspaper, he has promoted the bountiful riches of this fertile Grand River Valley. He has also earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the driving forces behind Glenwood Springs’ annual Strawberry Day.

Hoover owns the Gold Medal Ranch, an orchard and truck farm, in the town of Antlers near Silt. First and foremost he is a farmer of great repute who grows, by all reports, some of the best strawberries on the Western Slope.

According to his friends and neighbors, Hoover is always well turned out, even when at work in his fields and orchard, attired in worn overalls but sporting a spotless, starched white shirt, buttoned at the neck.

Hoover is a man of medium height. His short-cropped sandy hair bristles up from a two-toned face common to farmers whose heads are shaded from the sun by a broad-brimmed hat. He has a snowy white brow and a lower face the color of saddle leather.

His is the slow drawl of the working man, but his words are measured and it becomes apparent in conversation that he is a master of his profession.

Hoover came into this country in 1892 and set about to create a thriving ranch from this untrammeled land. In his earlier life he drove a four-horse team, hauling hay from the San Luis Valley to Leadville during what he called “the gold excitement” of the past decade.

He came to the Grand River valley in answer to an advertisement placed by Henry Butters, director of the Orchard Land Association, who intends to offer farmland for sale around the newly established town of Antlers. Part of Hoover’s salary was taking a deed for a portion of the development for his own farm, which he called Gold Medal Ranch.

He planted “a carload of fruit trees” and field crops.

That fall, the Garfield County Fair was organized and the committee invited him to exhibit his crops. One day he took a committee member out into his field.

“He made such a fuss over what I showed him that I thought him crazy,” Hoover said. “On the morning of the fair I was on my way to Rifle with about 1,000 pounds of garden and farm products, having no fruit trees old enough to bear.”

Hoover then dug in the back pocket of his overalls and pulled out a well-thumbed copy of his fair book.

“My book shows that every entry received a prize, mostly firsts,” he said proudly.

Hoover’s reputation as a model farmer propelled him into a prominent position in the farming community, as an officer of the Tri-County Farm Union and an outspoken booster of the county’s economy.

As a correspondent for the newspaper, he used this public platform to promote the idea of holding a Strawberry Day festival, which began in 1898.

“The Western Slope, and especially Garfield County, is already becoming noted for the fine berries it raises, and all that is lacking to make the raising of strawberries both delightful and profitable is to create a market for the fruit, by stimulating the consumption of them as much as possible,” he wrote in the Nov. 11, 1897, edition of the Avalanche.

An annual Strawberry Day would “show the consumer the berries in all their glory, and the aroma, mingled with the daintiness of color, will penetrate the people’s digestive organs and create a strawberry hunger, which, of course, must be supplied by the grower,” he wrote.

It must also be said here that the farm union also got on the Strawberry Day bandwagon in 1987. Mrs. Anna Pearson, who is also an officer of the union, reported that Mrs. Ryan got up at a meeting and said, “Why not have Strawberry Day like Grand Junction has Peach Day, Rocky Ford has Watermelon Day and Canon City Fruit Day?”

C.H. Tibbetts Sr. promptly offered to donate 10 crates of strawberries for a fruit feast. Chas. Harris of Carbondale offered nine gallons of cream. Thus the tradition was born of serving the celebrants with fresh strawberries and cream.

Old Judge Pease, who was also in attendance at that meeting, chipped in, “Yes, over nothing else can a fellow snuggle up to his girl closer than over a dish of strawberries and cream.”

Hoover and Tibbetts did almost come to a dust-up at a Strawberry Day organizing meeting this year, 1900, when the two could not agree on just who in particular deserved the title of “the father of the project.”

According to club secretary George Bell, “Mr. Hoover remained mum as a clam, while Mr. Tibbetts, in an undertone, claimed to (committee president) Holmes that he was the originator of the Strawberry Day project, but this difference of opinion was not allowed to mar the harmony of the meeting.”

Ever the humble gentleman, Hoover continues to extol the virtues of the county’s natural abundance in the newspaper and remains unstinting in his promotion and planning of Strawberry Day.

Contact Donna Daniels: 945-8515, ext. 520

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