By Joel Phelps
MANCHESTER — As summer transitions into fall and September draws to a close, October promises cooler autumnal weather, the crunch of fallen leaves on the ground, and pumpkins.
For this Clark County community and visitors to an annual event, the first weekend of October means pumpkins — lots and lots of pumpkins.
The symbolic gourd of the fall will take center stage in Manchester on Saturday, Oct. 2, from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., at the Manchester Community Center, site of the annual Pumpkin Day festivities.
For the second year in a row (2020 notwithstanding, as annual traditions across the globe came to a halt during the Covid-19 pandemic) the Arkadelphia Running Club kick off Pumpkin Day with a 5K run, spearheaded by Nicole McGough. That event starts at 8 a.m.
Pumpkin Day festivities begin at 9 a.m. with the opening of games, craft vendors and food trucks. There will be hay rides in antique trailers towed by tractors, an antique tractor show, Nerf and water gun shooting games, a bounce house and Arkansas Farm Bureau will bring Bessie, its artificial dairy cow that delivers youth the chance to “milk” a cow.
On the grassy lot between the community center’s playground and Manchester Road will be rows of Arkansas-grown pumpkins for sale. Festival-goers are able to browse the large selection of pumpkins that will be picked and delivered the day before the event. In addition to the traditional jack-o-lantern type pumpkins, exotic varieties will be available at Pumpkin Day.
Parking and admission to Pumpkin Day is free. Tickets for games and activities are $1 apiece. Parking is available at the residences adjacent to the community center.
Manchester native Jacque Hill serves as co-chair of Pumpkin Day and is the secretary of Manchester Rural Community Improvement. Hill said all proceeds from Pumpkin Day help to fund improvements and restoration of the century-old community center, which once served as a two-room schoolhouse.
With Pumpkin Day visitors coming far and wide — from Texarkana, Hot Springs, Camden and some even out of state — the festival has raked in as much as $8,000 in a single day, Hill said. However, there have been years when inclement weather caused a slight financial loss.
Pumpkin Day is the only fundraiser for Manchester RCI, once of 89 nonprofit groups that cropped up Arkansas in the 1960s as a means to improve rural living. Of those 89 original RCIs, Hill said, the Manchester group is the only one that has continually met since its inception. The group meets once a month at the community center, where they hold a business meeting, potluck dinner and have a program about rural life.
Pumpkin Day proceeds so far have been used to install central heating and air at the community center, ceiling fans, cabinet tops, flooring and siding, playground equipment and new restrooms added to the rear of the building, Hill said.
After 2020’s cancellation, Hill said she hopes to have a sizable crowd of people ready to get out and enjoy fellowship. “We are busily getting ready for Pumpkin Day,” Hill said. “We can’t wait to see everyone out there for a fantastic family day.”