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The Yankee Express

Strawberry fields forever, indeed, in the town of Dudley

Members of the Volpe family, Eugene, Sam, Joe and Hannah, emerge from the Dudley Grange Hall with the prized treat hundreds of people came for during Dudley Grange #163’s annual Strawberry Festival on June 16th.

By Rod Lee

As signs placed at conspicuous locations around town attest, a Strawberry Festival hosted by Dudley Grange #163 happens “the third Thursday every June.”
  Which means that on the afternoon and evening of June 16, 2022, all roads literally led to Center Road near its intersection with Dudley Hill Road and in the general proximity of Nichols College and the Dudley Hill Golf Club.

 Part of the throng that gathered for Dudley Grange #163’s Strawberry Festival.

  A fixture in the town of Dudley for more than sixty years, the Strawberry Festival is not just about the season’s most popular fruit. The event traditionally includes such components as a frog-jumping contest, live music, face painting, a Dudley Fire Department smoke house, vintage automobiles, a dunk tank, and the Black Tavern antiques and collectibles sale.
  It runs from about four o’clock “until all of the berries are gone,” as Dudley Grange #163 representatives put it.
  The Strawberry Festival returned this June after a two-year hiatus, first because of Covid and then per order of the governor in 2021. “We did a music series instead, last year, and we are doing that again this year, in July and August,” Karen Gillon, co-chair of the Strawberry Festival with her husband Ken, said, the morning after the event.

Linda Brink, with Gerry Frank, prepares to welcome patrons to a vendor table at the Strawberry Festival. Proceeds benefit scholarships the Grange awards. Ms. Brink is secretary of Dudley Grange #163.

  “We come very summer,” Joe Volpe of Webster said, speaking of members of his family who had joined hundreds in attendance for this year’s version of the Strawberry Festival. Vehicles were parked wherever their operators could find space for blocks in all directions. At six o’clock the line for tickets was still long, while people who had already made an appearance could be seen walking along Center Road with cardboard trays filled with containers of strawberry shortcake.
  “We hulled sixteen hundred pounds of strawberries on Wednesday,” Ms. Gillon said on Friday, June 17th. “We get the strawberries from Big Bunny in Southbridge. The strawberries are from California. This year eighteen Nichols College kids helped with the hulling. They were having a contest to see who could hull berries the fastest. They were wonderful.”
  “The biscuits also come from Big Bunny. We do our own whipped cream, hand-whipped with machines, and we haven’t burned the motors of the machines out yet.”
  Speaking of contests, Ms. Gillon said her own children took part in the frog-jumping contest “back in the day. “Kids bring their own frogs and all we ask is that they return them to where they got them. Ray Sullivan, a Dudley resident, is our go-to guy. He runs the frog-jumping contest. We give trophies to the winners. My husband started a ‘be kind to the frogs’ initiative several years ago. The kids love the contest.”
  Ms. Gillon said support for the Strawberry Festival comes from all quarters of the community. Dudley selectmen waive permits so people can park on the street. The Dudley Fire Department and Dudley Police Department play active roles. Nichols College assists with the parking. Grange members and volunteers shoulder much of the burden in staging a production that takes a lot of preparatory work. National Honor Society students from Shepherd Hill High School, “without them, I don’t know how we would do this,” she said.
  Proceeds from the Strawberry Festival support “one, two or three scholarships to graduating seniors from area high schools,” she said.
  “I can’t believe we pull this off with the crew we have and volunteers,” Ms. Gillon said. The result is strong allegiance from residents of Dudley and nearby towns. “It’s generational,” she said. “It’s a huge undertaking.”
  But well worth the effort.

Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.