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Camellia Week officially kicks off Sunday

This common camellia, also known as a Japanese camellia, and many others will be celebrated next week during the 55th Camellia Week celebration.

This common camellia, also known as a Japanese camellia, and many others will be celebrated next week during the 55th Camellia Week celebration.

On Jan. 22, 1962, Mayor J.F. Steele of Greenville signed an official proclamation declaring the week of Feb. 5 as “Camellia Week” in the city, requesting all citizens to plant more camellias and share their blooms with others, “all of which will magnify the beauty and hospitality of our growing city.”

This Sunday, February 5, marks the beginning of the 55th Camellia Week in Greenville.

And as we discovered in the archives of The Greenville Advocate,  citizens back in 1962 answered the mayor’s call, including some of the younger denizens of the town. The student council at Greenville Junior High (now Greenville Middle School) presented their school with 18 camellia plants. Becky Parrish, student council reporter, made the presentation speech, urging the student body to “take care of those camellias and add to their number.”

As always, the camellia-loving staff at The Greenville Advocate did their part to stir readers’ interest in their favorite flower and to encourage camellia growers to plant, share and enter their best blooms in the city’s annual camellia show. Photographs of some of Greenville’s loveliest young ladies, including Madeleine Brock, Ellen Haygood and Joan Foster, appeared within the newspaper’s pages, posing in the yards of local camellia growers or in close-ups wearing the blooms in their hair in the paper’s “Beauties of Greenville” column.

However, the camellia blooms that year were, in the words of The Greenville Advocate, “far below par for the Camellia City.”

It seems Mother Nature was not being kind to the city’s favorite flower in early 1962.

First, there was a streak of sub-freezing temperatures that had citizens chopping firewood and backing up to the propane heaters. The arctic chill turned one yard with a leaky faucet into a makeshift skating rink on Second Street for kids like Deborah Watford and Patsy Neese. The down side of the unlikely winter fun? Those hard freezes killed many open camellia blossoms and delayed the opening of other blooms.

And then, wouldn’t you know– Mother Nature’s pendulum swung in the other direction, and the city had a stretch of almost summer-like dry weather in late January and early February. The poor camellias that were blooming began to droop in the heat. Many camellia shows  slated for the southern part of the state were canceled due to the lack of size and variety of available blooms.

But all was not lost. Finally, the weatherman cooperated. In the February 22nd edition of the newspaper, three more pretty young ladies—Rosalind McBride, Jean Foster and Linda McBride—were founding striking poses with the beautiful camellias in full bloom at the Oakley McFerrin home west of Greenville.

The local Men’s Camellia Society joined forces with the Federated Garden Clubs of Greenville to bring a two-day event to Beeland Park that weekend, February 24 and 25. It wasn’t a judged camellia show; instead, camellia enthusiasts brought their best blooms and most artistic arrangements to display for the enjoyment of all in attendance.  Attendees had the opportunity to vote on their favorite camellias—a sort of “People’s Choice” scenario.

Decked out in their elegant princess-style gowns and white gloves, the top ten beauties of the Miss Greenville High School Pageant were on hand to welcome the 500 or so guests who attended the display with a special stage designed and built by Al Kitching and the Men’s Camellia Society.

Visitors from Decatur, Opp, Montgomery, Birmingham, Monroeville, Hayneville, Troy, Ft. Deposit, Selma, Elba, Luverne and Brantley; a couple from Knoxville, Tenn.; two ladies from France; several German exchange students; a lady from New Britain, Conn., along with visitors from Tenafly, NJ, Chicago, Ill., Memphis, Tenn., Clearwater, Fla., Dallas, Texas, Atlanta and DeFuniak Springs, Fla. were all in attendance at the camellia display.  The Greenville Advocate was proud to note the city’s camellia display was the only one of its kind in south Alabama that year.

It just goes to show—you can’t keep the camellia-loving citizens of the Camellia City down even in a “sub-par season.”