UNICOI — Unicoi County resident Betty Peterson is likely a familiar face to some of the hundreds who have attended the Town of Unicoi’s annual Wayne Scott Strawberry Festival.
Peterson has been at each festival since the town took charge of the event several years ago, lending a helping hand at the Clinchfield Senior Adult Center’s booth which, along with the Scott’s Farms strawberry stand, anchors one of the corners of the field at Unicoi Elementary School.
“I love it because it’s something to do,” Peterson said of volunteering to help with the festival. “See, we want everything to be just perfect so we can sell the best pies. And we do make the best pies.”
Hours of preparation by Peterson and other center volunteers go into what is one of the center’s largest annual fundraisers. The week leading up to the Strawberry Festival includes preparing the strawberry-related desserts — including sundaes, pies and shortcakes — that will be sold by the center. Peterson said things this time of the year are quite hectic at the Clinchfield Senior Adult Center.
“Sometimes you think, ‘Geez, which way do I go today?’ But it always works out,” Peterson said.
The efforts of Peterson and other volunteers have led to success festivals for the senior center. She said a line formed at the center’s booth last year “as far as you could see,” made up of those waiting to purchase strawberry pie. By 2 p.m., the more than 30 pies prepared by the center’s volunteers had sold out. But more importantly for Peterson, her work at the senior center gives her the opportunity to do what she loves - volunteering.
“Once you get involved in volunteering, it’s just, you can’t wait,” Peterson said.
A self-described “early bird,” Peterson is typically one of the first folks to arrive on the Strawberry Festival grounds to help get the senior center’s booth set up for the event. Throughout the course of a “normal” week, she usually arrives at the center at around 8 a.m. and works “until they don’t need me anymore,” she said. Peterson also volunteers with the Unicoi County Memorial Hospital Auxiliary and helps the Unicoi Ruritan Club prepare strawberry preserves for the Strawberry Festival.
“If I go home, you don’t think I sit down. I do something,” Peterson said. “I’ve got 599,000 things to do. I love to volunteer. I think everybody should.”
Clinchfield Senior Adult Center Director Charlene O’ Dell said was emphatic in her response when asked whether the center’s efforts at the Strawberry Festival would be possible without the efforts of Peterson and the center’s other volunteers.
“Absolutely not,” O’ Dell said. “We wouldn’t even attempt it.”
Peterson said she believes the Strawberry Festival is an important event for the Town of Unicoi and said she will continue to take part in the even as long as she is able to do so.
“There a good crowd, and I think it’s really a good thing to do,” Peterson said. “Unicoi needs a Strawberry Festival like Erwin has an Apple Festival. The Strawberry Festival gets bigger each year...I think it’s very important, and I really hope they keep it up forever and ever.”
And Peterson said she enjoys seeing the folks from all over who come to Unicoi to attend the Strawberry Festival. The only downside is that she’s usually too busy to make conversation.
“You know people. You get to meet people,” Peterson said. “The thing is you don’t get to talk to them when they’re coming by and getting a piece of pie.”