The Best Ever?
Billed as the best St. Patrick's ever held in Dublin, at least in the first five years of the now 45-year celebration of St. Patrick's Day in Dublin, the 1970 festival featured many outstanding celebrity visitors. Although it lasted only eight days, the festival achieved several festival firsts and lasts.
It all began bright and early on a Saturday morning at Brown's Restaurant on North Jefferson Street with a kick off breakfast honoring the beauty queens of Laurens County's high schools. Al Hatcher, Jr., a candidate for State Comptroller General, was the guest speaker at the event sponsored by the Dublin Jaycees.
After the opening of the golf tournament at Green Acres golf course and a bowling tournament at Laurens Lanes, all eyes were focused on the beautiful teenage girls competing for the title of Miss Laurens County Teenager in a pageant which evolved into Miss St. Patrick's Festival. Beth Bussell, one of the prettiest girls ever to walk the halls of Dublin High School, won the crown.
Festival goers took most of the day off on Sunday, except for the conclusion of the bowling tournament. The festivities resumed on Monday with the Little Mr. and Mrs. Dublin contest at the City Auditorium. Linc Jones and Teresa Tomlinson were named as the winners as the cutest of the cute. Richie Everly, son of festival founder Anne Everly, and Karen Page were selected as runners up.
The all time favorite Pancake Supper was held at Central Elementary School. For those who didn't get enough to eat, an Irish Stew Supper was held in the hall of the American Legion. For those who were full and wanted a few belly laughs, a woman-less beauty pageant was held at the City Auditorium.
A Wednesday night supper was sponsored by the Catholic Church after a day of kite flying in the parking lot of the Shamrock Bowl. Nestled in between all of the activities was the grand opening of 441 Putt Away Miniature Golf on North Jefferson Street. Although it wasn't the city's first miniature golf course, it was the first in a long time. Believe it or not, it is still there, just next door to Po Boy's Meat Market.
The Dublin High Band Boosters invited everyone to drop by on Thursday night and eat or pick up a barbecue plate. They were good. I know. I sold several of them and ate one myself. My momma's delicious potato salad made it on the plates of several lucky buyers. Another evening of feasting concluded with the Leprechaun Contest at the auditorium. Dick Killebrew, WMLT radio host and festival founder, hosted the crowning of the best leprechauns, an honor which went to Laura Carswell and Joby Redmond. Marty Thomas and Susan Durant came in second, while Kevin Corbin and Judy Maffett came in third.
A festival first occurred on Friday morning when Johnny Boyd addressed the boys and girls of Dublin and East Laurens High Schools on the issue of highway safety. It was a time when fifty thousand people were being killed every year on the nation's roads, more than the total casualties of the entire Vietnam War. Boyd, a twelve-race veteran of the Indy 500 and a member of the Champion 100-mile Club, was brought to the town by Dublin Auto Parts.
When U.S. Congressman William Stuckey, of Eastman, was running late for his scheduled address to the Joint Civic Luncheon at the Dublin Country Club, Festival Chairman John Hambrick began to panic. There was no need to worry. Waiting in the wings was Vince Dooley, who just happened to be in town for the festival. Dooley, no stranger to sticky situations as an Auburn quarterback and on the sidelines of Sanford Stadium between the hedges, stepped to the podium and scored a touchdown with the audience. Dooley praised local football hero Ronnie Rogers as one of the team's best senior leaders. It was the second time that day that Dooley spoke in town. He earlier spoke to the Touchdown Clubs of Dublin and Laurens County.
For his double duty, Coach Dooley was presented one of the first shillelaghs produced by the Georgia Manufacturing plant in Dublin. The event presented for the first time Mayor Lester Porter's idea for the Irish wooden walking stick, one which was made by the local company headed by Don Lamb. Dooley left Dublin that day with an arm load of mementoes including a green jacket, a membership in the Order of the Shillelagh, and a plaque naming him as the Honorary State Leprechaun of the 1970 Festival. Oh, Congressman Stuckey, Area Honorary Leprechaun, did make it, just in time to get his jacket, shillelagh and plaque after most of the crowd had gone home.
The Lions Club sponsored the annual Award's Banquet at the Methodist Church. Another congressman, G. Elliott Hagan, who had served Laurens County in Congress, was on hand to welcome the featured speaker for the evening, the Hon. Irish Embassy Secretary Jeremy Michael Craig, who contrasted life in his hometown of Dublin, Ireland to life in Dublin, Georgia. Craig, wearing his new green jacket, holding his National Honorary Leprechaun plaque, and carrying his shillelagh, commented on the number of churches in town and the fact that they seemed to cooperate with each other more than in his home.
Mary Jean Edwards, a Dexter High senior, was selected as Youth of the Year. Mildred Leavitt, a community volunteer and sweet lady, was chosen as the Woman of the Year. Banker Lamar Hogan, long known as a leader of community promoting events, joined Mrs. Leavitt in receiving the highly humbling award. Mrs. Luther Word knew much happiness during her long life, but she also suffered her own share of despair. Her only son, Luther B. Word, Jr., was awarded the Silver Star in giving his life for his country in World War II. Despite all of the tragedy in her life, Mrs. Word was honored by her community for always looking ahead during times of challenge. Dick Killebrew, who co-founded the festival in 1966, was honored as the first "Honorary Local Leprechaun."
The big and final day came on Saturday. Irish eyes were twinkling as the dreary skies were sprinkling rain drops. Though the crowds were small, the parade went ahead as scheduled. It was the last time when the all black bands of Oconee, Millville and B.D. Perry High Schools would perform on the streets of Dublin. A dozen bands, the most ever, included bands from Hawkinsville, Irwinton, and Lyons, as well as the last performance of Laurens High and the first of West Laurens High.
Lost among the politicians was a little known candidate for governor. Though no one in the crowd, or the nation for that matter, would have ever dreamed of it, the farmer riding in the car was none other than Jimmy Carter, who, within seven years, would become the President of the United States, making this festival the first time that a United States President appeared in the St. Patrick's parade.
The 1970 Festival ended with a second golf tournament at the Dublin Country Club, the conclusion of the Bowling tournament, and a race at 441 Speedway. Courier Herald editor W.H. Champion lauded the committee, organizers and participants. He challenged the following year's organizers to match and improve the 1971 festival. Champion proclaimed that the entire event was an example of what a large number of people can do to show that we all can love our Dublin as much as the Irish people love their own Dublin.