By Sadie Hunter
St. Michael’s Episcopal Church had a big year in 1977, marking the opening of its new church and the first ever Strawberry Festival.
Born out of an idea of the reverend at the time, Rev. David Purvis, and modeled after the festival of Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Indianapolis, which celebrated its 52nd festival June 9, Noblesville’s festival has grown significantly since its inception.
Always on Father’s Day weekend, the festival will return to the downtown Noblesville square from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 16 and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 17.
But the event wasn’t always a summer staple on the square.
The first Strawberry Festival was held as an outreach effort at St. Michael’s when the church was celebrating its new building at 444 South Harbour Dr., Noblesville, where it still operates today. The church formerly sat in downtown Noblesville on Cherry Street.
The festival moved downtown in 1997 to gain more exposure and expand its outreach efforts.
“I’ve been here 10 years just about, and this is my 10th Strawberry Festival,” St. Michael’s Reverend Lee Schaefer said. “It has been a wonderful event for St. Michael’s. It really brings everyone together because everyone inside the church gets involved.”
The 200-plus members band together each year to make the festival a success, whether they help make shortcakes, serve the dessert, set up tables and chairs, organize music, sell tickets or something else. It’s been a tradition since the first festival.
“In the first years, (church members) had these pools, and they would fill them with strawberries,” Schaefer said. “They would cut up the fresh strawberries and put them on ice. It was a lot of work.”
“They bought them from Spencer’s (Berry Farm, Noblesville) and maybe from Tuttle’s (Orchard, Greenfield, Ind.),” said Nancy Allen, who ran the festival the past six years and is volunteering again this year with director Laurie Schoening.
It’s unknown how many attended the first festival, but with nearly 2,500 people buying shortcakes each year, the church no longer preps its own strawberries. It orders nearly everything it needs from US Foods.
Allen said this year’s order consists of 35, 30-pound buckets of strawberries; 50, 5-gallon tubs of vanilla ice cream; and 144, 16-ounce packages of whipped topping.
One thing church members do continue to make, though, is the shortcake.
Approximately 25 member volunteer their home kitchens each year to each make 12, 8-inch by 8-inch pans of shortcake, following two different recipes passed down by church members through the years.
“The most we ever sold, and it was the most beautiful day, was 2,500,” Allen said. “That was in 2014, and that’s what we always prepare for.”
Proceeds from each year’s festival benefit the church’s outreach program, Good Samaritan Network of Hamilton County, Dayspring Center and Interfaith Hospitality Network.
ATTEND THE FESTIVAL
What: St. Michael’s Episcopal Church’s 40th Annual Strawberry Festival. Besides buying a strawberry shortcake, guests of talso can enjoy face painting, balloon animals, live music by Anderson and Beck, and the Nickel Plate Arts annual Maker Faire.
When: 11 a.m.to 4 p.m. June 16 and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 17
Where: Northwest corner of the historic courthouse square in downtown Noblesville
Cost: Tickets are $5 in advance and $7 the day of the event. Each ticket is good for one strawberry shortcake dessert, which consists of shortcake, strawberries, vanilla ice cream and whipped topping.