Rain curtails finale of otherwise sunny Cherry Blossom Festival

Maybe it was a pink jinx.

At the Cherry Blossom Festival Grand Finale at Wesleyan College on Sunday evening, Karen Lambert said her first festival as executive director was “wonderful” in part because “we had to cancel nothing due to weather.”

A half hour later, rain started pouring down, clearing the north campus lawn of hundreds of picnicking families. The rain abated briefly, allowing organizers to shoot off fireworks ahead of schedule and ahead of an approaching storm front, but then the clouds opened up again, putting an early end to the finale.

During the dry period before the rain, Lambert wasn’t the only one at the Grand Finale to give high marks to the 2010 Cherry Blossom Festival.

Anthony Cunningham, a personal fitness instructor who came to the event with his wife, his two young children and a picnic of submarine sandwiches, said this year’s festival was “one of the better ones of my lifetime.”

“We went to three events this week,” said Cunningham. “The kids are old enough to enjoy it now, and if they enjoy it, I enjoy it.” Festival chair Lee Robinson said “our main impression of this year was that everything worked.”

“I’ve had more people than ever before come up to me and just express their gratitude for having a festival,” Robinson said. “What I enjoy about it is that you could go down to Central City Park and listen to one of those bands down there, like I listened to the Motown band, and there were hundreds of people there having a good time and it was only $5 for parking. You provide an opportunity to have a good time on a very limited budget, and our community needs that.”

Admission to the Grand Finale was free.

The event included live music by the Joey Stuckey band, rock climbing, inflatable rides and children’s activities. Kids could meet and greet a variety of costumed mascots, including the D.A.R.E. lion, McGruff the Crime Dog, Smokey Bear and a pink Chick fil-A cow.

It was the last Cherry Blossom Festival event that Connie Thuente attended as a member of the festival staff. Thuente, the senior events coordinator, had been with the festival for 20 years. She’s retiring, but she plans to return next year as a volunteer.

“I have all these pink clothes, so I’ll have a chance to wear them,” Thuente said.

Thuente, who was grand marshal of the Cherry Blossom parade, said she plans to spend her retirement visiting grandchildren, scrapbooking, cleaning out her closet and helping out at St. Joseph Catholic Church.

Her festival co-workers honored her with a banner over the music stage at the finale. It read, “Congratulations, Connie T. We’ll miss you.”

“Did y’all see my little sign?” Thuente asked her friends. ”Wasn’t that sweet? It just brings me to tears.”