As chairman of the St. John Festival and Cultural Organization for at least 15 years, Leona Smith is the heart and soul of St. John’s annual Festival. She keeps her fingers on the pulse of all the myriad activities organized by the committee, making sure events go well. This year, her fellow committee members gave her long-overdue recognition by naming the Festival village in her honor.
“I feel humbled,” Smith said before Friday’s village opening ceremony at Smith’s Ville.
Smith said the honor is shared by all those on the committee who work hard every year to made Festival a success.
The opening ceremony didn’t go quite as planned, however. A big gust of wind toppled the Virgin Islands flag several times until Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis came to the rescue. He stuck the fallen flag in one potted palm that graced the stage and the U.S. flag in another.
“It wouldn’t be Festival without flags falling and a big pool of water,” mistress of ceremonies Alecia M. Wells said, gesturing toward a spot on the asphalt in front of the stage that usually floods when it rains.
No rain fell for the opening ceremony and the pavement was dry.
While the spotlight shone on Smith, the Festival village opening is really about enjoying the food and drink, listening to the music and mixing and mingling.
“I’ve seen people tonight that I haven’t seen all year long,” said St. Thomas resident Antonio “Pumpkin” Lewis, giving a friend a hug and a “How you doing?”
Lewis was making the rounds with St. John resident Curtis Penn, checking to see that the drinks were cold.
“We’re the booth opening committee,” Penn said, laughing.
Alas, Penn was irked that, at 7:15 p.m., 15 minutes past the scheduled start time, half the booths weren’t open yet for business.
Those that were open did a brisk business.
“Chicken, johnny cake, pate and goat water,” Claudine Scatliffe-Daniels said as she and Kurt Marsh Jr. tended to business at Aldria Wade’s booth.
St. John resident Oscar James, who always attends the village opening, said that the event highlighted the island’s culture.
“Look at those tourists listening to the Pan Dragons,” he said, pointing to a sizeable group of people tapping their feet to the music made by the Love City Pan Dragons youth steel pan group.
A couple of tourists, Michael and Kathleen Bonner of Swedesboro, N.J., said they read about Festival in a tourist publication handed to them as they got on the airplane in Miami, so they decided to see what it was all about.
This was a return trip. They honeymooned on St. John 25 years ago and came back to celebrate with a stay at the Westin Resort and Villas.
Locals were also out and about. St. John residents Michelle Fage and friend Jason Cawthron were waiting a bit impatiently in front of Shuga Shack for a taste of the booth’s Greek food.
New York City resident Charmaine Burin came home to St. John to celebrate. She said she hasn’t been back for at least 20 years.
“It’s time to celebrate and come together. Everyone here is having fun,” she said.