Shenfest Observes 100th Anniversary of Earl May Sept. 22 with “Blooming Heritage” Theme

 Shenfest 2019 will honor the 100thAnniversary of Earl May Seed & Nursery Co. with “Blooming Heritage” September 28. Earl May descendants will serve as grand marshals and lead the big 2 p.m. parade, the highlight of a whole day of activities.

     Shenfest is also a descendant of the early Jubilee Days, a week-long celebration by the nursery which included carnivals, entertainment, pancakes, visits to the nursery and much more all to promote the seed and nursery business. Over the course of the week nearly 25,000 -100,000 people visited Shenandoah in the 1920’s and 30’s.

    Earl May was one of Shenandoah first great entrepreneurs and a pioneer in the nursery and radio business. His economic impact on Shenandoah and generations of plant life here are still present 100 years later. Today Earl May Seed & Nursery operates 30 stores in Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri. Headquarters and distribution center are still located in Shenandoah.

     Earl May studied at the University of Nebraska where he met Gertrude Welch, daughter of Edward Welch, the owner of Mount Arbor Nursery in Shenandoah. He moved to Shenandoah in 1915 and they married in 1916.  Their children were Frances and Edward.

     In 1916 Shenandoah was already a nursery capital, with at least four nursery businesses. Three years later May launched the Earl May Seed and Nursery Co. in the building that still serves at Earl May headquarters today, 208 N. Elm Street.

     His strength was in marketing and personality in the years that followed he branded everything with the May name. Maygold seed corn, Mayfair auditorium, an 18-hole miniature golf course was Mayfairways, and trail grounds were named Mayview. The trail grounds brought bus loads of tourists to Shenandoah for generations.

     In 1924 rival nursery man Henry Field had great success promoting his seed business over the airwave of his radio station KFNF. Earl May was inspired to start KMA radio in August 1925. One year later Radio Digest Magazine voted Earl May the most popular announcer in America with its Gold Cup. 425,901 votes were cast. The first Jubilee days was a celebration of that award. 25,000 people arrived in Shenandoah to eat pancakes.

     The 1,000 seat Mayfair Auditorium he built to resemble a Moorish temple was a stage many famous entertainers performed including the Everly Brothers, Lefty Frizzell, Bill Monroe, and many more. A 24 feet long 6 feet high glass pane made the stage sound proof for radio broadcast.

     In the 1940’s he expanded by building stores in other communities in Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri. He continued to promote the company in novel ways. One such promotion was to donate roses to the White House for the famed Rose Garden.

     Earl May died of a heart attack in 1946 at age 58 while vacationing in Wisconsin. His legacy and business live on through the work of his descendants. His seeds continue to feed and beautify the country. His friendly welcoming attitude toward people still brings visitors to Shenandoah. And so Shenfest also lives on.

      Parade grand marshals include descendants of the late Betty Jane Shaw family, Earl May’s granddaughter. Fourth generation is represented by Gordon Sherman and Melinda Driskell. Fifth generation leading the parade is Ali Sherman Cox, Jake Sherman, Cassie Driskell Muilenburg, Maddie Driskell, Carrie Driskell and 6thgeneration is Michael Cox. Other Earl May descendants not attending the parade are the Ed May Jr. family and Diane Kid family.

     Shenandoah Chamber & Industry Association 619 W. Sheridan Avenue is accepting entries into the 2 p.m. parade at their office or through email or by phone 712-246-3455. Entries are encouraged to fill out a parade card with comments for the announcer.    Parade volunteers are needed on Friday afternoon September 21 to help put out parade numbers and Saturday to assist with the parade lineup at noon till the parade starts at 2 p.m. Parade entries should go to the corner of Clarinda Avenue and Center Street for parade check in beginning at noon.  Entries will be guided to their spot in the parade. High School and Middle School Bands lineup on Church St.

     Following the parade marching band awards will be presented at the Everly Brother’s Childhood Home. Immediately following the awards free music will begin across the street at The Depot Restaurant under the tent.

Early entertainment on Earl May’s live stage included bluegrass music. Inventor of the music style, Bill Monroe even performed on Earl Mays radio station KMA.

