The Kiwanis Club of Saugerties estimates that 40,000 patronized the thirtieth iteration of the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival last weekend, 22,000 on Saturday and 18,000 on Sunday. The festival kicked off with a memorial service for festival founder Pat Reppert, who died in February of this year at 81, and the announcement of a new $2000 scholarship that Kiwanis will begin awarding in her name to Saugerties High students who plan to study horticulture.
“She had such a passion for not only the garlic festival, but everything she did,” said festival chairman Richard Keppler. “When Pat came up to you with an idea, no matter how far-fetched it might seem, you believed she was going to do it and were more than willing to help. This contagious can-do attitude has continued to this day in everyone who contributes to the success of the festival. Everything that you see today has in one way or another started with Pat’s vision.”
David Stern, a New York State farmer and friend of Reppert’s involved in the festival since its inception, and her nephew P.K. Kinser also outlined the legacy of the Goddess of Garlic.
“Pat knew deep in her bones that you do not need to be a blood relative to be her family,” said Kinser of his late aunt. “Although Pat never had children of her own, she was able to raise children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, grandnieces and -nephews, and her vision created this huge common table that we all share together at the garlic festival.”
Most locals know of the festival’s origins as a meet-and-greet of garlic lovers for Reppert’s fledging herb business. It outgrew its Shale Hill Farms venue after two years and was handed over to the Saugerties Kiwanis in 1989.
“It was a Tuesday morning in either December or January when Pat approached our club about taking over a little dinner she was having and turning it into a festival,” said Keppler. “I was sitting in the back of the room listening to her, with so much energy and enthusiasm for this idea of having an annual garlic festival, that when the Kiwanian sitting next to me said that [it was] a great idea … all I could say was yes.”
The Kiwanis Club has donated over two million dollars of festival proceeds to the town, and the number of attendees is over a hundred times larger than that first word-of-mouth gathering. Thirty years have solidified the preparation rituals that allow such a small community to accommodate the yearly crowds.
“It’ss really all about helping people,” explained Keppler. “That starts with us as a promoter helping the vendors set up and letting them know what’s going on. We just work hard to make everything as in-place as we can when the people come. It’s all about preparation.”
According to Keppler, “we” was comprised of 280 volunteers this year, a majority having done so at least once before. Twenty-three police officers from town and county departments and one bomb-sniffing dog manned Cantine Field and its surrounding area each day. The police department’s drone was deployed to oversee traffic in the village.
For some, the festival is food sampling opportunity, a place to buy their preferred varietal of garlic or to marvel at a 200-pound roast pig or to exchange heirloom seeds, a wholesome early fall activity for families. The yearly festival is an anticipated highlight.
“This has been a very, very special event for years,” said Tom LaChapelle of Kitchen Kick’n in Troy, who said that the Saugerties festival was his favorite of the 35 venues where he typically peddles his wares. A sign on his table read, “Last Garlic Festival.”
“I have to give it up and I don’t want to,” LaChapelle said tearfully, citing health issues. “The people in this community are great — very supportive of me and my products. It has been a great trip.”