Festival Village Honoree Thomas Has Long History With St. John Carnival

2006 Festival Village Honoree Natalie Thomas smiles as she is introduced to the crowd at the opening of Thomasville for the 2006 St. John Festival on Wed-nesday evening, June 28.

This year’s Festival Village honoree is no stranger to carnival. Natalie Thomas, for whom “Thomasville” is named, has been involved with St. John’s Fourth of July Festival since the 1980s.

“Natalie was chosen for her years as a long-standing committee member,” said Leona Smith, St. John Festival and Cultural Organization president. “She was chosen because of her dedicated services to the carnival in different capacities.”

Thomas started working with the Festival Committee in the mid-80s on an unofficial basis, she said.

“Mr. Penn used to have me come out on food fair day and assist him with collecting from the vendors, so we went around and we would collect all the money and he would take it to the treasurer to have it deposited,” said Thomas. “After that, he wanted me to emcee, so I did that once.”

Festival Village Booth
In the early 90s, Thomas and a friend had a booth at Festival Village. “My girlfriend Ann Harley and I used to have a booth jointly, so around that time I officially became a member of the Festival Committee,” she said. “We worked real hard at that booth. We sold fried chicken, johnny cakes, fried fish, conch soup, whelks, all the good things — local dishes that people around here like to have.”

Working at the booth was fun, but hard work, according to Thomas.

“We really had a good time at that booth,” she said. “It was such hard work. It’s really hard, because it’s like you’re setting up a kitchen.”

“Every night for about a week you’re in this booth from seven or eight at night until one or so in the morning,” Thomas added.

Despite the hard work, Thomas and Harley continued to run a booth at Festival Village for the next few years.

“The first time, we thought it would be fun and we’d make some money, and we did — we worked for that money,” said Thomas. “The next year, we said ‘it was fun, but it was hard work and we made some money, so we’ll do it again.’ By the last night, you’re so tired, it’s like you are ready to drop.”

“You can’t sit still because you fall asleep,” she added.

Thomas has since worked with the Festival Committee as the parade chairperson, and currently works as the treasurer and helps Smith with administrative duties.

Preparing for Festival Excitement
Thomas enjoys her work with the Festival Committee because she loves preparing for festival, she said.

“It’s exciting when we begin preparing for the festival — going shopping, getting the concession set up, getting ready for the shows and especially getting ready for the fair,” said Thomas. “I love the fair. It’s such a cultural event.”

“You go there, and there are all these vendors with all the agricultural produce, the local dishes, and the vendors that sell clothes and toys and all that kind of stuff — I just love it,” she added.

Finding out she was named Festival Village honoree was a shock, according to Thomas.

“Actually, I was dumfounded,” she said. “I didn’t believe it. I was standing up, and I had to sit down.”

“I asked, ‘couldn’t you find anyone else?’” Thomas continued. “(Festival chairperson) Ms. (Jane) Johannes said, ‘you’re it, you deserve it and you’re going to be it, so just be quiet.’”

Thomas helped cut the ribbon at Thomasville’s opening Wednesday evening, June 28. Thomas-ville is open through July 4.