2013 Cherry Blossom Festival opens at Central City Park

This year’s festivities honor Neva Fickling

lfabian@macon.comMarch 15, 2013 

Under a clear blue sky, the 31st annual Cherry Blossom Festival started blooming at Central City Park on Friday afternoon.

Even a lone protestor heckling Mayor Robert Reichert over a police shooting could not stop the program, which included the ceremonial snipping of a pink ribbon with giant pink scissors.

At the opening ceremonies, Cherry Blossom board chairman George McCanless announced that the festival will be dedicated to the late Neva Langley Fickling, who died of cancer last year.

“She’s the mother of one of our board members and someone who will always be remembered as Macon’s Miss America,” McCanless said.

It is the first time in its history that the festival has been held in someone’s honor, he said.

Fickling, the daughter-in-law of the festival’s late co-founder, William A. Fickling Sr., was crowned the 1953 Miss America while she was a student at Wesleyan College.

Her son, Bill Fickling III, serves on the Cherry Blossom board.

After police led away the protester, who was wearing a pink jacket with brightly colored animals, Deborah Stevens rose to sing her signature anthem “Cherry Blossom Time.”

Stevens praised the mayor for repeatedly and politely asking his heckler to speak to him later.

“You’re a class act,” she told Reichert, who was seated with other dignitaries onstage.

Macon is hosting a delegation from its sister city Mâcon, France, which festival organizers say is celebrating its 40-year relationship with the Middle Georgia city of the same name.

The mayor of Mâcon, Jean-Patrick Courtois, who also serves as vice president of the French Senate, is leading the French contingent.

Businessman Anatoly Shmelev, from Macon’s sister city of Ulyanovsk, Russia, is making his fifth visit to Macon.

“We joke that this is his second home,” said Steve Farr, a former Cherry Blossom chairman who is vice president of enrollment for Wesleyan College.

Two Wesleyan College students from Russia, who are studying business in an exchange program, are interpreting for Shmelev, who is also vice chairman of the board of trustees of Ulyanovsk University.

Shmelev is taking notes on how the festival is run to bring back home, where they are developing a Lavender Festival, Farr said.

The foreign dignitaries and visitors from other festivals will be featured in Sunday’s Cherry Blossom parade, which begins at 3:30 p.m. on Cherry Street.

To contact Liz Fabian, call 744-4303, and follow her on Facebook and@liz_lines on Twitter.

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