The upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend promises to be a busy one, beginning Friday with a spirited tribute to county’s beloved oysters, and ending Monday with a celebration of the nation’s beloved civil rights leader.
This year, the city of Apalachicola will mark the 10th anniversary of the annual Oyster Cook-off, first started in 2010 as a way to raise much-needed funds for the Apalachicola Volunteer Fire Department.
Since that time, the event has raised a couple hundred thousand dollars for the department, enabling it to pay off one truck and to help fund another, and securing for it much-needed equipment that has led to it, for the first time, to lower its Insurance Service Office (ISO) rating to a 5, which helps lower fire insurance premiums.
"Rain or shine, it’s going to be a great day for families," said Shelley Shepard, treasurer of the fire department’s auxiliary, which grew out of the core group of volunteers, led by Marisa Getter, that got the cook-off rolling a decade ago.
Shepard said there will be two bouncy houses set up at Riverfront Park for Saturday’s affair, as well as relay races, face painting, and all sorts of firemen-themed activities for kids.
But of course, the main event will be the cookoff, with eight teams already signed up to complete for the top prize.
Last year’s champion oyster stew, prepared by Half Shell Dockside, broke four years of domination of the competition by Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce’s John Solomon, who together with Donna Duncan, won in 2017 and 2018, and who won it outright in each of the two years before that.
In 2013 and 2014, the Eastpoint Volunteer Fire Department’s Oysters Rockefeller was champs, with Jeff Ilardi’s oyster on the half-shell winning in 2012, and John Hutchinson taking the crown in 2011.
Contestants may enter up until Saturday morning, for a mere $25 entry fee. Fresh oysters must be the predominant part of the dish, and the recipe must use a minimum of one pint of oysters or one dozen fresh oysters in the shell, all of which will be provided entrants thanks to a generous donation from Water Street Seafood and Leavins Seafood.
The three-judge panel, including Danny Collins from Duke Energy and Cutler Edwards from the Gibson Inn, will assess the entries based on originality, predominance of oysters, taste and presentation.
The cook-off event gets underway Friday evening with an Art Auction Preview and Oyster Tasting from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Apalachicola Center for History, Culture and Arts. Last week local art enthusiasts got together to prepare their works, and in addition there are lots of quality items that have been donated for the silent auction by area businesses and individuals.
Saturday morning will dawn bright and early with the Half-Shell Hustle 5K Run at Riverfront Park. Registration starts at 7:30 a.m. with the race going off at 8 a.m. Forty runners have already registered online at www.oystercookoff.com
The cook-off officially begins at noon and runs until 5 p.m., with as always no gate entrance fee.
Oysters and shrimp, fried, steamed and stewed, will be available all day, all prepared and served by faithful volunteers, with no outside vendors taking part. Hot dogs and hamburgers, and Oyster City beer, will be available as well.
The highlight of the entertainment, a performance by Pam Nobles Studios dancers, commences at 1 p.m. Included will be the exciting dance routine by the firemen and firewomen, something no one ever wants to miss.
The John Sutton Band starts playing at 2 p.m., the same time judging begins. 2 p.m. Throughout the day, well-mannered pets are welcomed on a leash.
For more information on the cook-off, call Shepard at 653-6621.
Following a relaxing Sunday, the weekend will conclude on Monday with Franklin County's 33rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Birthday Celebration.
Beginning at 11 a.m. and running to noon, the celebration will fill the Fort Coombs Armory on 4th St. in Apalachicola.
The featured speaker will be R. Damien Davis, a member of the Franklin County High School Class of 2010 who has gone on to become a licensed funeral director and embalmer.
Event organizer Dolores Croom said featured guests will be Michael Grady & Nu Gulf Coast Choir, out of Panama City.
She said the organizing committee has opted not to conduct a trolley ride this year following the celebration.
Also, instead of depicting community service projects throughout the school, the celebration is conducting a mixed medium art contest, for grades 4 through 8.
"It will be drawn from the theme ‘The Power of A Dream,’" she said, in keeping with the theme of this year’s event.
Judging will take place Monday morning before the program, with winners receiving $50, $25 and $20 prizes. All of the work will then be on display at the Apalachicola Center for History, Culture and the Arts, on Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 4 and 5.
"We want it to be spilling over to Black History Month," said Croom.
The Franklin County School District will hosts its Martin Luther King Day program on Tuesday, Jan. 21 at 10 a.m. in the gymnasium.