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Rush Springs celebrates 75 years of seed spittin’ and rind splittin’ at annual Watermelon Fest

When Renee Hoover-Payton’s grandson, who was 6 at the time, was asked to name the holidays in his classroom, he didn’t hesitate to rattle them off one by one.

“Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas, Fourth of July, and the Watermelon Festival,” Hoover-Payton said. “He truly thought it was a legitimate holiday!”

And after three-quarters of a century in Rush Springs, it might as well be.

The Lions Club is celebrating the 75th annual Rush Springs Watermelon Festival from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Aug. 10 at Jeff Davis Park in downtown Rush Springs, and coordinators have a few surprises up their sleeves.

Hoover-Payton is festival co-chair, along with Robert Newman, who has lined up two award-winning entertainers for the festival. Elvis tribute artist Brian Lee Dunning, who has performed at Graceland in Memphis, Tenn., will take the main stage at 3 p.m. and guitarist Mike McAdoo from Branson, Mo., will perform at 4.

“We usually use mostly local entertainment,” Newman said, “but we thought we’d take it up a notch this year since it’s the 75th.”

About 20 festival coordinators gathered Tuesday afternoon at the Lions Club in downtown Rush Springs for a planning meeting. Dozens of volunteers serve under these coordinators on about 25 committees, tackling everything from scheduling events to marketing the festival, hosting the Watermelon Queen election, and even latrine duty.

“I have done a perfect job at ordering those Porta-potties the last 10 years!” said Hoover-Payton with a laugh, adding that she loves to see people come back to the festival year after year.

Hoover-Payton has attended the Watermelon Festival since the 1960s, starting with her parents’ involvement, and now she’s served as a volunteer coordinator for 16 years.

“It’s always been a family event for us,” Hoover-Payton said.

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