Marshfield’s Cherry Blossom Festival brings politics, history and entertainment together
MARSHFIELD, MO. – History in a blender. That’s how Nicholas Inman, chairman and founder of the Missouri Cherry Blossom Festival in Marshfield, Mo., describes the annual event.
The festival, which takes the last full weekend in April, contains a mixture of presidential, military and state history, along with a dose of American culture from classic television and films.
For the past 16 years – including the 2020 virtual version – the festival has brought together a myriad of people who represent different aspects of American history.
How it began
It started as a discussion Nicholas had with several co-workers in the early 2000s about World War II and the different aspects of that moment in history.
Nicholas, who worked in Washington, D.C., at one time, was shocked when no one in the group knew about President Dwight Eisenhower. Through a series of events, he contacted Mary Eisenhower – the president’s granddaughter – to come and speak at a local school.
During her talk, Eisenhower talked about how there was no central location, or a place to learn about presidential history, unless one traveled to the East Coast.
At the time, Nicholas and other chamber of commerce leaders were looking for a festival to add to the city’s Fourth of July celebrations and fall events.
The idea to plant cherry trees in the town, in part as a nod to the cherry blossom trees found in Washington, D.C., gave way to becoming a place where history could not only be remembered, but come alive.
“It’s like we put history in a blender and it blows up for three days,” Inman said. “History takes many shapes and forms. It’s present at all different levels during the festival.”
Since 2006, Nicholas and a team of 22 committee members, as well as a host of volunteers, have worked to harness the power of tourism dollars, as they develop a festival which includes a variety of themes and subjects.
While many events focus on one aspect of history, the Cherry Blossom Festival is designed to encompass a variety of topics – all designed to peak the interest of different people.
As Nicholas explains, a visitor might come for the Nostalgia Fest Autograph Show to see a classic television star, and then stay to hear someone who witnessed WWII in person, or meet a presidential descendent.
During the first festival, Nicholas saw the power of theatrical or cultural history. During the event Elizabeth (Betty) Ann Lynn, who portrayed Thelma Lou on the Andy Griffith Show, was one of the first inductees for the Missouri Walk of Fame.
While Nicholas was ecstatic to see and hear from representatives of the the 35 presidential administrations –also present at the event; he watched as others were enthralled to meet Thelma Lou.
It was then, the committee decided, to expand the guests to include a variety of topics and interests, saying diversity is key to the festival’s growing success.
In addition to Eisenhower, guests at the 2021 festival included Alison Arngrim, Wendi Lou Lee and Charlotte Stewart, three women who portrayed Nellie Oleson, Baby Grace Ingalls, and Miss Beadle, respectively, on “Little House on the Prairie”; David Newell, Mr. McFeeley from “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood”; as well as Louis Graziano, the last living survivor to Germany’s surrender to WWII.
Nicholas and others strive to keep the public’s expenses at the festival related directly to meals or performances. The autograph show, as well as the different panel discussions, are all open free of charge.
Nicholas wants history to be obtainable to everyone, especially for parents who might bring multiple children to see a beloved star, or hear a piece of history from a primary source.
“History is so important,” Nicholas said. “We must learn from the past, or else we will repeat it. We need to know about the people who walked before us, who make (our world) what it is.”
In the beginning, Nicholas was told it would take 25 years before the festival would “take hold” and become a tradition for local residents.
After 16 years, Nicholas said the festival’s roots run deep in the community. In his own family, four generations help make the festival possible including Nicholas’ grandmother Joyce Inman; his mother, Jeannette Alcorn; and his daughter, Reagan.
He credits Jenna Bush’s visit several years ago, as one of the light bulb moments, as local school children were given a chance to hear her stories.
Others came as students listened as Winston Churchill’s great-grandson introduced President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s granddaughter, who then interviewed Nikita Khrushchev’s son; as well as when Mo Rocca did a special report for CBS Sunday Morning.
The festival takes place the last full weekend in April. While next year’s dates are set for April 28 to 30, Nicholas said speakers and other activities won’t be announced until next fall and beyond.
Mary Eisenhower, known as the mother of the festival, is always the first guest announced, if she’s able to attend. Others follow.
Sales for the ticketed events begin on President’s Day, and Nicholas always strives to have the schedule finalized by March 11.
For more information, persons interested may visit www.cherryblossomfest.com or MOCherryBlossomFest on Facebook.