The History of The Caladium Festival
By Anne Reynolds
Lake Placid is “The Caladium Capital of The World.” For any industry that makes such a mark on an area, there should be a festival celebrating it. The idea was first broached by Doris Gentry and a few years later growers were prodded and helped by Ann Bond and Audrey Vickers with the Convention and Visitors Bureau. They suggested September as the caladiums were in full bloom and it was a slow month for merchants. Unfortunately, the written history and a large historical exhibit of the caladium industry were lost in the 2004 hurricane, but enough survived in family files to tell the story and continue the festival.
In 1990, two competing caladium grower families decided to work together to make the festival possible. Carolyn Phypers of Happiness Farms and Dot Bates of Bates Sons and Daughters Caladiums took on the job. The first location of the festival was at Happiness Farms. In preparation, Bates and Phypers drove a pick-up truck and walked door to door offering free caladium bulbs (tubers) by the bagful to anyone from Hwy. 621 to Lake Blue who would plant them. Bus tours could see the fields and then be shown how beautifully caladiums could be incorporated into a landscape. Two years later, they added the WatersEdge neighborhood and left trays of bulbs in the cul-de-sac for anyone who wanted to plant them.
The festival had one bus and two runs the first year, with the number increasing to as many as 41 tours in a year with one bus doing four or five runs since. Sun Bank, now Sun Trust, donated $3,000 the first year to start the effort and continued support for several years. Vera, Rose and Julia Sapp entertained festival crowds as cloggers, and guests also viewed a video about the industry in a barn. Norma Stokes and the ladies of the local Farm Bureau provided the lunch for everyone. All the growers were assigned a task and had a display table. Other growers besides Bates and Phypers who participated the first year were D & L Bulb Farm, Cooper’s Farm, Joiners, Lake Huntley, Lake Placid Bulb, Parker Island, Hendry Caladiums, Sapp Caladiums,
One important commitment was to recognize the living, first generation caladium pioneers, Emmett and Mildred Bates, Paul Phypers, Sr., Boots Holmes, and Zena Hendry. Some of the older growers would sit in rocking chairs at the Caladium Co-Op and talk. All the men took turns standing under the shade cloth to talk to visitors and answer questions. It was moved into the Co-Op building two years ago, with Dot and Maxine Kelley overseeing the historical aspect. Maxine’s family was involved in the industry for many years, and her granddaughter, Heidi (Head) Davis, was the first Caladium Queen.
Although the number of growers has decreased over the last few years, the second generations of growers are making their mark. The Bates’ family has had a grower’s exhibit each year. Their daughter, Teri, grows out the pots of new varieties and those left in the industry. All members of the Bates and Phypers families can be seen in action throughout the festival.
The festival has something for everyone. All food vendors are local and the Caladium Committee ensures there are no duplicates. They only have room for a hundred booths so there’s a long waiting list for arts and crafts, with an attempt to keep at least half of the booths caladium-related. The vendors love the venue because they are welcomed and given coffee, donuts, and orange juice when they set up. They also receive water throughout the day and a bag of caladiums at the end. Vendors are visited, treated well and apply for the following year immediately. Lake Placid is usually the first venue of their season.
The festival has required the support of numerous community volunteers. Marge Callas, under the auspices of the Caladium Arts and Crafts Co-Op, has done the books through the years and the money they take in is divided equally between the two entities. Debbie Rutledge has worked hard on getting entertainment for the weekend. Hector Hernandez was the first treasurer. The town and the county have been very supportive by blocking off the streets and giving free garbage pick-up.
Carolyn stated, “We wanted to help the town and businesses, so the second year we held it in town.” Every year since, the festival has been held in Stuart Park on Interlake Boulevard. The festival month was later changed to August because of hurricane season.
“What sustained the festival have been the profits from selling the potted plants which Bates grows, and the caladium bulbs which Happiness Farms bags up and sells,” said Dot.
“All of that money went back into the festival to keep it going,” Carolyn added. The festival has grown and become popular with locals and vendors. All proceeds from the festivals, which included large, personal donations were used for expenses, saved for future festivals and have supported many worthwhile community projects. One year donations included a $2,000 scholarship and donations to the police department, schools, the Chamber of Commerce, Educational Foundation, Woman’s Club, Last Chance Ranch, Masons, Beautification of Stuart Park, Town of Lake Placid and Bradenton Research Center for a total of $8,200 festival dollars given back to the area. The success of the festival over the years has been a commitment of grower participation, volunteers, returning vendors, and the people who come from everywhere to enjoy the unique flavor of a small town. Some have decided to come back and make it their home.
The festival was turned over to the Chamber of Commerce in 2007. We are indebted to the Phypers and Bates families for their investments, perseverance, hard work, and dedication to use their finances, time and expertise to make our community a better place.