     Southpaw Bluegrass Band will perform. The band was created in 2003 by David Fleming & Steve Hoiberg of Omaha, Nebraska.  The focus of the band was to create and write songs in the genre of the traditional instrumentation of bluegrass music while paying homage to their home in the Midwest .  They play hard driving mountain style bluegrass but with a touch of Midwestern charm and influence.  With three albums under their belt (Self-Titled), (Place Back Home), and most recently (Long Ragged Mile)Southpaw Bluegrass Band continues to be a tradition in Nebraska & Iowa, writing songs and telling stories about life on the Great Plains of the Midwest. With Daren Blythe on banjo, Brian McGovern on mandolin, and David Fleming on guitar they play a variety of originals, traditionals, & instrumentals from genres like bluegrass, old-timey, mountain folk, classic country, honky-tonk, jazz-grass, fiddle tunes, and other fun covers that people love to hear and dance to. 

     The full Shenfest schedule follows: Pre-Shenfest Events include

Sept. 21, Rock for Vets, fundraiser for veterans & Iowa Rock n Roll Museum Assn. at the Depot, Remembering the Fallen display inside. 3-5 p.m. kids games, 6:30 p.m. music by Jimmy Weber w/national anthem, 7:30 p.m. Union County Band, 9 p.m. Peace Love Etc. (farewell concert) Free to Veterans, $10 or $20 Raffle ticket for Steve Miller & Dierks Bentley Guitars

Sept. 22, 2 p.m.  Miss Shenandoah and Little Miss Shenandoah Pageant, Shenandoah High School Auditorium.

Sept. 26, 6-9 p.m. “Night Out” sponsored by Eagles Club, See up close City & County Law Enforcement, Fire Dept., Rescue, Life Flight vehicles, Canine police demos, meet officers & recue personel, free hot dogs, Sheridan Ave. near Safety Center.


Shenfest Events Sept. 28:

7-10 a.m. Fireman’s Fundraising Pancake Feed Safety Center, $5 adults, $3 kids

7:45 –8:15 a.m. Register for SMC Shenfest 3 Mile Fun Walk 8 a.m. start, 3 Mile Fun Run 8:30 a.m. at Wabash Depot Sportsman’s Park,  prizes, entry forms at SMC Wellness Ctr. & SCIA

8:30 a.m. Alumni & Alum-not Tennis Tournament at Gee Park, Check in 8 a.m. $20 per team, more info. Contact Mr. Daoust at Shenandoah High School

9 a.m. Shenfest Tractor Show across from Safety Center, Demos, Dash Plaques, Tractors invited to enter parade

10 a.m.-Noon, Shenfest Bingo at Safety Center Bricker Room, Nishna Production fundraiser, prizes, gift cards & cash payouts, 15 round bingo game, cards .50 cents each

10-noon Shenandoah High School will be open to Alumni to see

10 a.m.-3 p.m. Food Court  Flatiron Plaza, local organization fundraising, vender forms at Chamber, 619 W. Sheridan Ave.

11 a.m.-2p.m. Veterans Memorial Museum open at new location on 603 W. Lowell Avenue, VFW hot dog cookout  fundraiser.

11 a.m. Beautiful Baby Contest at Historical Society Museum Waubonsee room, hosted by American Legion Auxiliary Unit 88, contact Sara at 712-309-6298 to enter, ages 0-24 months

11 a.m.-4p.m. Everly Brothers Car Show and Shine on Railroad Avenue next to the Everly Brothers Childhood Home, See new movie documentary about Everly history in Shenandoah inside the house.

2 p.m. Shenfest Parade Sheridan Ave., Blooming Heritage theme, lineup on Clarinda Ave., check-in at Center St. starting at noon. Grand Marshals descendents of Earl May. Band awards at Everly Brothers House after parade. Pre-register for parade at SCIA.

3:30 p.m. Blue grass music by “South Paw”  at the Depot under the tent and Union County Band at 8 p.m. sponsored by SCIA & The Depot.

     For more information visit the Shenandoah Chamber and Industry Calendar at www.shenandoahiowa.netor call 712-246-3455.

The Red Oak Express

2012 Commerce Drive
P.O. Box 377
Red Oak, IA 51566
Phone: 712-623-2566 Fax: 712-623-2568

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